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Best Document Management Software and Systems of 2021

By
Adam Uzialko
,
Business News Daily Staff
| Updated
Sep 14, 2021

Document management software is an increasingly critical part of any business in the digital era. Instead of rows of filing cabinets, document management systems create an electronic archive that any permissioned user can access and edit.
Best Overall
Microsoft SharePoint
Comprehensive features and collaboration tools
Best Low-Cost System
Rubex by eFileCabinet
Three pricing tiers to choose from
Best for Ease of Use
M-Files
Familiar and intuitive interface
Best Free System
VIENNA Advantage Community
Open-source, community-driven software
Document management software is an increasingly critical part of any business in the digital era. Instead of rows of filing cabinets, document management systems create an electronic archive that any permissioned user can access and edit.
Updated 09/14/21

We updated this page to include details about the recent partnership between M-Files and getNEXT.

Document management software can help you organize your digital documents and digitize your existing paper records with ease. Because there are so many choices on the market, we researched dozens of options to pick the best software for various types of businesses. To make our selections, we considered factors such as hosting options, search capabilities and scanning choices. If you need a document management system for your small business, this guide will help you choose the best one for your needs.

Document Software Review Summary

Software Researched 10
Versioning Yes
Storage 10GB - 4TB
Free Trial Available 30 day with demo

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Our Reviews

Microsoft SharePoint: Best Overall Document Management System

SharePoint offers comprehensive enterprise content management features.
Its excellent collaboration tools allow teams to edit documents simultaneously.
It may require additional staff training to learn all of the software's capabilities.

Microsoft SharePoint is a leader in the document management and collaboration space, and for good reason. Its comprehensive slate of features includes the ability to establish content hubs or organize archives by teams. It allows you to create custom metadata fields across all files stored in the system, making it easy to tailor the way you organize your documents to your business's needs. It is especially convenient for businesses that already use other Microsoft products, such as Office 365.

SharePoint offers a flexible and scalable platform to organize and manage your documents and to collaborate on creation and editing. However, it is a sprawling system with a bit of a learning curve, so expect your team to require training and some time to become familiar with the system.

October 2020: Microsoft has introduced SharePoint Syntex, its first product from Project Cortex that uses artificial intelligence to go through your company's data and gather insights that can be automated into processes. Microsoft describes Syntex as a "trainable AI" that processes three main types of content: digital images, structured or semi-structured forms, and unstructured documents.

Read Microsoft SharePoint Review

Rubex by eFileCabinet: Best Low-Cost Document Management System

Rubex offers monthly and annual billing options.
Rubex's smart automation feature recognizes and organizes your documents.
Rubex can have a slight learning curve for some users.

Rubex by eFileCabinet Online is a cloud-based solution that allows remote employees to log in from any computer with internet access and have the exact same functionality as they would have when working from the office. In fact, we previously selected Rubex by eFileCabinet as the best document management system for businesses with a remote workforce. It has a sophisticated mobile app that provides access to every stored file. The system uses a traditional cabinet-folder filing structure and provides several ways to search for documents. Rubex by eFileCabinet Online is available in three pricing plans, which vary in features and storage.

February 2021: Rubex recently unveiled a new pricing structure. There are now three pricing tiers that range from $55 to $199 per user, per month when billed annually. If you pay monthly, the prices start at $66 and increase to $239 per user, per month. The plans vary in included storage space and features and tools.

Read Rubex by eFileCabinet Review

M-Files: Best for Ease of Use

M-Files has optical character recognition, which automates your metatag process and categorizes scanned files for you.
M-Files supports drag-and-drop capabilities.
Only M-Files' enterprise plans provide print and download prevention, two features designed to keep your data private and secure.

M-Files is a comprehensive document management system that contains numerous features so businesses can organize documents, digitize large volumes of physical papers and automate several workflow processes. The interface is modeled off Windows Explorer and easy to learn. You can choose an on-premises, cloud-based or hybrid system.

