Digital-first processes and procedures are the way forward for many RIM professionals, but this digital path is not without its challenges.

Data from our 2023 State of the RIM Industry Report revealed that 43% of survey respondents intend on increasing investment in digital document repository/management over the next 12 months, even though budget restrictions were listed as a challenge for many of the same respondents.

In this post, we’ll take a look at six factors that are driving organizations towards document digitization solutions, explore how digitizing important files is essential to compliance, and explain how to get started on your digitization journey while staying within budget.

#1 Scale – Spend your time wisely

The first reason to digitize documents 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,” making it important to understand how your team spends its time.

A typical knowledge worker spends an average of 1.8 hours per day searching for information. That’s over 9 hours a week! Imagine having that time back… Think of everything you and your team could accomplish. With all the responsibilities you are managing, how can you afford to waste this much time trying to locate information?

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

Think about that… Imagine having all business-critical documents readily available in an organized and structured environment.

#2 Geography – Where are your documents?

The second reason to digitize documents is relevant for organizations that are geographically dispersed but don’t think this only applies to remote workers. Geographically dispersed can mean offices in different states, towns, or even floors within a building.

Look at HR documents, for example. Typically, hiring is done at an individual office where the paperwork is centralized. There are a couple of challenges with this process— one being 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 to ensure paperwork is complete and filled out properly?

Challenges continue to occur with employee mobility, like when an employee gets promoted. How does the paperwork flow from the former manager to the 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? 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 corrective action, the problem is compounded. Consider your turnover rates, 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.

Document digitization solves the problem of geography by making information accessible from anywhere.

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

Another challenge lies with living or working documents. You need a secure and efficient method to share documents internally for collaboration and externally with parties such as the government, auditors, or lawyers. However, data shows organizations need to improve how they share documents.

A recent report on data loss from Egress revealed that 80% of employees use email to share sensitive data and documents with both internal and external parties. Additionally, the report indicated that 83% of organizations have experienced data breaches from email. Let’s describe how sharing documents through email creates a huge issue:

  • First, the document is scanned from a multi-function device and is in your inbox.
  • You forward that email, with the document attached, 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. 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 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, for example, all serve different purposes, generate records, and tend to act as information silos. It’s hard to integrate them into a single comprehensive view of the sensitive information your records team is responsible for. You need to log in to each system, remember how it works, and search for the information you need.

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

When important documents are digitized and stored in a digital records management software, information silos become much less of an issue. To maximize efficiency and security, look for an option that integrates with your current business solutions.

#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 confidently say that you have complete control of all classes of sensitive information? Are you sure it’s all up to date and not still in draft status? 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 an internal audit? With strong workflow and monitoring controls, your document management system should constantly scan through relevant files, test for completeness, and look for expiring documents or those needing updates.

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

You probably have a records retention policy, but many organizations find the implementation of their retention policy to be challenging. Due to silos of information, paper records, and email as the primary methods of sharing information, how confident are you that you’re implementing and following your company’s retention policy?

For documents 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’re eligible, so 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. Usually, 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 go into a folder, and it’s totally impractical to constantly monitor each file and clean out the ones that need to be destroyed.  Records with long retention periods are often put in a box and shipped off-site, where nobody is going to rummage through them for quite a while.

When documents are digitized and maintained using a digital document management system, the elimination of documents can be automatically triggered according to the retention policy.

Perhaps most importantly, digital document management systems often include a “litigation hold” or “legal hold” feature. In the event there’s a legal dispute, audit, or regulatory issue, it’s critical that the system prevents the related documents from being destroyed. With document digitization and a strong information governance solution, information managers, finance, and legal all achieve their goals.

Get Started with Document Digitization

Each of these six reasons for document digitization ties back to the theme of compliance. As an information professional, you have a broad range of responsibilities, but creating a proper environment for the safe, secure, and compliant management of documents is the most important.

Moving from a paper-based environment to digitized documents is a big leap forward in your ability to perform this critical responsibility. However, a large scanning project might not fit within the budget. Leveraging an active file service may be the key to ‘going digital’ without the unmanageable expense.

By incrementally digitizing your important documents, and then storing them in a cloud-based records management software, you can achieve compliance for your organization and maintain control over sensitive data. For more information or a customized solution, speak with an Access consultant today.