We are addressing the question of ‘what is the best approach to going paperless for HR Document Management.’ In Parts 1, 2, and 3, we determined the goals of the project and the anticipated benefits. Achieving a meaningful business impact requires more than a simple paper to digital conversion.

In Parts 4 through 8 we evaluate each of the alternative approaches.  In Part 4 we took a look at the Search & Retrieve method. Now, in Part 5 we will evaluate the most common approach, known as Document Attachment.

It makes sense to associate documents with data.  For example, a payroll system knows the rate of pay and many other data elements, and it is valuable to see the supporting documents that go with the data, such as the offer letter or the last pay change form.

Some HR systems have added the ability to attach documents to individual personnel records. Documents are attached to an employee’s record, and uploaded documents are available when a system user is viewing information for that employee.  This is a one-dimensional approach that addresses a simple view of an employee by attaching documents to employee data.  It is helpful for a quick review, but generally does not meet the multi-dimensional requirements of an HR department.

This approach leverages existing systems, so it may have a low cost of entry.  If you are using a hosted HRIS environment (meaning your vendor runs it and you pay to use it), then you may encounter digital storage costs for adding significant volumes of attached document images, and your HRIS system could incur slower performance as these documents may be stored directly in the system’s database:

You probably have an established security model for your HRIS, so attached documents will follow that model.  The challenge will be to ensure that the level of granularity of access in your HRIS is appropriate for document attachments.  You may allow managers to see employees’ pay levels, but not their health issues.

If you attach merit increase forms and health insurance forms to the employee record, can the manager see both, or are they segregated?  Often, an attachment model does not address the nuances required to secure all of the HR document types.

Attached documents should be encrypted, and when someone views a document, it should be a secure session.  If the only way to transmit a document is as an email attachment, then there is a gaping hole in the security of handling this highly confidential personal information.

When a copy of a document is attached to an email, there is a cascade of copies generated as the email passes from ‘draft’ to ‘sent items’; from ‘inbox’ to ‘deleted items’ or ‘saved items’.  If the email is forwarded, the proliferation continues.  Not to mention that copies of the attachment may be saved on local hard drives or network drives.  HR loses total control of the sensitive document once it is sent as an attachment to an email.

This is primarily controlled by the HRIS.  Most companies limit access to data in the HRIS, so the documents attached will also be narrowly accessible.  If the goal is to free HR personnel from having to individually handle each request for documents, then this narrow access is an issue. How will HR deliver documents?  If the plan is to email documents, then you have opened an enormous security hole with copies floating all over the place, resulting in an information governance nightmare.

If managers, employees, and outside parties can be allowed to self-serve, then this becomes a more efficient solution.  If you end up having to lock things down so that the HR staff are the only ones that can retrieve and attach documents, then just as in the Search and Retrieve solution, there really is not much of an efficiency gain for HR.

Not too bad for tasks that require finding documents for a single employee.  The challenge is working across employees to find similar documents, as may be required in an audit.  A lot depends on the consistency of the document naming convention.

If all forms of a document are guaranteed to be similarly named and easy to request in bulk, then this approach can work.  Too often, the focus of an attachment solution is to be strong on one dimension – things associated with a single employee – and the result is that they are weak on multi-employee common HR tasks.

Cost and Complexity to implement
Depending upon the HRIS system, this may be a low-cost, easy to implement solution for basic attachment.  If you choose to attempt a more elaborate scheme to enable consistent document classification and manipulation, then the cost and complexity will increase.

This approach still raises concerns about who is doing the document conversion on an ongoing basis – internal people, temps or outsourced services.  A larger concern is the general lack of process automation in this approach.  The biggest issue is that an attachment model generally lacks support for true information governance.

On a case-by-case basis, it may be possible to set an expiration date for a document attached to an employee record, but true governance applies corporate policies uniformly by document type across all files.  Retention rules need to be both event-driven, such as three years from termination, as well as date driven, such as every January 1.  An attachment model provides a logical place to put things, but does not do much to change the HR processes in a way that will provide meaningful efficiency gains.