Best Document Management Software 2021

What is Document Management Software?

This ultimate guide to document management software will help you learn the basics of document management, the benefits for your business, relevant use cases, and best practices.

Document management software (DMS) is increasingly popular these days. Document management software tools like Google Workspace, Microsoft 365 and Dropbox Business make document creation, sharing, and collaboration more streamlined and manageable.

Businesses that use DMS systems benefit from increased efficiency, heightened document security, seamless collaboration, and less paper-related stress. In this article we will be delving into the world of document management software. We’ll start from scratch discussing what DMS actually is, why your business needs it, and how to mobilize a DMS for top-level results.

Table of Contents

What is Document Management Software?

In their most basic form, document management software tools are used to store and share documents. Document management software helps customers organize, secure, tag, and manage all of their business files in one place.

No two DMS are exactly the same. DMS started out as a tool for converting paper files into electronic ones. But today there are tons of more advanced DMS tools that offer additional features such as:

  • Team management
  • Image capture
  • Document search
  • Access management
  • Workflow automation
  • Think of a DMS as essentially an electronic filing cabinet.

A DMS is typically a cloud-based tool that can be purchased from a service provider for a monthly subscription. Files are stored online in the cloud, offering vast storage volumes, network failure protection, and unlimited user access.

Do I Need Document Management Software?

Your business most likely needs document management software if documents, spreadsheets, presentations and other files are an integral part of your business operations.. Generally, having a DMS in our increasingly digitized world is highly recommended.

This is because as more and more organizations adopt remote and flexible working models, it’s essential that documents can be accessed, shared, and used collaboratively from dispersed locations.

If you’re still not completely sure if document management software is right for you, here are four signs that you likely need a DMS for your business:

  • Do you spend more than you’d like on paper, printing, filing, and storage facilities?
  • Do you have documents spread across laptops, hard drives, PCs, mobiles, and email attachments?
  • Do you regularly waste time looking for files instead of doing the tasks you actually had scheduled for the day?
  • Do you need to work on documents, spreadsheets, or presentations with your team?

Document Management Software Use Cases

Document management software can be leveraged in a multitude of ways. Let’s discuss some of its primary use cases.

#1. Workflow automation

Workflow automations are rules you can set to automate repetitive tasks for your team. This includes automatically sending onboarding documents to new employees, or assigning users to specific projects upon creation. Below is an example of workflow automation in Microsoft 365.


Usually, a DMS will come with several templates for common automations businesses need. These include:

  • Email individuals upcoming calendar events
  • Upload photos to cloud storage system
  • Send alert when user password changes
  • Send email notifications for new files

#2. Document collaboration

Document management software facilitates collaboration with ease. You can share and edit files in real-time from anywhere in the world.

Collaboration in more basic solutions is limited to transferring files and basic commenting. Advanced systems like Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 enable teams to simultaneously work on the same document, and have in-depth conversations within each document.

#3. File storage and sharing

One of the primary use cases for any document management software is storing and sharing files. With a DMS you’ll have all of your documents in one place where they can be organized, shared, and retrieved with ease.


Dropbox Business, seen above, is a DMS designed mainly for file storage and sharing. Like many other document management tools, it comes with file permissions. So, you’ll have full control over who can see or do what for each individual document.

#4. Communication

Video chat and online communication have become a core part of many businesses. More advanced document management software tools allow users to message one another or video chat while collaborating on files.

Solutions like Google Workspace offer a suite of communication tools like email, messaging, and chat. Some alternatives like Microsoft 365 and Zoho WorkDrive offer their own hubs for communication as well.


Seen above is Microsoft Teams. This is 365’s standout collaboration tool that competes most directly with Slack. In it, you can access your team’s files, set events in your calendar, and communicate directly with team members through chat or video.

What are the Benefits of Document Management Software?

Benefits of document management software include saved time, reduced costs, increased security, and improved collaboration.

Saved Time

Whether it’s streamlining repetitive tasks through automations or finding documents easier than before, document management systems can help eliminate inefficiencies. The time you’ll inevitably save can be reallocated to higher value tasks.