August 2021: M-Files released new onboarding and training programs, as well as new certifications, to help their partners better understand how to implement their software. This release adds to the overall usability of the software, and it is ideal for those seeking to get the most out of M-Files and verify their competencies on the platform.

September 2021: M-Files recently announced a partnership with getNEXT, a consulting company that specializes in collaboration and productivity. Through this partnership, M-Files users can access a suite of getNEXT resources. This includes the ability to integrate with Salesforce products to create a comprehensive document management CRM experience. This partnership can help businesses become more efficient and improve how they operate in the digital world.

March 2021: M-Files recently announced a partnership with Kyocera Document Solutions UK Ltd., a global provider of total document solutions. M-Files document management customers now have access to Kyocera's eco-friendly multifunction printers as well as its business solutions and consulting services. According to M-Files, the company believes the expanded access to Kyocera products will help users increase efficiency, reduce overall document management costs and improve their customer service.

May 2021: To further simplify the use of its platform, M-Files recently acquired Hubshare, a collaborative and secure file-sharing platform. The expanded access to Hubshare's features will enable M-Files users to create customizable client portals. It will also give businesses a more effective and efficient way to collaborate, share content, and manage projects.

Read M-Files Review

VIENNA Advantage Community: Best Free Document Management System

VIENNAA Advantage is an open-source document management system.
It is certified for compliance and quality by TÜV SÜD.
VIENNA Advantage can be complex and require some technical know-how to implement it.

VIENNA Advantage is an open-source, community-driven document management system that is available to businesses for free. Its user-friendly interface is easy to navigate and neatly organized. It has workflow automation options to streamline tasks and secure encryption of sensitive documents. It is also scalable, allowing your business to grow with a free document management system.

The challenge associated with VIENNA Advantage is technical; you must rely on the support of its user community to help you implement the software and troubleshoot any issues. Unlike paid document management software, VIENNA Advantage does not offer a tech support team.

January 2021: VIENNA Advantage has recently been certified by TÜV SÜD, which provides safety, security, and sustainability solutions as well as testing, certification and auditing services. VIENNA Advantage's TÜV SÜD certification includes certification for ISO/IEC 25051:2014 and IDW PS 880 (GoBS) standards, which verify that the software works as offered and that it stores data safely and properly.

Read VIENNA Advantage Community Review

Document Management Software Costs

Document management software can vary widely in pricing and cost structure. The first and perhaps most important factor in the cost of your document management system is whether you select a cloud-based or on-premises version.

Cloud-based software takes the infrastructure maintenance and burden of security off your business and places it with a third-party company. While this reduces the expense and challenge of managing it in-house, you'll just have to trust that the company is handling your data properly. Cloud-based software is typically paid for on a subscription basis. For most document management software, this could range from $15 to $200 a month per user, depending on the complexity of the solution you choose.

On-premises versions of document management software require your own servers and, generally, a dedicated IT staff for maintenance. Your business is wholly responsible for the security of your data, but this also means you have full control over your own data. With on-premises solutions, you generally have to purchase a license for each user. Each license can cost $1,000 or more, but it is a one-time fee. However, on-premises solutions typically charge an additional fee for technical support and software updates after the first year, which is usually about 20% of the initial licensing cost.

For small businesses looking for software that is easy to manage and not a large overhead expense, we recommend a cloud-based solution. However, make sure your provider adheres to best cybersecurity practices to protect your data.

The actual price for document management software varies by company. Obviously, systems with more complex features tend to cost more, while costs for basic document management software without extra features (such as task management tools and workflow automation functions) can be pretty low. Also, the more users you add to a cloud-based system, the higher the monthly subscription price will be.

Benefits of Document Management Software

Benefits of Document Management Software

A document management system can improve efficiency for you and your staff by organizing all of your files and making them easy for anyone in the organization to find. The many benefits of a DMS system include:

Time savings  

If you are currently using a manual system, you are costing yourself hours that could otherwise be spent on other, more pressing business matters. A DMS automates many aspects of document management, taking that responsibility off your hands. 

