This topic is a part of a bigger domain – Record Management. Both paper document and digitized document are mediums for managing “records”. Let’s see how these two types have influenced record management and its effect on businesses. Considering the importance of keeping / storing, maintaining, and finding / retrieving records, we’ll go through the following topics.
- Importance of Record Management
- Record Management through paper
- Disadvantages / Challenges of maintaining paper documents
- Dependency on paper-based Record Management
- How digital documents help with Record Management
- Finding digital documents using markers or “tags”
- Future of Record Management
- digipaper for digital Record Management
Importance of Record Management
Information or records have always been a prime resource of an organization. Without it, no modern organization would be able to function. Businesses operate, as well as strategize, based on the records. Those have economic, legal, fiscal, and competitive values. However, many organizations – due to lack of effective policies and procedures of systematic control on record management – face a lot of problems and risks. As a result, they keep some records for too long, spend too much to store those, waste time looking for misplaced information, fail to comply with the record-keeping rules / regulations, and ultimately as a whole fail to protect vital information. Lack of proper record management often create the following issues for an organization:
- Paperwork becomes a major overhead / cost for the organization
- Number of active files grows day by day.
- Managers waste time searching through misfiled, mislabeled, untracked or lost information.
- Office workers waste time on misplaced paperwork.
- Many records, due to lack of proper record management, are removed / destroyed.
- At any point of time, some files / records are found to be lost or misplaced.
- Recreating a destroyed / misplaced file / information is a challenge as well as waste of time and money.
These days businesses create and receive records at an ever-increasing rate. Not only is the volume of record amazing, but the records come in variety of formats, such as
- Word processing documents
- Digital images (e.g., scanned paper documents)
These documents may reside in different storage media, e.g.,
- Local hard drives
- Network drives
- Backup drives / tapes
- CDs and DVDs
- Flash drives
The situation gets more complex, if a significant part of these information are on paper. Considering the volume and types of documents and their saving options, organizations find it almost impossible to manage all the documents without a well-defined and efficient document management system.
Record Management through paper
For last few centuries, businesses have been following a mostly paper-based document management system. Even a few decades ago, the documents were not so versatile and detailed, and document management systems were not as elaborate as now. Still there was some ‘system’ and that have been relied upon. However, in course of time, technology has advanced and there are new ways of using it. Today paper-based document management is gradually becoming inadequate and often inefficient.
Disadvantages / Challenges of maintaining paper documents
Though many organizations still depend on paper-based record keeping, surely there are a lot of challenges with that, such as the following.
a) Lack of storage space: Paperwork requires significant amount of space to place / store, and that only gets bigger as the amount of documents grows over time. Furthermore, paper records need to be stored close to hand for quick access as and when needed, which is not always practical.
b) Prone to damage: Over time paper quality deteriorates. Also, natural calamities / disasters (cyclone, flood, storm, earth quake etc.) can happen at any place, and there is a chance of an office and its paper documents being damaged by those. Since in manual paper-based record system there is no arrangements of backing up of documents, so once a document is lost, it’s gone forever!
c) Document vulnerability: Loss of any critical document of value causes a serious problem. Also, there could be a possibility of a confidential document being accessed by unwanted / unauthorized persons, who may even tamper with it or steal it, leading to disastrous effect on the document owner – some person(s) or the organization as a whole.
d) Inefficient document transportation: Transporting documents in paper-based system is always problematic. Even if it is possible to fax, courier, or delivered in-person, it’s slow and inefficient.
e) Problem in collaboration: Collaboration on documents is harder, when working with paper documents. If multiple people need to access / use one paper document, multiple copies need to be printed and provided for progressing in parallel and different notes / comments on each paper will need to be consolidated. Otherwise, the whole process will need to proceed in serial mode, which makes the process even slower.
Our dependency on paper documents
Though we know about the disadvantages of paper-based system, we cannot get completely rid of the dependency on paper due to various reasons, such as:
a) Government requirements: If the government needs a specific paper record to be maintained, there is not much choice. However, because of the advantages of using digital documents, many government departments / agencies are moving towards it.
b) Legal compliance: In some scenarios, such as application for processing of a loan, selling of business / property etc., signed paperwork is often a requirement. However, there is growing awareness of digital documents and its benefits, and that’s causing some changes here too.
c) Durability: As far as durability is concerned, people still rely on paper. It has been seen that even century-old paper documents can still be used. By contrast, 20-year old computer documents in some cases cannot be accessed due to various technical issues. However, digital storage methods have stabilized and improved a lot to extend / enhance the lifetime of digital documents. Formats like PDF, JPEG, PNG etc. are accepted and supported as standard worldwide, and those will usable for many years.
How digital documents help with Record Management
Nowadays, speed of communication being primary requirement of any organization, no one can depend on slow and inefficient paper-based record maintenance. There are also concerns about safety and security of paper documents. We all need a kind of system, where the following should be taken care of:
- Store the documents for both short- and long-term use
- Retrieve quickly and easily as and when needed
- Restrict access to only appropriate people
- Keep a “safe copy” to handle disaster / damage
The above goals can be achieved by digitizing the paper documents and storing in an organized manner, so that it’s fast and easy to retrieve, as well as access to the digitized documents can be controlled as needed. Since only the digital version is being used on a regular basis, the original paper documents can be safely stored away and protected from day-to-day access and common disasters.
