Document Life Cycle.

The steps within the document life cycle can be described as;

•         Creation

•         Updating

•         Publication

•         Obsolete

•         Deletion


In the previous section we described the creation methods of forms based documents so this time I will spend time discussing the creation process of documents created within your organisation, as an example we can discuss the customer contract we made, and in particular the Terms and Conditions that are printed with these contracts.  The creation of this document is a collaborative process between a number of people within your organisation. The legal department and the business manager for example.

If this is started using a word processing system, a document that has been created by an individual is down loaded into the document management system where it can be shared. Then it is obvious that two people cannot work on the same document, changes from one user would over write those of the other.  To avoid this conflict, a concept of “check in” and “check out” is implemented.  Here the document is checked out from a shared folder.

The original document is “locked”, no other user can open it, and a copy made in the personal area of the person who will edit the document.  When editing is complete, the document downloaded in the Document Management System where it can be checked back in and available for someone else to edit.  An advantage of the check out methodology is that the process is monitored.

The person who has checked out the document is known and a time limit can be configured on the amount of time before it has to be checked in again.  If this time is exceeded e-mails are sent to the person or their manager to remind them to check the document back in.


There needs to be a number of controls in place to manage the updating of existing documents.  The first being security, making sure only users with the correct authority can make changes, this will be covered in more detail in a later section.  The second is version control.  It may be necessary to reverse any changes or simply inspect the document before the changes were made.  To handle this “Version Control” can be implemented.  When a document in checked into the Document Management System after updates, the original document will be copied and stored as a previous version, by looking at the history this old version can be recalled.

Often there are staff members who have an interest in documents but do not necessarily perform the updates or edit themselves.  A useful feature is the ability to subscribe to a document, then when any changes are made the interested party is informed.

When a document grows it often has multiple object types, a word document for the text and an excel spreadsheet for the financials for example.  It is important that these are always kept and managed together.


When a document is completed it is probable that it now needs to be made accessible to a wider audience, how this is done will depend upon the type of document in question.  For common documents, your internal policies and procedures manual for example, moving them into a folder that can be accessed in read only mode (this will be explained in the section on security) by all your employees. For documents of higher importance you may want them to be converted into a Record.

So what is the difference between a document and a record I can hear you ask?  To answer that fully would take a long time so I will give a simplified answer.  “A Document can be changed and a record cannot”.  A bit more detail; the information that is associated with a document known as the “Meta Data”  is for the control of editing and versioning, the Meta Data for a record is more about the retention and deletion times. (My apologies to anyone reading this who is an expert on Records Management and is now cringing at my simplistic description.)

There are a number of standards that have been established around the world that describe exactly what a Record is, in the USA this is managed by the Department of Defence, in the UK it is the Public Record Office and there is a similar organisation in Germany.  To have a software product compliant to this standard is very expensive and time consuming, therefore products with this certification often have a very high price and because they are often Records Only modules are more difficult to support.  As there is very little business benefit to having this accreditation and with Adobe working hard to make their PDF (Portable Document Format) more secure for the majority of organisations converting your documents to PDF is sufficient and this is the option we will be describing in this guide.

Most modern Document Management System will automatically convert the document for you to PDF format when published, this gives a number of benefits including;

* Making the document more portable and so can be read by anyone.
* Ensuring the document cannot be changed
* Have the ability to automatically add Watermarks

If your document is very important or covered by quality control procedures such as ISO9000 then before it is published it must go through a formal approval process.  These types of documents will be tracked and the approval process logged as proof when quality control audited that the correct procedures have been followed.

Obsolete and Deletion

Many documents will have a predetermined period of validation, terms and conditions for example, when this time arrives the document will become inaccessible to the majority of users.  It is probable that it you will not want it to be deleted immediately but kept for another predetermined period.  The system will be able to manage this process.  Again if you have quality control procedures in place both the Obsolete and deletion step will require authorisation and logging.

File Plan

To understand which documents and records need to managed in different ways it is common practice to develop a File Plan.  Although file plans can differ across organizations, they typically:
–        Describe the kinds of items the organization acknowledges to be records.

–        Describe what broader category of records the items belong to.

–        Indicate where records are stored.

–        Describe retention periods for records.

–        Delineate who is responsible for managing the various types of records.