Document Control

Why, When, and How to Implement a Document Control System?

Information is a critical element in the world of business, and maintaining order and precision is crucial. Imagine an orchestra without a conductor – the result would be cacophony. Similarly, document control takes the baton to orchestrate seamless operations. 

What is Document Control?

At its core, document control is the process of creating, managing, and systematically updating documents. It encompasses the creation, review, approval, distribution, and archiving of documents, and ensuring the proper version of a document is accessible to the right individuals at the right time. This meticulous combination is essential for maintaining consistency, reducing errors, and fostering collaboration.

Businesses create and store documents – policies, procedures, manuals, and reports – to ensure consistency, accuracy, and compliance.

What Is the Purpose of Document Control?

Document Control serves a dual purpose, acting as a safeguard and an enabler. Its primary aim lies in ensuring that the correct versions of documents are available to authorized personnel. Secondly, it focuses on reducing the risk of errors caused by outdated or incorrect information. Simultaneously, it enables efficient collaboration, enhancing productivity and supporting informed decision-making.

It establishes a framework for consistency, accuracy, and accountability. To summarize, document control ensures each business process executes smoothly and precisely.

When Should You Control a Document?

Not all documents require the same level of control. It depends on the criticality of the document in relation to the organization's operations, quality, and compliance requirements.

  • Criticality to Operations: These are the blueprints that guide the combination of tasks, ensuring harmonious execution. Such documents encompass standard operating procedures, work instructions, process flowcharts, and protocols that are the lifeblood of day-to-day activities. By controlling these documents, organizations reduce the risk of operational discrepancies, boost efficiency, and maintain consistency.
  • Compliance and Regulations: Industries like healthcare, finance, and manufacturing must adhere to a web of rules and standards. Documents that outline procedures, safety protocols, and quality standards are not just a guideline but a mandate. Controlled document management ensures that organizations remain compliant, steering clear of penalties and reputational damage.
  • Quality Assurance: When it comes to quality, every detail matters. Documents that define quality standards, inspection criteria, and testing procedures are non-negotiable candidates for Document Control Systems.
  • Version Management: Change is inevitable in the dynamic landscape of business. Documents that undergo revisions, updates, or modifications must undergo the scrutiny of document control. It ensures that changes are vetted, approved, and properly communicated. By doing so, it prevents unintended consequences that could ripple across operations.
  • Intellectual Property: Guarding intellectual property, patents, and proprietary methodology documents is crucial. Document Control Systems provide security in a way that protects an organization's intellectual assets from falling into the wrong hands.
  • Audit Preparedness: Auditors seek evidence of adherence to documented processes and standards. The robust audit trail, version history, and accessibility make the audit process smoother and bolster an organization's credibility.
  • Risk Mitigation: Risk lurks in the shadows of every operation. Documents that address risk assessments, mitigation strategies, and contingency plans are integral to the survival of an organization. By controlling these documents, organizations embed risk consciousness into their operations and ensure they are well-prepared to navigate uncertain waters.

Why Should You Use Document Control?

Document control synchronizes compliance, efficiency, and quality. Implementing robust document control processes prevents the chaos of lost documents, conflicting versions, and outdated information. It fosters collaboration, enhances transparency, and nurtures a culture of precision. 

Who Needs a Document Control System?

From small startups to large enterprises, document control systems are essential. Regulatory bodies, quality managers, project leaders, and even employees benefit from structured processes that document control systems offer. The list includes but is not limited to:

  • Manufacturing Companies: Ensuring consistency and adherence to quality standards is paramount in manufacturing. They guarantee that production processes adhere to predefined protocols.
  • Healthcare Institutions: Document Control Systems aid in managing patient records, treatment protocols, and regulatory compliance.
  • Financial Institutions: The finance industry is bound by strict regulations and protocols. Document Control Systems help manage policies, procedures, and client documentation while ensuring compliance with legal requirements.
  • Research and Development Organizations: Maintaining accurate and updated documentation is vital. Document Control Systems facilitate the management of research data, intellectual property, and project documentation.

Why Controls are Central to Compliance in ISO 9001 & ISO 13485?

ISO 9001 and ISO 13485 are internationally recognized standards for quality management systems and medical devices, respectively. These standards emphasize the importance of well-defined processes, consistent documentation, and continual improvement. Document control is the bridge between businesses and these standards.

  • ISO standards require organizations to have well-defined processes.
  • ISO standards advocate for risk-based thinking.
  • During audits, organizations need to demonstrate compliance with ISO standards.
  • ISO standards emphasize continuous improvement.

Features of a Document Control System

  1. Version Control
  2. Access Control
  3. Audit Trails
  4. Approval Process
  5. Search and Retrieval
  6. Analytics and Insights

Document Control Procedure

Step 1: Document Creation

The author creates a document as the initial draft, ensuring clarity, accuracy, and adherence to organizational standards.

Step 2: Document Review and Approval

Facilitate collaboration among reviewers, allowing them to provide feedback, suggest changes, and address concerns.

Incorporate feedback and revise the document as needed.

Submit the final draft to designated approvers, who assess the document's alignment with standards and compliance requirements.

Step 3: Distribution and Access Control

Define access rights based on roles and responsibilities, ensuring only authorized individuals can view, edit, or approve the document.

Step 4: Version Control

Implement a version control mechanism to track changes, revisions, and updates.

Step 5: Obsolete Documents

Establish a timeline for periodic document reviews to assess its relevance, accuracy, and compliance. Archive obsolete documents.

Step 6: Continuous Improvement

Conduct periodic audits of the Document Control Procedure to identify areas for enhancement.


Q1: Is document control relevant only to large businesses?

Document control is not limited to large businesses. It's a fundamental practice that holds relevance for organizations of all sizes.

While large companies may handle a higher volume of documents, the principle is equally essential for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). 

In fact, the impact of mistakes can be even more pronounced for SMEs. With fewer layers of hierarchy, errors can quickly cascade, affecting operations, customer satisfaction, and reputation.

Q2: Can document control systems be customized?

Yes, document control systems are customizable to the unique needs and requirements of different organizations. The versatility and flexibility of modern document control solutions allow for tailored configurations that align with specific workflows, industry regulations, and organizational structures.

Customization options encompass various aspects of the system, including Control levels, Fields and Meta-data, Integration, User Interface, and Reports and Analytics.

Q3: Are document control systems expensive to implement?

The cost of implementing a document control system can vary widely depending on factors such as the scale of the organization, the complexity of processes, the chosen software, and the specific features required. While there are upfront costs associated with purchasing and configuring the software, these investments often yield substantial long-term benefits.