As a service provider, you sell your knowledge to your customers. Your product is the experience you’ve invested years building up, together with ground breaking insights you’ve developed as the expert in your chosen specialism. But what is it that you actually leave as a legacy at the customer once the project is finished?

More often than not, you’ll close a project by delivering and then handing over a presentation or report on what’s been achieved and any further recommendations. That’s what the client receives as the end result of all your hard work, using it to read up again on the advice you gave next time a relevant issue in their business appears.

This means that ultimately, the enduring contribution – the one that physically remains with a client – is often a document. When you think about it in these terms, it highlights the importance of creating, updating and managing them effectively.

You’ll probably create your documents using software like MS office, drawing programs or industry specific solutions. But how do you save these documents, and where do you store them? On a central server, in the cloud or at a wide range of personal locations? And how do you manage templates, revisions, edits and new versions?

Documents often represent the value of your company. Given how important they are, here are six of my top attention points for managing them as efficiently as possible.

1. Version management
How do you keep track of your latest developments on larger documents? By adding 1:1-10 at the end of the file name? Take care that the documents are properly archived and that old versions don’t keep doing the rounds. Keeping proper track of document contents per version will ensure you don’t make silly mistakes. The first quotation sent out in the new year shouldn’t have the terms and conditions from the year before in it.

2. Centrally organize your access rights
Who is allowed to access your documents? Can you properly protect confidential documentation from curious eyes in and outside your organization? An e-mail with sensitive documents attached can be endlessly forwarded, leaving you with no control over who sees what. Take care to organize central yet flexible access to your documents, giving you a clear overview of a system where everyone has access to what they need, but no more.

3. Co-operating on documentation
The ability to work online on projects will become increasingly important in these times of anywhere anytime working, globalization and hyper specialization. Documents need to be available via the internet for everyone in the project team. But what happens if two people are working at the same time on a document? How do you make sure that they contribute to one, properly aligned final version? The ability to check documents in and out of a system will prevent situations where one person’s hard work is inadvertently scrubbed out by the contributions of another.

4. Traceability
Once you start making documents, you by definition also need to be able to start locating documents. However much attention is given to file naming conventions, recovering documents remains one of the greatest challenges for any modern office environment. As such, it’s important to ensure you have the right tooling in place – systems that not only enable you to save and store the information, but to find it again easily afterwards. And not just according to the title, but based on the content of the documents as well!

5. MS Office integration
You work with speed and confidence in MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. As a result, it’s sensible to check out the integration possibilities between any new document management system and the MS Office suite. It will greatly simplify things if everything can be directly saved in a central environment. You’ll prevent locally saved old versions hanging around to confuse people as to what the current version actually looks like.

6. The perfect document structure?
Letting employees freely save documents in a centrally organized system is a guaranteed source of frustration. Although it’s certainly difficult for organizations to predetermine a setup that will work for everyone, you need to have structure. Everyone saving everything under the category ‘other’ will lead to a document mountain where no-one can find anything. Take care that you find the right compromise for your organization. Get every department involved in the design phase and keep a continually critical eye on the overall structure and it’s fit with everyone’s requirements.

All in all, when it comes to efficient document management, the emphasis is on planning. Take time to create the right structure, and get buy in from across the organization. Create a centrally managed environment for your documents where everyone can keep up to date, be sure of the latest and most accurate information, and be empowered to put in the best performance possible at the customer.