Document Indexing: What Is It, How It Works, and More

Taylor Pettis    August 6th, 2021    Leave a Comment

Document Indexing What Is It How It Works and More Banner

Many companies that have made the switch from paper to computer-based filing systems have learned that digital files can be as messy and disorganized as analog ones. Though digitizing documents saves huge amounts of time and effort in the long run, it only works if it’s done right. That’s where document indexing comes in.

Document indexing is a great way to help your company get your digital files organized—and keep future files organized—and it applies to files involved in processes across your organization, from accounts payable and accounts receivable to procure-to-pay and more.

But what precisely is document indexing? This article will walk you through the definition, the benefits, types of document indexing, and more.

What Is Document Indexing?

Document indexing is the process that tags documents with certain attributes or labels that can later be efficiently searched through and retrieved. For instance, a company might index documents by client name, customer number, date, employee name, or other key traits that could be relevant later. It’s a critical part of the foundation upon which enterprise document management systems are built.

Think about a textbook. The book consists of a wide range of chapters on various topics, with each chapter running 20 pages or more. If you need to find a specific piece of information in the book, hunting through every page of every chapter would take hours. But by using the index, your hunt shrinks to mere minutes or seconds. Document indexing operates on a similar premise. By attaching specific tags to a digital document, you’re able to use the terms in those tags to more easily find the information you need, rather than manually sifting through a mountain of files.

Why Is Document Indexing Important?

Document indexing helps with more than just speedy document retrieval. There are many benefits to document indexing, including:

Why Is Document Indexing Important
  • Better organization: In a recent survey by Nintex, 49 percent of respondents reported that locating documents was problematic for them. It was the highest-ranking issue that employees across industries had with document management and sales processes in their respective organizations.
  • Enables better collaboration and more efficient workflows: Easier access to documents helps people work together more efficiently. In the same Nintex survey, 43 percent reported document sharing was a broken process at their company. Shared, indexed documents allow the right employees to access the documents they need, any time.
  • Easier audit compliance: when your documents are already in order, indexed by fiscal year and other relevant metrics, you can easily ditch the mad dash to get documents in order for an audit.
  • Saves time: The International Data Corporation and McKinsey estimate that some workers spend as much as 19 percent of their time just hunting for and gathering information. But with the right document indexing processes in place, you and your team can spend that time you’d spend searching on actual work.
  • Saves money: Collectively, all of these other benefits compound to help improve your bottom line.

Types of Indexing

Not only does document indexing provide you with multiple benefits, there are multiple approaches to indexing, too, so you can follow whichever one (or combination of approaches) works best for your workflow. Those approaches include:

Full-Text Indexing

This type of indexing scans the entire contents of a document, allowing you to search anywhere within the text for keywords or phrases. It’s analogous to the “Find” (Ctrl+F or Command+F) feature available in most word processors and web browsers. This is the easiest type of indexing to use since it’s so intuitive for users, but it requires a large amount of storage space.

Full-Text Indexing
Indexing Using Data Variables

Automated Indexing Using Data Variables Lookup Indexing

Rather than indexing everything in a document, variable lookup indexing automatically targets key fields, like customer names or numbers, which it matches up with a database. This is a more complex process that requires document indexing software, but can be particularly helpful for companies indexing documents like invoices that consistently include fields that match information stored in databases.

Metadata Indexing

Metadata is known as “data about data”—which sounds more complicated than it is. An everyday example of this is when a photo you take on your phone automatically records a timestamp and location, and you can add additional “tags,” too—this information is that photo’s metadata. When scanning or digitizing a document, you can add metadata like tags and other information that you want to use for searching later. Then, when it’s time to retrieve a document, instead of your document retrieval software scanning entire documents, it scans the metadata.

Metadata Indexing
Automated Indexing Using Field Data

 Automated Indexing Using Field Data

Conceptually similar to metadata indexing, field-based indexing refers to different information sources within a database, otherwise known as fields. For example, you might use field-based indexing to search your database for entries that all have a certain name in the “customer” or “handling employee” field.

How Document Indexing Works and How It Helps You Find Documents

To figure out which type of document indexing is right for you, it’s important to understand how each of the relevant parties are going to use the documents you’re indexing. You’ll need to know what information employees are most likely to search for and the terms they’re most likely to use to get there. Understanding employee needs is the only way to make sure you’re indexing in a way that will enable easy document retrieval.

After you’ve figured out how your indexed documents will be used, and which type of indexing makes the most sense for your organization, indexing the documents themselves is simple. At a high level, the indexing method involves sorting through scanned and digital documents to locate manually, or better yet, automatically, designated key terms. But here is a more detailed look at the process for indexing documents:

1. Determine the use case for the documents being indexed

What type of indexing you’ll want to use will depend on the types of documents you’ll be indexing, be they invoices, employee documents, or something else. It’s also important to be aware of who, specifically, will be retrieving these documents and for what purpose. For instance, your accounts payable team may retrieve invoices when paying balances.

2. Determine what type of indexing makes sense for the use case

Some types of documents might not need as much information to be indexed in order to easily find them. For example, with invoices, you may just need basic information like vendor name or account number.

3. Index the appropriate data

After you’ve settled on what sort of indexing makes sense, you can either manually index that data or, ideally, rely on a software that can index that data for you.

  • If you’re manually indexing, best practice is called the double key method. In the double key method, two separate people both label each scanned document with all the necessary indexing terms, typing the information they see into appropriate metadata fields for the file. This allows a cross-comparison to catch any errors. Though double key is great for reducing errors, it’s incredibly time-consuming.
  • If you’re relying on software, all you have to do is designate the rules for which fields of the document the software should pull from. The best indexing software works in tandem with OCR technology that allows the computer to read text from images—a must when digitizing hard copies of files and indexing relevant information.

Find the Right Document Indexing Solution for You

Document indexing is a key element of any enterprise document management strategy and is a great way to create more efficient workflows. With proper indexing, any document your employees need is easy to search for and retrieve with just a few keystrokes. But it can be tricky to implement robust document indexing if you don’t have the right tools at your disposal.

Document indexing is just one of the many features that MHC brings to your enterprise content management. Powered by best-in-breed OCR technology, MHC can help you tame the file chaos in departments like accounts payable, accounts receivable, customer support, and beyond. Request a demo today to find out how MHC’s document indexing capabilities can help streamline and improve your business’ AP processes and more.

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