Realistically, businesses going paperless is transitioning from being a benefit to being a necessity. If you’re currently sitting on a mound of paper, this may seem like terrible news. In actual fact, with the right strategy, the transition can be both painless and affordable.
What “going paperless” actually means
You don’t need to take “going paperless” totally literally. In fact, sometimes you will have a legal requirement to use paper. That said, those times are becoming increasingly rare and are probably going to become even rarer. The expression “going paperless” simply means minimizing the amount of paper you use.
The benefits of “going paperless”
There are three main reasons why this matters. Firstly, it saves space and that translates into saving money. Secondly, it allows people to work remotely and that translates into more flexibility. Thirdly, it makes it vastly easier to implement robust data security and that can save your business.
The practicalities of going paperless
Established businesses may struggle with the idea of going paperless because they have so much existing paperwork. There are various strategies you can use to address this. One of the most effective is the following three-step approach.
- Step one - switch your business processes to digital
- Step two - digitize all existing paperwork
- Step three - organize all existing paperwork
Here is a more detailed guide to each of these steps.
Switching your businesses processes to digital
It may seem tempting to dip your toe in the water by switching over a relatively minor process first. In actual fact, you will probably get the most benefit by switching over your most important process first. Realistically, for the majority of companies, this is going to be their billing process. Without exaggeration, changing this to digital genuinely can change your life for the better.
Firstly, using digital billing means that you can get the full benefit of financial software (e.g. Xero, Quickbooks, Sage etc). Many of these software packages can do a lot to manage your whole billing process. For example, they can not only send out invoices automatically but also send out reminders if they are not paid when due.
Secondly, using digital billing allows you to integrate processes. For example, major accounting packages will often integrate with major payment platforms. This means that you can offer your customers different payment options without having to learn how to operate them. In other words, digital billing can make it easier for your customers to do what you want them to do.
While these comments all reference digital billing, the concepts also apply to other areas of business. Digital business processes are simply more efficient and more convenient than analog business processes. Going paperless is a fundamental requirement for implementing them.
Digitizing all existing paperwork
For many businesses, the main barrier to going paperless is the thought of having to deal with all the paperwork they have already. In principle, the implementation of GDPR should have forced businesses to deal with this. In practice, there are probably still quite a few businesses skating on thin ice with GDPR.
One way to deal with this is simply to digitize all existing paperwork “as is”, then sort through it. In this context “as is” means that your digital document organization structure is an exact replica of your current physical organization structure. So, for example, if you have three filing cabinets with three drawers, then you have three main folders with three subfolders.
As you go through this process, you can macro-sort your real-world documents. In particular, you can and should (arguably must) flag up any documents with special requirements. This would typically mean documents with legal implications especially GDPR. You might also want to flag up any documents which have other, special, relevance for your business.
Similarly, if you find paperwork that needs to be archived for legal reasons, you can take this opportunity to move it to offsite storage. Alternatively, if you find documentation that is clearly out of date, just get rid of it (appropriately).
DIYing versus using vendors
Even if you’re on a tight budget, there’s a strong argument for using external vendors to take care of your scanning and shredding. They’ll be experts in this area so you’ll be sure of the highest quality of service. For example, they’ll have shredders that can cope with staples. You’ll also get legally acceptable documentation to show that everything was done securely.
Organizing all existing paperwork
By this point, strictly speaking, you will have gone paperless. In fact, you could stop here and you’d still be better off than you were before. You’d have cleared space, improved flexibility and increased security. Those are all major wins. Ideally, however, you’ll keep going and really get your data management in good order.
Getting to grips with digital data management
Firstly, you need to know exactly what you have and where it is. Technically, this is only a requirement for data covered by GDPR. In reality, you’re only going to know what’s covered by GDPR if you know what you have and where it is.
Secondly, you need to work out who needs access to it. You may also need to decide what level of access they need (for example read-only or read-write). At the risk of stating the obvious, you need to assess access requirements in terms of roles rather than in terms of the people currently performing those roles.
You then need a process for making sure that access permissions are promptly updated to reflect any changes within the company. In particular, you must ensure that anybody who leaves has all their accesses revoked immediately. That literally means the moment they walk out the door (or sign off the network) for the last time.
On a similar note, you also need a process for making sure that any data is only held for as long as it is needed. Again, technically, this is only a requirement for data covered by GDPR. In reality, however, it’s best practice for all data. This may sound like a lot of work, but document-management software can help a lot and the end result really is worth it.
Joe Muddiman, General Manager, Rads Document Storage