Easy scaling

A document management system is more flexible than a traditional paper filing system. It easily accomdoates your business's growth, and your indexing system can be adjusted with a few clicks. It may  reduce the need for physical storage space for files and paper documents.

Enhanced document security

As the world shifts toward digital solutions, ensuring that your information (customer data, trade secret info, etc.) is secure is critical. Document management systems come with built-in security and access controls so you determine who can access certain documents. In addition, you can see all activity on any given document.

In the event of a disaster, like a fire or flood, your files are stored safely in the cloud, away from physical harm.

Quick and easy document retrieval

Searching for the right document can be difficult and time-consuming; it can even cost you money. With the right indexing system, finding a document can take mere seconds, and employees can remotely access the documents they need. [Discover the benefits of a paperless office.]

Better regulatory compliance

Compliance requirements for many business documents can be complex and demanding; a DMS can help you avoid fines, revoked licenses or even criminal liability by automating key documents within the requirements. For example, HIPAA and the Sarbanes-Oxley anti-fraud law have strict security and policy regulations regarding documents and records – a DMS automatically follows those guidelines.

Improved collaboration

A DMS makes sharing information and collaboration easy, allowing documents from different sources to be accessed from multiple locations. Users can also share documents, monitor workflows, grant or deny access to certain documents, and see what changes have been made.

What to Look for in Document Management Software

While all document management systems digitize and organize documents, making them easy to retrieve or revise for users with permission, many other features might be built into your document management software. Here's a look at some of the tools and aspects you might want to consider when choosing a document management system.

Usability

One of the most important elements of any software is usability. It could offer all the features in the world, but they won't do you any good if the system isn't user-friendly. Many document management systems offer free trials that allow you to test them before buying. If possible, allow your team to try out the software during the free trial period and offer their feedback on what they like and dislike about it.

Document Sharing and Collaboration

While the primary function of a document management system is to digitize and organize files, most modern software also allows users to share files with one another and collaborate on editing them. Some document management software allows users to edit a document simultaneously, while others rely on a check-in/checkout feature that guarantees only one user can work on a document at a time. Others offer both options.

Version Control

Version control, sometimes referred to as "versioning," is a critical feature of document management software that lets you keep track of changes to a document. The best document management software even maintains an archive of old versions, letting you see how documents have changed over time and revert to an old version if needed.

Image Scanning and OCR

Image scanning and optical character recognition are useful features for businesses that have a lot of paper records they would like to digitize. Scanning is the first step – turning a paper record into a digital file that can be imported into the software. OCR is a more advanced feature, but it's a must-have for streamlining large digitization projects. OCR reads the text of an image and makes the content of the image searchable. The best document management systems use OCR to automatically fill out metadata and make it even easier to search for the document later.

Electronic Signatures

Document management software is often home to files that require a manager's signature, such as purchase orders. Many document management systems integrate with an e-signature tool, such as DocuSign, to allow electronic signatures. You can often send a document to a recipient with a request for their signature through the software.

Workflow Automation

Workflow automation features move tasks along automatically. Take the purchase order above as an example: You could set up a workflow automation so that once a purchase order is generated, it automatically goes to the appropriate manager for their signature. The manager will receive a notification, and when the task is complete, the next relevant team member (such as someone in the accounting department or the manager's supervisor) will be notified. If more action is necessary, you might be able to build that into the automated workflow as well. The best document management systems allow you to customize workflows to suit the way your teams work together.

User Permissions

An essential element of document management software is the ability for administrators to set individual user permissions. Permissions allow certain users to view or edit files, while others can be prevented from even seeing those documents in the system. Not only is this useful for efficiency purposes, it is also an important security measure. The best document management software allows administrators to set permissions by specific groups, as well as to change permissions on the fly if you need to make an exception while keeping the default permissions settings the same.

