Businesses need to retain data for at least seven years in order to meet tax and other requirements. Companies involved in manufacturing may have to keep documents for much longer, especially those involved with aeronautical and defence related projects where product lifetimes are measured in decades rather than years.
Fortunately, companies no longer need maintain original documentation in order to meet these requirements, and critical documents can be scanned and electronically archived, provided measures have been taken to protect the authenticity and integrity of the documents.
These measures are covered by a British standard and code of practice covering the admissibility of documents for legal proceedings and evidential weight (BS 10008 and BIP 10008). Businesses that convert their paper records into electronic records reduce costs and increase their efficiency and effectiveness.
1. Document Storage Space
In most businesses, document storage takes up an enormous amount of space. Where these documents are on-site they waste valuable office or storage space. Rental of off-site storage with document storage companies is costly. Every year, piles of documents are added and in many cases little effort is made to ensure that documents no longer needed are destroyed, resulting in an annual increase in storage space. Document scanning allows these physical records to be discarded, freeing valuable space and cutting storage costs.
Protecting stored documents is problematic and many things can go wrong, including:
- Loss, damage, and destruction of documents due to mould, water, flooding, and moisture.
- Destruction by rodents and insects.
- Paper becoming brittle, tearing easily, and print fading.
- Frequent access, which damages documents.
- Industrial espionage through theft of technical documents from poorly guarded facilities.
When critical documentation is missing, there are legal and other ramifications, especially when a company needs to defend itself from litigation by statutory and other bodies. Document scanning enhances a company’s security in several ways:
- Documents are always available and duplicates can be easily stored on different servers.
- Documents can be protected by use of appropriate passwords and access codes.
- Loss and theft is avoided.
- Documents cannot be not lost or destroyed
3. Environmentally Friendly
There are environmental benefits when documents are scanned and the originals discarded:
- The redundant documents can be shredded and recycled, thus reducing the demand for wood pulp.
- There is no need for bulky copies to be kept of essential data, thus conserving paper.
4. Document Retrieval
Retrieval of paper records can be a tedious process. Where they are stored on-site, it can take time to find the correct filing cabinet or storage box, especially as filing systems for historical documentation stored on-site are rarely maintained or actively managed. Where documents are stored off-site with document storage companies, time is lost arranging for document retrieval. Documents mislaid as a result of poor filing or carelessness become almost impossible to find. Where document scanning has been implemented, all this changes and they can be accessed almost immediately.
The physical storage of documents that may be needed for future reference is cumbersome and when these documents are required for revision, a new project, or any other reason, they need to be extracted, collated, and physically copied or scanned for distribution, it’s a time consuming and expensive process. In comparison, documents that have been scanned and properly indexed can be found within minutes, electronically copied, and circulated as required.
The Bottom Line
The proper and careful storage of historical documents is time consuming and expensive. The practices adopted by many companies of uncontrolled and relatively haphazard storage, while appearing to be cheap, can be horrendously expensive when essential information cannot be found or is irretrievably damaged. At best, retrieval costs are expensive in terms of man-hours spent finding, collecting, and returning these documents for safe keeping. A simple query regarding a particular document can take hours or even days to answer. The true cost to a company of physical storage of documents is much more than just the rental of storage space and a cost comparison with document scanning will show that it makes financial sense to swap to the latter system. Dispensing with the physical storage of company documents and adopting document scanning as company policy for existing historical documents and future document storage makes sound economic sense.