Here are the advantages of a digitized document management system:
a) Easy storage: Documents can be scanned and electronically stored in a centralized, configurable content management system, reducing costs associated with physical storage of paper copies (in shelves, cabinets, boxes, rooms etc.).
b) Easy access: Since digital document systems are centrally configured and managed, required documents can be accessed immediately. It helps retrieving any document during audits etc.
c) Accessible from anywhere: Keeping digital documents in the “cloud” can enable access from anywhere (only for approved users) as long as a computer with Internet access is available.
d) Time saving: Searching through file cabinets can become a thing of past. In a digital document system, contents can be located within seconds via built-in search options.
e) Multiple accessibility: Many persons can simultaneously view / use the same document from multiple locations.
f) Improved customer service: A digital document management system helps users to access the required data quickly and precisely, thereby enabling better customer service.
g) Security: Digital documents are saved in secured environments (servers, databases, encryption etc.), and can be accessed only by authorized users, which provides more security compared to a paper-based system, where a misplaced or mishandled document is a common problem.
h) Cost reduction: There can be significant cost savings in both tangible and intangible ways. There is less cost on paper, printing and associated accessories as well as in storage spaces and arrangements. On the other hand, the time saving leads to higher efficiency, which reduces manpower cost and increased customer satisfaction.
i) Disaster preparedness and recovery: An entire organization’s documents can be stored in just one computer instead of rooms of shelving, boxes etc. Also, digital documents are easily backed up. In case of any disaster – natural or man-made, recovery from a backup is much easier and faster with digital documents than with paper documents. And if the digital version is stored in “cloud”, it’s there always.
j) Easy movement: Moving from an old office to a new one or sharing documents between multiple locations is much easier and faster with digitized documents compared to a paper-based system.
Finding digital documents using markers or “tags”
One of the important points about record management is to mark the records / documents in a way that makes it easy to identify later on. In case of paper records / documents, tagging is done with markers / tabs of certain colors (“color coding”) as well as by putting in particular places (boxes, shelves, cabinets, rooms etc.), which could be marked / tagged in suitable ways. This does help with finding documents later on, but it’s still a manual process that takes time. In case of digital documents, digital markers or “tags” can be attached to any document, so that searching by a “tag” helps locate the digital record later on.
Tags are also referred to as metadata, i.e., data about data, which is associated a document (the main data) to describe the document, such as its type, purpose, date and/or time, people, place etc. In case of paper records, “color codes” are a kind of metadata too. In case of digital documents, each such document can be marked or tagged with suitable textual descriptions or attributes. Later on a document can be searched by one or more of the tags (just as it is done for normal web searches) to uniquely identify the required document or at least greatly narrow down to matching set. This makes the document retrieval very fast, accurate and efficient.
Tagging each document is additional work for sure, but it’s a pre-payment in time to reap the benefits later on, every time it is used. The same is true for “color coding” and such for paper documents. In case of digital record management, tagging every document with suitable tags seem to be time consuming, especially if there is a ton of old papers to be digitized to get the process functional. Technological advances have found a solution for that too, in the form of Optical Character Recognition (OCR), which identifies text content from an image (scanned copy of document) and extracts it for other uses. Utilizing OCR with document digitization eases and speeds up the tagging process, at least for the first pass, to move a lot of existing paper records to digital form, without having to hand-tag every document, which takes a lot more time.
Future of the Record Management system
“Paperless office” has been a mantra for quite a few years. While a lot of official procedures are now conducted online instead of on paper, there are a lot of areas where paper documents are used every day, and will continue for the foreseeable future. With new technologies, especially with the “cloud”, we are closer to reducing the dependency on papers to a good extent. In today’s electronic era, it’s not practical to rely entirely on a slow and inefficient paper-based record management system. Digitization of documents is inevitable to minimize this problem, because our future is definitely digital.
There are different applications for document digitization in the market – some quite extensive, complex and expensive and some are really simplistic and limited. You need a system that is capable in terms of functionality, flexible enough to accommodate various scenarios, easy to learn and use, and affordable. Being able to customize as per your specific needs and integrate with existing processes and systems would be icing on the cake.
digipaper for digital Record Management
SARANGSoft digipaper is a powerful and flexible, yet easy to use, document digitization and management application that doesn’t cost much. It can also be customized to fit an organization’s specific needs.
digipaper helps build a hierarchical archive of digital documents, so that documents are saved / placed under appropriate categories along with applicable “tags” (optional) for each document. The tags can be either added manually or automatically generated by OCR of the digital document.
Without a proper Document Management system, a common practice is to scan a bunch of the paper documents and save the scanned images in some folders on a computer’s hard drive. However, as number of documents grow, you have a pile of electronic documents that are largely indistinguishable from each other. When you need a particular document, by going through folders it’s hard to locate the one you need. digipaper enables tagging of each document, so that retrieving a specific document is fast and accurate.
Though tagging is helpful in document retrieval, it’s time consuming to tag every document. That’s why tagging is optional in digipaper. On the other hand, digipaper uses OCR to extract the textual content of a digital document, which can be stored as a document’s tag in the archive. That speeds up digitization of documents, especially in large scale, as well as helps with searching by the document’s text content as the tag. That provides the best of both worlds – tagging with no extra work!