Reduced Costs

Storing all your company’s files in the cloud helps your business save money by converting all your physical documents into digital files. Eliminating traditional file cabinets and printing costs results in significant savings.

Document management software pricing ranges from $5 to $50 per user per month. However, most businesses will pay around $5 to $15 per month per user for their solution.

Increased Security

Standard document management solutions place security at the forefront of their product. Security comes through top-level settings and individual document permissions. Some of the most common top-level security settings you can adjust in your admin console include:

  • Password control
  • Device approvals
  • Space limits
  • Sharing limits
  • Deletion permissions

Improved Collaboration

Sharing files and collaborating on documents is much easier with a DMS. You’ll be able to provide colleagues with access to documents from multiple locations, and they will be able to edit and collaborate on these documents in real-time.


High performing document management solutions will allow your team to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, web forms, and web pages. You can also track individual changes that have been made by teammates if your DMS’ version control is strong. This allows you to revert or reject suggested edits with one click.

What Should I Consider When Evaluating Document Management Software?

Once you’ve decided that you need a DMS, you should evaluate each solution based upon its features, price, usability, and integrations.


There are five essential features to keep in mind when deciding which DMS you will purchase. The primary differences in features between most document management solutions are their collaboration tools and workflow automation capabilities.

Admin ConsoleAdmin consoles are where administrators edit settings for their business. High performing solutions should offer flexible permissions and security settings in their admin console.
Cloud StorageCloud storage tools in document management solutions are the primary ways you store your files and share them with your teammates or outside collaborators. Top tier solutions will come with large file upload sizes, offline access capabilities, flexible file recovery dates, and robust document version control.
File ManagementFile management relates to how you create and organize your documents. Solutions like Google Workspace, Microsoft 365, and Zoho WorkDrive differ from competitors due to their robust file creation suites. Powerful file management capabilities are important for businesses in need of both document creation and storage features.
CollaborationCollaboration in a DMS usually comes in the form of file creation, file commenting, and team communication tools. Selecting a tool with robust collaboration features will help your company streamline communication. This is because you can handle your documents and collaborate with one another in the same system.
Workflow AutomationWorkflow automation is how businesses automate repetitive tasks such as sending the same documents to clients or sending out security alerts. Workflow automations can differ dramatically by their ease of use. Some solutions have steeper learning curves than others.


Document management software is priced on a per user per month basis.

DMS VendorStarting Price per UserStarting Team Storage
Dropbox Business$155 TB
Google Workspace$690 GB
Microsoft 365$51 TB
Zoho WorkDrive$31 TB


Usability is an important factor to consider when investing in software. This is especially true for document management – it’s a foundational software tool that your entire team will use daily.

In addition to day to day usage, onboarding users can be a very different experience depending on which solution you’re using. Make sure that you choose a tool that is easy for your team to learn. Luckily, most solutions come with resource centers and forums to help with onboarding.


Last but not least, consider the integrations offered by each software solution. Integrating your document management solution with your other business systems can help streamline your processes. Many solutions will integrate with CRM systems, HR tools, and accounting systems, for example.

Many tools have native integrations and utilize Zapier. Here are some of the most common integrations that document management solutions support:

What Document Management Software Tools Should I Consider?

Now that you know how to evaluate document management solutions, here are the top solutions we recommend. Each selection is based on its breadth of features and pricing. See our document management category page for the full list of tools that we’ve analyzed.

Google Workspace is our highest rated solution. This is because it includes a document creation suite in addition to the standard document management features. It also has the strongest collaboration features.

Google Workspace
Rating: 95
Starting Price: $6 per month per user

Overall, Google Workspace is a powerful document management solution used by a diverse range of businesses. It’s best for businesses interested in content creation and team collaboration. Businesses looking for an entire suite of business tools rather than simple document storage features will find Workspace particularly beneficial.

  • You can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations in Google Workspace
  • Google Workspace comes with powerful communication tools like Gmail, Google Meet, and Google Chat
  • Google Workspace’s version history shows exact edits made by your teammates
  • Google Workspace’s various applications facilitate collaboration better than any other document management software
  • Google Workspace’s workflow automations have a very steep learning curve
  • You cannot make comments on files without opening them
  • Google Workspace’s file recovery cutoff date is far shorter than it is in Dropbox Business and Box

If you are looking for a similar solution but prefer Microsoft over Google, consider Microsoft 365. 365 also comes with Teams, which is one of the more powerful collaboration tools we’ve analyzed.

