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Image_20120924-IntegrityMicrosoft released Word for Windows in 1989 at about $500 a copy and the product has quickly become a desktop standard for many computer users as their offline tool of choice for writing documents. Many companies have invested in MS Word and other products for publishing manuals and brochures. Many of these products have made their way to our desktops since that time and Document Controllers became proficient users of them. All of these applications allow us and our business partners to create electronic documents but we often find reason to make a printed copy of many of the documents we create or receive. While we can digitize most documents for use online today, there will be a time when we will see the majority of publications in digital form, never to make it to paper copy.

As we continue our move into a more decentralized world, our digital-enabled workforce will demand not only that static documents be made available to them online but also that they have access to ‘live’ documents as well. This would allow them to collaborate with others in the creation, revision and updating of documents shared among them. In parallel to such development, organizations will of course mandate the security, storage and communications systems used to handle the documents is of the utmost integrity as we charge on. Close on the heels of this charge is the need to control the documents, however that need is here today even though many of us may still be using both paper and electronic documents.

It is so easy to get a hard copy of a document, take it to the work or project site, add markups to it along the way, and then continue to use it through one or more phases of the project. If someone reviews the ‘original’ version of that document and finds a need to make changes to it, the electronic copy will be up to date but the paper copy in circulation is now even more outdated. This could lead to problems and we need to have control measures put into place to prevent use of outdated documents or, at the least, to mitigate the possible continued use of the hard copy form of such documents. This is easier said than done… but it is getting easier to do every day.

When we decide to ‘control’ a document, what do we mean and upon what basis do we make such a decision? A set of ISO standards (ISO 9001:2000/2008) governs what types of documents we must control based upon an analysis of the document type and content and its meeting certain criteria. If the document content meets all of the criteria, then we consider it to require control. Satisfied for the moment that there are established guidelines to determine which documents need to be controlled, let’s assume that all of the documents we handle fall into this ‘must be controlled’ category. Further, it is not always necessary for us to know the specific content of a document under our control but it is important for us to understand the metadata about these documents as it is the metadata that helps us control these documents.

There are some technologies that can help protect the integrity of a document and let its prospective users know whether it is current or not. In our next article, we will look at some of the technologies that can help us do that. You may already be ahead of the curve… are you using any applications or services that help your document users know they are using the ‘latest & greatest’ version?