by Farica Chang, Principal of Anderson Archival
As your company expands, safeguarding important legal and business documents becomes crucial for the well-being of your company. This process includes preserving and documenting the start, growth, and general history of your company, as well as day-to-day documentation important to work flow.
Whether from serious natural disasters, crime, or cybercrime, all companies are vulnerable to some sort of data breach or loss, so it’s best to be prepared. Industry regulations and periodic audits create a whirlwind of paperwork, scanning, and potential legal issues. Preparing your business for any of these events is a great reason to organize your company for a paperless office.
Check out these five steps to help your company digitally organize an efficient, paperless office.
1. Make a plan.
Before scanning, collaborate with your team to create a plan of action. Creating a plan is a good way to stay on track and make sure what’s important gets done instead of getting distracted with the smaller things.
Include an action plan for when your company might be audited, and keep those files all together.
Some questions to help direct your planning stage are the following:
- What exactly do you want to digitize?
Not all documents need to be digitized, while others need to be digitized and encrypted to safeguard sensitive information. Knowing which documents require what at this point in organizing a paperless office will make the rest of the process much smoother.
- Which physical copies will be shredded and what will be preserved?
Have a plan for shredding documents securely. If physical copies must be preserved, make sure they’re stored in a way that keeps them safe from physical disasters and unauthorized eyes, just like storing digital data.
- What do you want the digital folder hierarchy to look like?
Envisioning how the digitized files will be used and creating a folder hierarchy will keep the files streamlined and ready for use.
- Are you going to scan in-house or outsource the job?
Scanning in-house can save money as long as you have the manpower and equipment to do it. Sometimes outsourcing the project is more feasible due to time constraints and need for a higher-quality end product.
Now that you have a plan, it’s time to scan. Scan the documents in the order of the file structure that you intend to use on your network to keep them organized. As you scan, pay attention to the pages. Sometimes a scanner’s feed will grab several pages at once or tear pages, causing blockage. This can be detrimental to the organization you intended, and if issues aren’t caught at the scanning stage, the final collection may end up missing sizable chunks.
Another option after scanning is optical character recognition (OCR). This uses technology to “read” the text on the page and make it searchable. Some companies find it extremely helpful to be able to search their documents, but others won’t need it.
3. Create an efficient file folder hierarchy.
In the planning stage, you decided on a file folder hierarchy that is efficient for your company’s needs. Now you can insert the scans into the file system already prepared or revise it to accommodate any unforeseen circumstances that arose in the scanning stage.
A thought-out file-folder hierarchy is the primary way digitizing makes a paperless office efficient. A well-organized system means users can find files almost instantly, while a poor system wastes the users’ and company’s time with unnecessary searching.
4. Establish user permissions.
User permissions should be established for internal security of the documents, allowing administrators different access privileges than other employees. Often it’s necessary to minimize internal mistakes and keep data on a need-to-know basis, which is best practice, especially when handling sensitive data.
Implementing user permissions for high-level folders protects the digitized documents from being accessed by unauthorized users, which means a lower risk of documents being mishandled, distributed, or corrupted, or data being compromised.
5. Implement cyber security protections and a backup system.
It’s time to implement security. Here’s where it can be tempting to skimp because you might not feel the need for this every day, but it is the single most important step when creating and organizing your paperless office.
Cybercrime is rampant, and more and more often hackers use ransomware to lock down backups as well as networks, leaving sensitive data vulnerable. Making sure you have secure backups of all of your files, whether on the cloud or on a hard drive, and separating them from your network is imperative.
Protecting your data from cybercrime includes maintaining an updated hardware firewall, software firewall, encryption, and those user permissions from Step 4 in addition to the backup system. Cyber security and backups for your network will help keep all of your hard work from being lost due to a cyber attack or other disaster.
Organizing your paperless office takes some time and skill, but once finished, you’ll have an easily accessible archive ready for whenever you need it, safe from disaster.
Farica Chang heads a team of dedicated archivists invested in preservation. As Principal of Anderson Archival, a digital archiving company in St. Louis, Missouri, Farica has extensive experience in many aspects of the archival process. Anderson Archival increases the impact, relevance, and accessibility of historical document collections with a thorough, principled digital preservation process.