Plan now to prevent panic later

Turning your paper records into digital documents could protect your business all year around.

As the chill sets in, many parts of the country are already reflecting on the disruption caused last year by the snow, ice, wind, storms and more increasingly, floods. Whether this winter’s weather patterns are as extreme remains to be seen, but there’s no denying that the damage inflicted by Mother Nature can also impact local businesses, no matter how well they are run.

Extreme weather can harm or even destroy your office and business records, and cause disruption to your operations through the time lost while you’re dealing with productivity outages. A disaster can also create conditions where the privacy and security of your information is thrown into question.

In 2015, accountancy firm KPMG estimated that extreme flooding breached the £5bn barrier, as homes and businesses across the North of England - from Hull to Lancashire in particular - sustained damage from the rising waters. The havoc created forced additional pressures on small businesses. In some cases, owners that attempted to trade during the flood crisis were forced to deal solely in cash after BT shut down landlines and internet access in parts of York. This meant that card payments could not be processed, frustrating customers and stopping a company’s lifeblood – its cashflow.

Of course, while it’s not always possible to completely negate the effects of the disasters winter can inflict upon us, measures can be taken to minimise the impact on a business. By keeping a level head and taking a number of practical measures, it is possible to get back to business as usual as soon as possible.

To help companies achieve that, the Federation of Small Businesses’ Insurance Service compiled an essential 20-point check list to help businesses deal with the things business owners need to keep track of, to prevent them from being too distracted by the initial panic that follows a disaster. But while this is useful with respect to what to do in the event of a disaster, what’s more important is to be proactive and make contingency plans that protect the business ahead of a disaster.

Protecting the continuity of your business in the aftermath of a disaster in part depends on being able to access and use your documents. One option for organisations to address this is maintaining off-premise storage of records. But these services can prove costly in the long run making them impractical for many small and medium sized businesses.

Turning your paper records into digital documents rids your organisation of the paper that can be damaged or destroyed during a disaster, or that can become lost in day-to-day work operations. This approach can not only improve your disaster preparedness but also your business operations. For instance, digital documents can be created so content within the documents is searchable, which makes finding information a lot easier than hunting through filing cabinets.

Here are three steps organisations can take to improve their disaster preparedness:

Reduce or eliminate paper processes

Many organisations are still too dependent on paper processes. Use scanning tools to turn paper into PDF documents, which is widely accepted as a worldwide document format standard.

PDF documents not only bring an improvement for archival purposes but also as a communication vehicle. Sending digital documents for proposals and as part of business dealings with customers and vendors reduces the paper files you need to maintain - and that are vulnerable to disaster.

Today’s PDF technology is very interactive, meaning you can perform tasks like handle fillable forms electronically and build hyperlinks into your documents. Taking steps like these in your business work processes can go a long way in training your staff to resist the urge to print, which can create more paperwork in your operations.

Back up your documents to the cloud

Moving to digital documents is a good first step. But if they are maintained on computer systems you keep in your office, these electronic documents are still vulnerable to a disruption that may occur from a flood which results from excessive rain or even something more common like a burst water pipe in the office. You should safeguard your business records by backing them up to a cloud storage service.

Adopting the best practice of using a cloud storage service will help you ensure continuity of business. It will also help you in daily operations by making it easier for your employees to capture and access documents, wherever they are working. For example, a remote employee can use a web-based computer at home to securely access work documents. Cloud services offer file protection with centralised security controls and reporting, and document encryption to safeguard your information.

Make it easy to print documents outside the office

Even if your organisation has made great strides in moving towards a paperless office, the reality of business life will require at least some printing. Many business transactions, such as those in banking and real estate, are still dependent on paper documents. And most likely, not all of your customers or business partners have made the move to digital.

Remote and mobile print capabilities can make it convenient for your employees to print documents using their smartphones, tablets and laptops at home or on the road and you don’t need to sacrifice document security. Today’s print software requires users to authenticate themselves before printing, helping you keep private information from prying eyes. These print capabilities can even extend for printing documents from cloud-based storage services.

One can never be certain if or when a disaster may strike. But all businesses can take steps to mitigate their risk and improve preparedness should that day come. Digitising your documents, supported by cloud back up and remote printing, can help secure your business information so it is always available when you need it.

Steven Steenhaut, Senior Director, Global Demand Centre, Nuance

Image source: Shutterstock/ranjith ravindran