How Pervasive Are Document Management Challenges?


The way organisations manage company information sits at the crossroads of just about all business processes. Day after day and week after week, employees are wasting a significant amount of time dealing with the myriad of challenges related to working with company documents — across the entire document lifecycle. That wasted time is a silent killer to productivity, which can cost organisations a tremendous amount of money in opportunity costs.

In a recent study, IDC revealed that the unproductive time workers spend as a result of information management inefficiencies amounts to a loss of 21 % of the organisation’s total productivity, which costs the organisation an astounding amount — nearly $20,000 per worker per year.

Early American colonist William Penn embodied this sentiment best when he said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.” The research project in the proceeding pages was commissioned by M-Files to better understand how companies across the globe are managing their growing store of company information. With resounding clarity, the consensus is that document management remains a challenge.

Document Management

While intelligent information management (IIM) encompasses so much more than the catchall term of ‘document management’, a core functionality of any IIM platform is the ability to store, manage and track documents. It’s that core functionality that we focus on with this research. Particularly, we wanted to know the ease with which workers can find the documents they need, where information is typically stored, and the proliferation of mobile devices in managing company information.

The cruel reality is that poorly filed, and badly named documents are difficult to locate and, in some cases, will never be located. It has become a status quo that information workers are quickly understanding to be a huge problem.

As you read this report, ask yourself where your organisation stands. How difficult is it to find the information you need? Can you get the documents you need when you’re offsite? How large is the reliance on paper documents? Do you suffer from under-automated processes?

Data Repositories

Call it information sprawl. Call it content chaos.

Whatever you call it, the problem is only growing along with the rise in data volume, velocity and variety. The challenge is primarily caused by company information scattered across multiple data repositories. The problem can only be remediated if organisations heed the call to tame the sprawl in a systematic and intelligent way, perhaps as a leg of their overall digital transformation strategy. It’s a status quo that remains alarming — the organisational penchant for storing and managing content across several information silos — ERP, CRM, network folders, email inboxes, file-sharing applications… the list goes on and on.

Worse yet, these common information storage locations generally lack the ability to interact with one another. This creates issues like version control, time-consuming searches through multiple repositories, and other issues that are productivity-killers. While the development of a single “data lake” remains a hot buzzword, it seems too many organisations have gone the opposite direction and developed numerous “data ponds” which has impeded overall productivity and created a “data swamp.”

This intelligence paper drills down to the heart of document management, surfacing statistics on how organisations in nine different countries are managing company information and how they are facing the challenges presented by their ever-increasing store of data.

Document Management

Information is king when it comes to doing business. More and more, organisations seek to become more sophisticated in the way they manage company information. Poor document management practices steal productivity from companies and cost them money and time.

The most basic functions of document management platforms include: the ability to easily find documents; proper version control; storage control (preferably in a single user-interface); and the ability to review, sign, and approve documents. 

But how many companies are faced with challenges around these most basic tenets of functional document management?

Finding Documents

Over the last two years alone 90 % of all the data in the world was generated.2 With this growing amount of information to manage, the question then becomes: How easy is it for workers to find the most pertinent version of the document they need? Workers were asked:

When it comes to searching the repositories/systems for documents and information while working in the office, what is your general experience?

46 % say it’s challenging or always challenging to find the right information.

Disturbingly, nearly half of workers report that searching their repositories and systems and finding the right information is burdensome and time-consuming.

This seemingly small problem can have a huge impact, considering how it’s amplified throughout a large workforce. Most of an office worker’s life is spent working with various company documents. Thus, it can be reasonably concluded that the pervasive challenges from that 46 % of respondents in finding documents must be having an impact.

Document Version “Hide and Seek”

The previous section elucidates that simply finding documents within an enterprise information ecosystem can be challenging.

The survey looked at this “hide and seek” from another angle: What about finding the right version of a document among the tangled web of email strings and disconnected repositories?

