Are Free Online Document Management Solutions as Good as a Paid Solution?
The past several years have seen a rise in popularity of a variety of cloud-based “freemium” solutions for all kinds of applications, and business is no different. Free file sharing, storage, and collaboration services like Box, Google Docs, and Dropbox are beginning to grow for a number of reasons. They are easy to use and are often available as free services with no up-front investment – but with limitations on the “free” model based on volume, data storage, support/updates and some features. As a cloud-based application, they can be deployed easily for remote users to share files with multiple devices, work offline, and deliver lightweight file management and collaboration capabilities.
While free online document management apps originated as a consumer application, it is not surprising that businesses are beginning to question whether they can use them as a document management solution to enhance collaboration and visibility, not to mention reduce paper and file related costs. But do these services rise to the level required for the information governance requirements of a business? And are they really the bargain they appear to be?
What You Get with Free Document Management Solutions
While cloud-based file sharing services have a certain appeal, they don’t quite meet the enterprise-class functionality of a document management system, either in a deep-dive feature comparison, or from a security, regulatory, or business process standpoint. The “freemium” business model, where users subscribe to the service for free can be attractive, especially to small businesses who are looking for solutions that don’t break the bank. But the free versions are often subject to volume restrictions and feature limitations.
Freemium service models usually offer paid subscriptions in escalating levels that deliver more capacity and additional features and possibly some support. The real strengths of the free and inexpensive digital document management solutions are the cloud storage and deployment model as well as the file sharing and collaboration features.
File sharing and collaboration is critical in most organizations; where people are accustomed to being connected all the time and from anywhere. Shared documents, with appropriate controls for version tracking and editing rights, increase efficiency for internal teams and external partners. With the amount of data being generated in business today, local server-based storage solutions no longer meet the demands of diverse work teams.
A free, cloud-based document management solution satisfies these needs quite well, and if that’s all you think you need, have no plans to grow and are self-sufficient, then a free solution may be the answer. But let’s take a look beyond simple file sharing and collaboration to a true business process management solution.
Paid Enterprise Document Management Solutions Offer Much More Than Simple File Sharing
The core function of a free online document management solution is file storage and sharing. The core of a Document Management solution goes further, embracing document control, business process management, security, compliance and business continuity.
Before you settle for a free solution, ask yourself some questions.
- Will my business continue to grow – do I need a solution that is scalable and flexible as my business grows or my requirements change?
- How critical are the documents – their sensitivity and their security – to my organization?
- How technical are my employees and will they be able to train and support themselves on the solution? Who will handle updates to the solution?
- Is it important to be able to find any document as fast as possible, without knowing its filename?
- Do I need advanced features like Intelligent Data Capture or automated workflow?
- Do my daily business processes revolve around the movement of these documents through my office? Am I manually routing paper documents for review and approval, and have I assessed my risks in the event something gets lost, misfiled, or delayed in an inbox?
- Are document reviewers and approvers in or out of my office or in remote offices?
- How is regulatory compliance managed in my organization? Am I at risk of incurring penalties for not following regulations?
- How are both incoming and outgoing documents stored in my organization? Online, in file folders? On paper, in file boxes or cabinets?
- How important is immediate access to specific information during audits?
- How are document lifecycle management, retention, and destruction schedules managed in my organization?
- Will I be able to continue with operations in the event of a natural disaster or internet/power outage?
- Do I need electronic forms to increase productivity?
This is just a preliminary list of questions, and the answers will give you some insight into your business process and whether or not your documents are critical to its survival. Depending on your answers, you’ll be better prepared to determine which type of solution is right for your organization. You can get a feel for the differences between a free digital document management solution and a DMS in the chart below:
“Price is what you pay – Value is what you get.” ~Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet was right when he said that, and when comparing a free document management solution and a paid Document Management Solution, the true value of either is going to be unique to your organization’s individual and business requirements. If it’s free, you run the risk of getting something that doesn’t do the things you need, either now or in the future.
As you consider document management options, remember, the price you pay is the value you place on the tangible and intangible benefits of the solution as it relates to your business objectives. Free isn’t always free and doesn’t always provide value, especially as your business needs grow and change.