Mobile Functionality

In today's business environment, mobile device access is essential. Many document management systems have a dedicated mobile app. Others rely on web browsers or online portals. Make sure the mobile version of any document management software you are considering is truly mobile-friendly. Even if you personally don't use it on mobile devices, it is likely other members of your team will.

Not every document management system checks all these boxes, while others offer all of them and more. When choosing your document management software, consider which tools and features would be most useful to your business. It is important to strike a balance between comprehensiveness and usability; for instance, some systems can do it all but are a challenge to navigate (not to mention more expensive than simpler software).

Data Security

Data security is a vital part of any document management system. In 2019, reports TechRepublic, the number of breaches increased by 54%, 89% of which were outside attacks.

As an increasing number of businesses go digital, more customers are entrusting sensitive personal information to the companies they do business with. Your organization is responsible for ensuring customer data is safe and protected from a breach. Look for document management services that offer encryption and compliance tools, auto-updates, data redundancy and backups.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is document control software?

Document control software helps you manage information, automate records management policies to help monitor who has access to which documents, and remain compliant with standards such as ISO, FDA, Sarbanes-Oxley or HIPAA.

How do you manage files on your computer?

Managing your files on a computer is a simple process if you have a solid system in place from the beginning. Decide on main groups for your files, then create subfolders within those groups. Decide on a single file-naming system that you'll apply to all your files, making them easy for anyone in your organization to find.

What are the benefits of record management?

Record (or document) management has several benefits. A document management system can make it easy for anyone in your company to find the files they need, eliminate the need for expensive and bulky physical storage units, and save you time by allowing you to call up any file in seconds.

What are document management systems used for?

Document management systems are used for several things, including securely storing important documents, tracking changes made to documents and easily sharing documents between members of an organization.

A document management system also makes it easy to find certain files by assigning keywords and tags to each document. These systems can also help companies ensure compliance for sensitive documents (e.g., HIPAA) by providing required security and permission restrictions on certain key documents.

How do document management systems work?

A document management system captures the document, which is done by scanning in the physical document or downloading a digital version via email or using other applications. Next, the document is indexed, meaning it is classified with tags, keywords and metadata that make it so it can be searchable. Finally, the document is organized and placed in a folder, where it can be accessed by the appropriate employees.

Most document management systems are cloud-based, so once a file is appropriately secured into the system, it can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. Some document management software providers offer mobile apps, which gives users even more flexibility and convenience in accessing documents.

What are the key features of an effective document management system?

The best document management system should be easy to use; it should allow for document sharing; and it should have collaboration tools, mobile functionality, and version control. The first two features allow your team to work together on critical documents without needing to be in the same office. Version control maintains a log of every change (and who made it) to your company's documents.

Another important feature to keep in mind that you want to make sure the software you choose offers airtight security protocols to ensure that only those with the right permissions can access files.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD DOCUMENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM?

A good document management system is easy to implement and scale. The complexity of the software should be based on your team's technical know-how, allowing them to easily store and locate documents as needed. Your team should be able to share documents and collaborate within the platform, even when they are using mobile devices.

Although every document management system should have security protocols, access controls and file versioning, these features are especially important for those operating within heavily regulated industries. Other features that lend to a document management system's usability are metadata and tagging options, keyword searching, document editing history and restoration, automatic document retention and deletion, image scanning, optical character recognition, and customizable workflows. The best software can also integrate with your other business platforms.

Previous Best Picks

In the past, we've selected the best systems for a wide range of use cases. Some of our picks have changed, but if you'd like to review your options more thoroughly, you can still see our previous best picks below.

  • 2018 Best Document Management System for Businesses with a Remote Workforce: In 2018, we named eFileCabinet the best document management system for a remote workforce. You can read our previous review here.

  • 2019 Best Document Management System for Collaboration: In 2019, we named Alfresco the best document management system for collaboration. You can read our previous review here.