It’s all too common for workers to spend unneeded time poring over emails and through file folders trying to find the latest, most relevant version of the document they need only to find that a colleague has amended a previous version. In fact, a Perforce survey of over 1,000 employees found that 83 % of workers lose time to versioning issues every day. Just how prevalent is this issue?

Over two-thirds of respondents (68 %) stated that it’s either always, mostly or sometimes difficult to find the right version of a document.

Only 4 % of respondents report that they never find it difficult to reliably find the most recent version of a document or file. Alarmingly, of those who have found it difficult, more than eight in ten (83 %) say that they’ve had to recreate a document which already existed because they were unable to find it on their corporate network.

Given that over nine in ten respondents (91 %) agree that their job would be easier if they could quickly find and access the most current version of a document without having to worry about which system or repository it resides in, having to recreate documents is obviously a familiar frustration and worse than being an annoyance, in the aggregate, it slows down productivity and costs companies millions.

Information Storage

The increasing store of company information continues to be scattered across multiple systems and repositories; a topic covered in-depth later. But where exactly do companies tend to store their company documents? Which systems and repositories dominate the enterprise landscape?

Predictably, the most likely location used by respondents’ organisations is email, cited by 69 % of respondents, followed by shared network drives and folders (55 %) and/or information saved locally to desktop or laptop (54 %).

Needless to say, using email as a makeshift storehouse for company information presents tremendous inefficiencies in searching for and finding the right document at the right time, as email systems tend to be inherently primitive in their contextualisation of attachments and documents.

Only around one in four (24 %) report the use of enterprise document management systems within their organisation. On average, respondents identified four systems and/or repositories that their organisation uses to store and manage documents and other information.

It’s interesting to note the correlation between an enterprise document management solution and lower levels of difficulty in finding recent versions of a document. Respondents from Switzerland (33 %), Finland (32 %) and Sweden (28 %) are the most likely to report the use of an enterprise document management system and are among the most likely to report less difficulty in finding the correct version of a document, displaying the positive impact such a system might have.

Challenges of Document Management 

This is an era where inefficiency is no longer an option. Long gone are the days of “taking it slow” in the constantly connected, fast-paced world that will soon be dominated by digital natives. According to Deloitte, 33 % of the current workforce is made up of digital natives4 — the young generation that doesn’t know life before the internet. Companies are forced to deal with the pressure of keeping up with the demands of this generation, a generation that could use iPads before they could write. They are indelibly entrenched in technology and have become accustomed to having instant access to information at their fingertips as consumers.

They have the same expectations in their professional lives. Companies that want to stay ahead of the curve will find more efficient ways of managing information.

While the entry of digital natives into the workforce is one reason why companies need to take a hard look at digital transformation, there are other strong drivers towards a more efficient workforce — not the least of which are productivity increases and a desire for workers to spend less time searching for information and more time focusing on strategic tasks. If efficiency in finding company information is the goal, which challenges surface as the most common culprits thwarting efficiency?

The most likely challenges faced include documents not being labelled or named correctly (42 %) and information saved in the incorrect folder or system (41 %).

While these are the most common challenges, they are by no means the only ones, and the array of reported difficulties highlights that document management is still a big challenge for respondents’ organisations and is a likely thief of productivity, time, and money.

Reviewing, Approving and Signing Documents From invoices to service agreements to internal documents and everything in between, document workflows are irrevocably linked to the ability to review, approve and sign documents. How often do employees find themselves having to print a document, sign it themselves or get it signed? Pretty often, it seems and thus should become an integral component of document management in the context of digital transformation.

Two-thirds (66 %) of respondents indicate that they experience challenges when it comes to reviewing and approving documents.

While the digital workplace of the future is one that is less reliant on paper documents, the need for physical signatures leads the pack in terms of the most cited challenge experienced by workers, coming in at 31 %. A close second is that the process to review and approve documents takes too long (27 %).