Microsoft 365
Rating: 95
Starting Price: $5 per month per user

Microsoft 365 is a full featured document management solution used by a wide range of businesses. Microsoft 365’s suite of tools help your business manage not only your documents but your team as well. We highly recommend Microsoft 365 for any business that prefers Microsoft over Google, and wants to take advantage of internal chat and team management tools like Microsoft Teams.

  • You can create documents, spreadsheets, and presentations using Microsoft 365
  • Microsoft 365 conveniently packages its document and team management features in Microsoft Teams
  • Microsoft 365’s workflow automations are more accessible than in Google Workspace
  • Microsoft 365’s version control is not as detailed as alternatives
  • Microsoft 365’s file recovery cutoff date is shorter than it is in Dropbox Business and Box
  • You cannot make comments on files uploaded to OneDrive

Finally, Dropbox Business is the best document management software that’s built for small businesses interested only in storing and sharing files. It does not offer workflow automation nor a document creation suite.

Dropbox Business
Rating: 87
Starting Price: $15 per month per user

Dropbox Business is a powerful document management solution best for businesses interested more so in improving the way their documents are stored, rather than a system to create documents. Businesses particularly interested in collaboration will find Dropbox Business’ features very helpful for their needs.

  • Dropbox Business has a robust and flexible admin console
  • Collaboration is very easy to set up and facilitate
  • Dropbox Business comes with a wide variety of native integrations
  • You cannot create documents, slideshows, or spreadsheets in Dropbox Business
  • File version histories are not as robust as Google Workspace
  • Dropbox Business does not come with workflow automations like Box

Best Practices and Tips for Using Document Management Software

Each document management solution comes with slightly different features and use cases. Here are some general best practices and tips to keep in mind:

#1. Organize your documents

One of the main benefits of any DMS is the ability to organize your files and quickly locate them. Make sure that you’re digitizing and uploading business documents in an organized manner.


The main tools you should use to organize your documents are document naming and folders. Creating these clear categories will allow you to access your documents quickly.

#2. Dive Into Your Admin Console

The admin console can seem like one of the more complicated features in document management systems. In reality, many admin consoles are easy to navigate and highlight important settings you should adjust for your team. Each admin console you come across should have a team dashboard, top-level permissions, and security settings. These are the features that you’ll likely be using the most, so getting acquainted with them early on is advantageous.

#3. Use Commenting to Your Advantage

Commenting on documents is a feature all basic document management solutions offer. It is a highly effective way to coordinate changes with team members.


Commenting allows you to highlight specific parts of a document and take a note for both you and anyone who is working on that file. Some solutions will even let you tag users so they know exactly which comments are associated with them.

#4. Protect any sensitive information

Finally, if you’re dealing with sensitive or confidential information, ensure that you’ve assigned the necessary security protocols. Your document management system will have tools in place to ensure privacy. We recommend using the following security features:

  • Two-factor authentication
  • Password control
  • Document permissions
  • Device permissions

Final Thoughts

Document management software is rapidly becoming the primary way small businesses store and share their documents, as well as manage their teams. It offers features such as admin consoles, cloud storage, file management, collaboration, and workflow automation. Primary DMS benefits include streamlining your workflows, cutting printing costs, and making your teams more productive. If you feel that document management will be a successful fit for your business, see our document management category page for more details.

Yousef Fatehpour

Yousef Fatehpour is a Junior Research Analyst at SoftwarePundit. He graduated from University of California, San Diego, where he studied Human Centered Design and Communications. His work at UCSD's Design Lab emphasized UX research and product management.

Yousef's primary areas of interest are software design, user journeys, and how user experience is handled across software markets. Yousef also has experience in product design and multimedia content production. You can connect with Yousef on LinkedIn.

Yousef is an expert in several software categories including:

  • SMS marketing software
  • Document management software
  • Human resource software
  • Applicant tracking software
  • Design software

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