Recent events have fed an acceleration of movement to digitize documents across industries, but more than anything, they have served to surface and make urgent concerns that organizations have faced for quite some time now. There are a handful of both operational and legal priorities that go hand-in-hand with a reduction in paper-based processes.

In this post, we’ll take a look at some motivating factors that have been driving people towards digital solutions and explore how digitizing important files will save your team’s time and your organization’s money.

#1 Scale – spend your time wisely

The first reason stems from one of the ongoing struggles information management teams face: the inability to scale with the needs of the organization. Records teams are frequently asked to “do more with less,” and that makes it really important to understand how your team spends its time.

A typical knowledge worker spends, on average, 1.8 hours per day looking for information. Over 9 hours a week. This means that for every five people hired, only four are actually doing their jobs. Imagine having that time back? Think of all the things you and your team could accomplish. With all the responsibilities you are managing, how can you afford to waste this much time trying to find paper?

What if you could find documents in 30 seconds or less?

Think about that… Imagine having all business critical documents available at your fingertips. Now imagine those documents in an organized and structured environment allowing for targeted results so you aren’t spending time fishing through pages of results.

#2 Geography – where are your documents?

The second reason is for organizations that are geographically dispersed. Don’t think this doesn’t apply to you because geographically dispersed can mean different states, towns, or even floors within a building.

Look at HR documents, for example. Typically hiring is done at an individual office, while the paperwork is centralized. There are a couple of challenges with this process. The first is logistics. How does the new hire paperwork get from point A to point B? How does the hiring manager access those documents? Do they end up keeping copies? How much back and forth occurs ensuring paperwork is complete and filled out properly?

Challenges continue to occur with employee mobility. Here’s a scenario: An employee gets promoted to a new department. How does the paperwork flow from former manager to new manager? Similarly, if that employee moves between office locations, business units, or even regions, how does the new manager gain access to the employee file? And is HR creating multiple files for that individual?

Since paper is the medium of choice in many organizations, the paper shuffle is constant.

And of course, when an employee does poorly and the manager needs to take action, the problem is compounded. Consider your turnover rates and the costs, risks, and the chance of being out of compliance by having missing or incomplete information in the employee file. If your organization ends up in a lawsuit, an incomplete employee record is not going to help your case. Digitization solves the problem of geography by making where something occurs irrelevant to how it is processed and accessed.

#3 Access – who can see what and how do they get it?

Another challenge lies in living or working documents – documents that still will change over time before being declared immutable. You need a way to easily and securely share documents with internal people who need collaborate. You also may need to share these documents with external parties like the government, auditors or lawyers. The key is to share them in a secure manner. A survey of HR professionals found that 69% of those surveyed share important documents with 3rd parties at least once a quarter or more. 11% need to share at least once a week!

The same poll also found that 76% use email as their primary delivery method, and 67% deliver physical copies of the files. Let’s describe why this creates a huge issue:

  • First, the document is scanned from a multi-function device, and is in your inbox.
  • You forward that email, with attachment, to the individual who needs it. Now a copy of that attachment is in your outbox and in the person’s inbox.
  • Let’s assume you are super diligent and delete those 3 copies; guess what, they still reside on the email server. Plus, you don’t know what the receiving person has done with that attachment. Printed it? Forwarded it? That one sensitive document quickly turns into multiple unsecured copies.
  • Same with the physical files. Copies are provided to the requesting person but then what? What happens to those copies? Do they sit in an unlocked file drawer in the manager’s desk?

The reality is these records should never leave your possession. Period. Digitally or physically. And you should have a complete audit of who has viewed them, and when. And, you should be able to restrict access to view only, so no extra copies are made or forwarded.

#4 Silos – too many systems to govern at once?

No doubt you already have technology solutions that deliver one or more specialized functions. HRIS, ECM and ERP systems all serve different purposes, and all generate records, and they all tend to act as information silos. It is hard to integrate them into a single comprehensive view of the sensitive information your records team is responsible for. You need to log into each system and remember how each works. You are on a scavenger hunt to gather up a comprehensive view of an employee.

The same documents or information might exist in more than one system, but they may be different versions. In some cases, people are printing out documents from one system to add them to another or to put them into a paper personnel file. Unfortunately, paper is frequently the only common integration mechanism that all of these systems understand.

What if there was a way to connect diverse systems and paper files. The answer is to allow the rules that govern your information exist and are enforceable everywhere your information is present. There is no need to replace existing systems, and there is no need to physically copy all of the information into one repository.

#5 Confidence – how do you know the files are complete?

Ask yourself this question – “How confident are you that all your records are complete?”

Can you say with confidence that you have a complete control of all classes of sensitive information? Are you sure it is all up to date – are they fully executed copies and not drafts? Unfortunately our files don’t tell us when documents are missing. The moment you need a document is the wrong time to find out you don’t have it.

What if you knew with certainty that the files were complete? Would that help you sleep better at night or be prepared for that internal audit? With strong workflow and monitoring controls, your document management system should constantly scan through all relevant files, testing for completeness and looking for expiring documents and those needing updating.

#6 Retention – are you keeping only what you must and eliminating what you should?

You probably have a records retention policy. According to a survey given to senior IT executives at 500 enterprises the need to have a formal retention plan is certainly getting more attention. But the growth isn’t large enough.

The issue with most organizations, according to this survey, is the implementation of retention policy. Due to silos of information, paper records, and email as the primary methods of sharing information, how confident are you that you are implementing and following your company’s retention policy?

For HR documents, and anything else containing personally identifiable information (PII), you need to ensure records are kept as long as needed, but no longer. Conversely, your CFO and General Counsel probably want to ensure that all records are destroyed as soon as they are eligible so that you have a strong position of consistently following policies in the event a destroyed document ever becomes a legal issue (also known as spoliation of evidence).

How DOES digital document management help?

Each document type has a specific retention schedule. In most cases, the retention period is triggered by an event – employee termination, contract expiration, or invoice pay date being some common examples. When documents are on paper, they all go into a folder, and it is totally impractical to constantly monitor each file and clean out the ones that need to be destroyed. Frequently, the folders for terminated employees or long-term contracts are put in a box and shipped off-site, where nobody is going to rummage through them for quite a while.

Your information management program should manage each document according to its unique policy. The system should automatically trigger the elimination of documents according to policy.

Perhaps most importantly, a system that understands information governance also includes a “litigation hold” or “legal hold” mechanism. In the event there is a legal dispute, an audit, or regulatory issue, it is critical that the system freezes the related documents, and prevents them from being destroyed. With a digital platform and a strong information governance solution, information managers, finance, and legal all achieve their goals.

Digitization helps enforce compliance

Each of these six reasons to digitize your important documents ties back to the theme of compliance. Chances are that one or more of these reasons resonates with your situation. As an information professional, you have a broad range of responsibilities, but it is important to recognize that creating a proper environment for the safe, secure, and compliant management of documents is key to achieving them.

Moving from a paper-based document environment to a digital platform is a big leap forward in your ability to perform this critical responsibility. However, ‘going digital’ is more than just scanning documents and attaching them to a bunch of different systems. To get real value out of going digital, you need a system that drives compliance and visibility into your files to ensure completeness.

For more on how to assess your processes for modern realities, check out this ebook: Evolving Beyond a Paper-First World