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Enterprises need a paper lifecycle and retirement management strategy

(Image credit: Image Credit: Jason Truscott / Flickr)

Today, the majority of enterprises are pursuing a ‘paper to digital’ strategy as part of their digital transformation programmes. However interestingly, many will admit that the strategy hasn’t led to a significant reduction in paper in their business, which is a key objective of such initiatives alongside making cost savings and enhancing data security.  The key reason why their efforts are proving to be ineffective is a lack of a complete, end-to-end paper lifecycle and retirement management strategy. This has major implications for the upcoming EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance too and unfortunately, organisations are inadvertently putting their businesses at extreme risk of non-compliance with this regulation in the absence of such an approach.   

Research by DocSolid reveals an interesting scenario, albeit in the legal sector, but one that is likely representative of other professional services and mainstream enterprises too. 57% of all paper in law firms is a printout of existing electronic files stored in their document management system (DMS). This paper matter file would potentially grow another 39% if all the other DMS-printed paper that is on lawyers’ desks, in filing cabinets, scanning rooms and secretaries’ workstations, is collected.  So, clearly records that are already in the DMS are multiplying in the paper format, possibly many times over! 

Risk of losing important information and data is perceived to be high  

The above situation begs the question – if all the documents are stored in the DMS or on network file shares, local disks, etc., why are enterprises printing and storing them in physical paper files? There are two answers – first, that employees often like to work off paper, which is understandable. Secondly, enterprises don’t have a process to be a 100 percent sure that they have the most recent version of the documents stored in the DMS. Sometimes, even if enterprises deploy a DMS, shared drives and networks exist in tandem, which is completely counter-productive to the idea of a single centralised storage system. To mitigate the risk of losing important information and data, employees therefore duplicate electronic versions in physical files.   

Business rationale for paper reduction  

There are many reasons for reducing the reliance of paper in the business. Foremost is the escalating cost of paper storage, which is entirely avoidable. Here’s a scenario. Based on the average cost of floor space being £41.13 per square foot (£442.26 per square meter), each and every filing cabinet, vertical and lateral, including space for drawer extension costs approx. £245 to £525 per year respectively.  That’s equivalent to £2.45 to £3.95 per year for every inch (2.5cm) of non-revenue generating paper filing space.    

The physical risk of losing critical, confidential information as a consequence of events such as a warehouse fire is a real possibility. Also, the cost of manually managing paper files is high and wholly unnecessary.   

Although these issues are well known, little is being done to alleviate them.  With GDPR, enterprises must find new ways of addressing these problems. They must be able to answer this question – do we know what personal records we hold? – in a fast and effective manner, suitably supported by evidence and audit trails. Answering this question with certainty becomes much harder in a business environment that is split between physical and digital documents and offsite storage. It becomes impossible to execute a records management and document retention policy too, which is fundamental to GDPR compliance. The regulation is easily breached, for instance if a physical version of a personal record exists in a filing cabinet or storage warehouse, even though the digital version has been deleted.     

A paper lifecycle and retirement management closes a gap in the paper to digital methodology 

Enterprises need a defined paper lifecycle management and retirement strategy to fill a gaping hole in their current paper-to-digital methodology. Most enterprises have some form of casual paper scanning solution and / or a central scanning department, but paper lifecycle management is not purely a paper scanning exercise.  A best practice-led, paper lifecycle methodology must be supported by processes that are designed to ensure that paper is appropriately managed – from creation through to de-duplication and retirement. 

Technology offers a number of options to facilitate this. For instance, organisations can integrate an enterprise printing solution within the users print processes. The combined solution is then able to identify paper that has been printed from an electronic document filed in the DMS or on the network by placing a small bar code (say, the size of a small postmark) in a corner of the printed document. This bar code on the paper would denote that a corresponding electronic copy is filed in the DMS/file share. So, rather than re-scanning and re-filing to err on the side of caution, users know with certainty that the paper document can be safely destroyed after it is used.   

There are many operational benefits to this approach too. Often, individuals make manual notes on paper copies of electronically filed documents. Depending on the nature of the document (e.g. corporate finance and legal records), these hand notated paper copies can be viewed as new documents on account of containing recent information. Processes can be established so that when the hand notated documents are scanned, the respective bar codes automatically link and file the scanned image to the related folder without any further data input. 

It’s imperative that digital transformation programmes in enterprises go beyond scanning paper for storage.  Including a paper lifecycle management and retirement strategy, supported by evidencable audit trail, within the overall methodology can help businesses break the vicious cycle of robotically printing-filing-scanning-electronically storing-physically archiving – regardless of whether it’s required or not. This typical approach poses risk to GDPR compliance – with multiple copies and versions of documents, it’s impossible to reliably know exactly what information is stored, where, and in what format.   

It is now well established that a ‘less paper’ approach is far more realistic than a ‘paperless’ goal for digital transformation initiatives. A fully integrated approach to printing, scanning and document management provides staff the much-desired paper-friendly process to conduct day to day tasks, whilst enabling enterprises to tangibly reduce costs and mitigate the risks associated with paper and records management.   

Roy Russell, CEO, Ascertus Limited 

Image Credit: Jason Truscott / Flickr

Roy Russell has over 30 years’ experience in consulting, implementing and supporting software technologies within the UK, European and North American legal markets. He is Ascertus’ CEO and founder.