Document Management: Conducting A Needs Assessment

Conducting a Needs Assessment

The success of your implementation is directly related to the amount of effort and collaboration that goes into planning the project. To ensure that all departments actively participate in the planning process, you should assemble a project management team that includes each department head, as well as IT and records management personnel. You should also appoint a project manager, who will establish deadlines, assign roles and tasks, and monitor the project's overall progress. 


Performing some type of needs analysis is the next step in preparing for your implementation. A comprehensive needs analysis requires a great deal of work and is not something that can be entrusted to an outside consultant. During this process, the best thing a consultant can do is play the role of facilitator and help guide your analysis. An experienced consultant will teach you what you need to know and keep team members on task so that the analysis is completed in a timely manner. 

Performing the bulk of the analysis internally is important because it gets team members personally invested in the success of the project. When you know exactly what needs you want to address and how you want to address them, you will be in a much better position to select the best possible solution. Getting people from multiple departments involved early in the process will set the tone for a successful implementation. Furthermore, learning how to work together in the early stages will pay dividends later on when it comes to design, configuration and training.

When you analyze your needs, there are a number of factors to keep in mind:

  • How many documents must the system store? Consider both the number of existing documents and the number of documents added annually. This information determines how much storage space is needed, the hardware configuration and the cost of the system.
  • How many users will be using the system concurrently? This determines preliminary software costs, required licenses and server size.
  • What departments will be using the system and is it necessary to provide public access? This determines the specific features and security levels needed.
  • What business problems need to be solved to reduce costs and improve productivity? This determines which functions of a document management system will be requirements and which are optional. It also helps determine whether plug-ins or customization are necessary.
  • Are there regulatory compliance issues governing your organization? If so, the document management system should have functions supporting compliance. 
  • Do you need to integrate your document management program with other software applications, such as human resources or GIS programs? Because integration issues often increase the time required for implementation of document and records management systems, these concerns should be resolved before investing in a particular system.
  • Do you want a turnkey solution or a customized one? This determines that amount of consulting, installation, training, configuration and support needed. 
  • What type of network is currently used? Will it stay in place, or will it be upgraded? This determines network constraints, system configuration and workstation upgrades.

Process Analysis

The most efficient way to complete a needs analysis is to perform what's commonly referred to as a process analysis in each department. The basic theory of process analysis is that you can break down your daily activities into a series of business processes. Business processes have a distinct starting point and lead to a definite outcome, based on the decisions made during the process. Process analysis is especially useful when preparing for your implementation because documents are an important component of many business processes.

A comprehensive process analysis involves the following steps:

  1. Map daily activities to business processes. Examine the activities you regularly perform in your department. Determine how each one begins and what decisions must be made before you reach an outcome.
  2. Diagram and document the processes. Most people find it easiest to understand a process diagram when it takes the form of a flowchart. Flowcharts are the most natural way to diagram processes because they clearly show the starting point, decision making and possible outcomes. Once you're developed a process diagram, you need to document what happens at each step in the process.
  3. Identify breakdowns in the processes. The "analysis" component of process analysis comes into play when you try to identify breakdowns in the processes you've documented. Where do things often go wrong? What steps in the process take longer than they should? Is the process unnecessarily complicated? Do the processes have dead ends that hinder resolution? You must be able to pinpoint breakdowns in your processes before you can improve them. If you can't find any breakdowns, you'll have a hard time justifying your need for a document management system.
  4. Determine the role of documents in the processes. If you're preparing for an implementation, you need to identify the role documents- and information about them- play in each process. This is necessary because you need to establish the connection between documents and the business processes within your department.
  5. Identify how documents are related to process breakdowns. In order to show how a document management system will help improve services, you must demonstrate how documents- and the system currently used to manage them- are related to process breakdowns. Does it take longer to make decisions because people don't have information at hand? Does it take longer to respond to requests for information because you have to manually search for documents in a storage room? Does the inability to quickly locate information have a negative effect on your ability to serve constituents?
  6. Use breakdowns to identify solution requirements. Once you know how working with documents affects your ability to complete business processes, you can quickly determine your solution requirements. Simply put, you want your document management system to address every process breakdown that's caused by the way you currently work with documents. Whether such a solution exists is another question, but assembling a list of requirements that are directly related to your business needs is the best way to find out.
  7. Quantify the benefits that will come from meeting your requirements. If you implement a solution that meets all of the requirements you've documented, how will that affect your ability to provide services? What kind of effect will the solution have on your business processes, and how can you show that the solution is successful? Whenever possible, identify the quantifiable benefits that you expect from the solution. If you document the benefits before the solution is selected and implemented, everyone involved will know what's expected in order for the solution to be considered successful.