  • 2019 Best Document Management System for Small Business: In 2019, we named FileHold Express the best document management system for collaboration. You can read our previous review here.

Community Expert Insight

We asked our readers and members of our business.com community to tell us about the document management software they currently use or have used in the past, including what they like and dislike about it. Here's what they had to say:

"SharePoint has lots of document management features (versioning, records management, metadata, enterprise search, etc.). Many large organizations store millions of documents in SharePoint every day." – Akshay Mane, business.com community member

"DocuSign was what was recommended [to me] and what I was accustomed to using … but it's not a very safe or reliable way to send important information." – Valenzia Gudger, business.com community member

"We currently use G Suite for most of our document management. I've been using some version of Google Drive since starting my business, mainly because of how well integrated it is. G Suite is just the latest iteration of that with more robust company features." – Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn

"Our document management software is Box.com. We have used Hightail, ShareFile, Dropbox and Google Drive. Box.com is the easiest one to use, and it has also maintained both CJIS and HIPAA compliance the entire time they've been around. Box.com is very easy to navigate, drag and drop, and also has a number of APIs you can use for almost everything you can imagine." – Ben Walker, founder and CEO of Transcription Outsourcing

"[We use] Ascensio System OnlyOffice. It's extremely fast – no lag or buffering. It has an easy-to-navigate and easy-to-learn user interface. It allows simultaneous collaboration on a single project, which saves time, effort and money. It has a competitive price for a set of features that makes document management a breeze." – Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of Home Grounds

What to Expect in 2021

Document management software is generally available as either an on-premises solution or cloud-based software. However, we anticipate further growth in cloud-based solutions as more businesses opt for the convenience of cloud storage and software as a service. Storing documents in the cloud removes the overhead of purchasing and maintaining a server-based solution, and it gives businesses more flexibility on where and when they can access their documents.

The rise in cloud-based solutions has also given way to the trend of using document management systems to streamline collaborative efforts. Since cloud-hosted systems permit more employees to access documents from various locations, teams can work more collaboratively, improving overall teamwork and automating their workflows.

In addition to an increase in cloud-based solutions, we can expect to see increasing emphasis on security and compliance. As document management systems become more robust and easily accessible, many businesses are storing highly sensitive documents within these solutions, opening them up to security risks. As a result, we are seeing document management software tighten its security protocols to ensure documents stay secure.

Another growing trend in document management software is mobile accessibility. In an ever-growing remote work environment, people need to access shared documents from various devices, including smartphones and tablets. Many document management software providers are now rolling mobile access into their standard offerings.

Our Methodology

To help you find the right document management system, we researched and analyzed dozens of options. Here is an explanation of how we determined our picks for the best software.

Locating the Best Services

To determine the best document management systems, we started with a pool that included all the vendors on the list below. After some preliminary research, which included looking at other best-picks lists and researching each system, we interviewed small business owners and discovered more vendors to add to our list.

Choosing the Best Services

Next, we researched each provider by investigating its services, watching tutorials and how-to videos, testing out the system when possible, and reading user comments. We also considered the pricing listed on these services' websites. After narrowing down the list to 11 contenders, we contacted each company's customer service department by phone, or live chat if possible, posing as new business owners to gauge the quality of support each provider offers.

Researching Each Service

Our process involves putting ourselves in the mindset of a small business owner and gathering the data that would be readily available to such an individual. We considered ease of use, whether the solution was on-premises or cloud-hosted, the file cabinet structure, search capabilities, scanning options, editing abilities, collaboration tools, security measures, integrations, workflow abilities, mobile access, customer service, and cost.

Adam Uzialko
Adam Uzialko
Business News Daily Staff
Adam Uzialko is a writer and editor at business.com and Business News Daily. He has 7 years of professional experience with a focus on small businesses and startups. He has covered topics including digital marketing, SEO, business communications, and public policy. He has also written about emerging technologies and their intersection with business, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and blockchain.
Image Credit: AndreyPopov / Getty Images
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