Organizations of all types and sizes are making the move from paper-based processes to electronic systems. Each new generation of technologies moves closer to the goal of a paperless environment.
Just as there are many different types of digital documents, there are a number of technologies, processes and best practices for going paperless. As organizations take advantage of document management technology, they should consider these tips to avoid pitfalls.
Just as with physical documents, it’s important to consider where an organization stores its digital documents and how it protects them. Digital documents should be stored in a secure system and backed up as part of a continuity of operations and disaster recovery plan.
Cloud backup and storage services are a good option to complement local data storage. In addition to making sure that paperless documents are securely stored both locally and remotely, make sure that they are encrypted. Another consideration is to maintain activity logs of who has had access and what they have done with digital documents. Organizations can apply passwords to documents restricting access, copying, printing or other functions.
Having a secure place to store documents is only part of the challenge. Organizations must be able to find digital documents as well, both for routine activities and for e-discovery for litigation, which can be complicated for users who are unprepared.
Approximate number of paper documents being stored by businesses and government agencies worldwide
SOURCE: The Paperless Project
As new documents are created, users should add information about the content into metadata fields. Metadata is information about the document being stored, such as keywords, subject, category tags and retention period. Storing this information with a document can help users find it down the road.
A document management system will help an organization keep tabs on its documents. Many are focused on specific kinds of documents, such as e-mail, medical records, financial and legal documents, and engineering drawings.
It’s important for an organization to consider how it creates digital documents or converts them from physical formats. Using Adobe Portable Document Format might seem low-tech, but it’s effective. Instead of printing and scanning documents, consider creating them as PDFs or using tools that convert them into that format. Users can create forms and fields for metadata and can attach digital signatures to reduce manual processing steps.
Scanning documents is another useful technique. Other options include translation services and tools for converting audio — such as voicemail messages or transcriptions — to text, as well as translating handwritten notes to digital documents.
In the quest to eliminate paper, organizations should strive to minimize manual processing. For example, some organizations require that a digital document be printed for a physical signature and then scanned back into digital format to be filed. An alternative is to accept digital signatures to cut down on the number of steps and reduce digital document traffic — which demands network bandwidth, server processing time and storage capacity while increasing the risk of loss, theft or accidental exposure to unintended parties.
Organizations should create a process for managing paperless information that does not add complexity. It should be simple, understandable and flexible.