With only 18 % of respondents stating that they don’t tout any major issues in document approval processes, organisations are clearly experiencing a range of challenges when it comes to reviewing and approving documents including areas such as efficiencies, notifications, and access. Realistically these are challenges that should not be too difficult to overcome but can all-too-easily have negative financial and productivity implications.

Ability to Approve Documents on a Mobile Device

Research shows that over 40 % of the global workforce will be mobile by 2020, and in advanced economies like the EU and the US, that number will soar to 75 %.5 With that paradigm shift comes the necessity to enable mobile workers to complete critical tasks — like reviewing and approving documents. Although sufficient technology exists to make that a reality for most, progress seems a bit slow in mobile signature enablement.

Only 26 % of those respondents who need access to corporate documents using a mobile device report being able to sign documents using such a device.

The survey provided a follow-up question to the challenges experienced when it comes to reviewing and approving documents. When asked to identify the action workers were missing that would be the most likely to benefit them, the ability to sign documents from a mobile device was cited most at 39 %.


Clearly the research supports the notion that workers across the globe still have nagging issues when it comes to the most basic document management functions — issues that will worsen as time goes on and the store of information gets larger. Businesses face a multitude of pressures — some of which can be mitigated by a simple information management strategy. A few of these challenges that could be assuaged include the weight of:

  • Keeping up with the demands of an everchanging workforce, one that includes millennials and digital natives that carry expectations of a flexible/mobile work environment.
  • Gaining a competitive advantage through the ability to attract and retain the best young talent.
  • Optimising productivity, especially by freeing up key personnel to work on mission-critical or strategic tasks rather than spending an inordinate amount of time searching for the correct information.
  • Ensuring compliance and auditability in an environment of mounting regulations like GDPR.
  • Safeguarding quality standards with a traceable and auditable document trail that can be called upon in minutes rather than days.

Unless information management issues are addressed in an intentional and meaningful way, companies will continue to suffer from less-than optimal productivity.

The Solution to the Problem

The good news is that there is a solution for organisations seeking to modernise the way they manage documents. All the challenges faced by the employees surveyed in this research and those billions of others around the world can be mitigated by an intelligent information management system. Think about the issues cited in this research:

  • Finding documents easily
  • Locating the most recent version of a document
  • Document chaos caused by scattering of\information across several repositories
  • The process for reviewing, approving and signing documents
  • Enabling the mobile workforce to manage documents away from the office
  • The risks of personal device and file-sharing app use
  • Contextualisation of documents 

Every single one of these issues has a single solution — an intelligent information management platform. Documents are the lifeblood of an organisation and fast, secure access to the correct versions of documents can be the difference between success and failure.

Research from Forrester suggests that 70 % of organisations have a poor content strategy — if at all. Companies cannot afford to settle for the status quo and let the problem get worse.

Document Management: Integral to Digital Transformation (and the ability to compete)

Information systems are the foundation of modern IT. Thus, integral to any digital transformation initiative is the implementation of a flexible and intelligent information system.

Yet, while digital technology is opening the door to completely new ways of doing business, some organisations flounder in their ambitions and instead stand pat without improving existing ways of operating. Some $2 trillion dollars will be spent annually worldwide on digital transformation technologies, according to analysts, while as many as 70 % of enterprises polled admit that they don’t have a coherent plan.

Over the past few years, document management strategies have progressed significantly, driven by other trends in the IT market and the more widespread use of intelligent information management systems. Organisations that do not embrace digital transformation will be less likely to outclass competitors and reach the pinnacles of their markets. Modernised document management is central to the digital workplace and the adjustments necessary to compete.

For more information on how we can help your organisation please email: or visit

Peter Ellyard

Having spent over 20 years immersed in the document management software industry I have found that by offering a simple to use, highly effective electronic document management solution (knowledge management software) we increase productivity dramatically. Typically by an hour per person, per day! This is not rocket science, just a simple way to streamline your day to day information needs.