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No Doc Drama

Tips for mastering document management

By Nancye J. Kirk
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When was the last time you spent hours hunting for a management agreement in a file cabinet, tracking down the most recent version of a report on a company’s shared drive or found yourself painstakingly searching through past emails to retrieve a vendor’s proposal? Have you ever sent an email to a client with a document attached that at best deserved confidential treatment and, at worst, could have wreaked havoc if the wrong people saw it?

If so, you are not alone. And perhaps that’s why, when IREM members were asked in a survey earlier this year which of 24 pain points were causing them the most angst, No. 1 on the list was managing documents. With 513 members from the U.S. and Canada responding, this was true whether the company’s primary business was residential property management or commercial management and across small and large companies alike.

Given all of the documents that pass through a property management operation or need to be referenced on any given day—and the fact that some companies still haven’t gone paperless—perhaps this is not surprising. It’s consistent with the findings of a 2018 survey of 1,000 full-time employees across all industries aimed at uncovering corporate America’s most broken processes. Conducted by Nintex, a technology company focused on workflow and content automation, the survey found that 49 percent of the respondents said they have trouble locating documents, 43 percent have trouble with document approval requests and document sharing, and 33 percent struggle with document versioning.

One System, Multiple Functions

One solution: a user-friendly document management system that serves as a central repository, eliminates misfiled items, retrieves records faster and enables secure sharing of documents.  A system that makes it easy to find information from indexed content can reduce the amount of time lost looking for information, lead to quicker and improved decision making, enhance the general flow of work processes and increase organizational efficiency, not to mention reduce the amount of physical space and number of file cabinets devoted to document storage.

Investigating and deciding on a solution for managing and sharing documents can take time and could lead to an unbudgeted expense. But there are simple things that can be done while working toward a longer-term solution, according to James Scott, IREM innovator-in-residence and lead researcher for the M.I.T. Real Estate Innovation Lab (REIL). At the very minimum, says Scott, “companies can begin the process of maintaining a consistent file folder structure in their shared drives, put in place a convention for naming documents, establish version control protocols, and restrict access to confidential documents.” Of course, in order for any of this to work and for the company to save time and create structure, Scott notes, “every member of the team must be working together, rules and procedures must be put in place from the top, and those rules and procedures must be followed and applied consistently across the organization.”

Properly Diagnosing the Dilemma

Ultimately, the key is to clearly identify what problem you are trying to solve. For Jesse Holland, CPM, of Albany, N.Y., a former IREM regional vice president currently serving on the IREM Technology Advisory Board, a growing concern about transmitting documents without proper security was what drove him to look for a tech-based solution. After hearing many hacking horror stories, Holland decided he needed to do something to avoid a similar occurrence at Sunrise Management & Consulting, AMO, where he is president.

His initial focus was on the reports he sends to clients every month, which was being done through email. After searching the internet for better ways to do this, he came across SmartVault, which offered a client-friendly solution and “fit the bill best based on both price and design,” says Holland. Now, “instead of sending statements by email, we post statements in secure client portals and send a simple email telling clients that their statements are available.” The portal offers up the current statement as well as functions as a repository for all prior statements and other pertinent documents. Holland launched the program with a beta test involving a single client, who gave it two thumbs up, before rolling it out across his portfolio. 

the Journal of Property Management staff

Nancye J. Kirk (nkirk@irem.org) is chief strategy officer at IREM Headquarters in Chicago.

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Tips for mastering document management