The evolution of storage solutions started with offsite document storage of hard copy records – due to space considerations. Over time, hard copies would outgrow the internal space to house them. Solutions such as third party offsite storage companies and even rental storage units were used to solve this problem. These options continue to be utilized to sometimes great extent still today, though not without their problems. A large problem involving using rental units has to do with security – both the integrity of the environment they are in and risk of theft. Another problem with third party offsite storage involves cost issues and the issue of being able to easily access particular documents in a timely manner. The latter is akin to moving one mess (basement full of banker’s boxes) to another. While this does free up space, now it costs extra money for storage rental fees and there is still the problem of accessing data as needed.
There are multiple reasons why records must be kept, and for varying time periods. Many times this is a result of compliance regulations having to do with specific industries. Another is for accounting reasons (audit). Therefore, document retention schedules vary widely, depending on the types of documents at hand. In addition, there are continuing administrative uses to keeping documents, to be able to access data as needed as part of the usual course of business. Examples would be student records in education or healthcare records. This is where electronic storage of documents is a solution.
With cloud technology, secure offsite document storage is a reality, while maintaining easy access to all of your data on demand. It solves many problems with document storage and continued access to information:
- Security – if desired, multiple copies can be kept in a digital format (CD or other) at different locations. No more concerns about losing data due to theft, water, fire, or other environmental damage. In addition, having documents stored in the cloud means outsourcing the security of your documents to IT specialists whose job it is to keep data secure
- Cost Savings – there are many aspects to the cost savings in using cloud document storage. You are still paying for rental space, but computer storage is much less costly than physical warehouses and rental units. In addition, usual monthly cloud fees cover the cost of using the electronic document manager system that allows you to access, add, and control your documents. So, instead of capital expenses involving hardware and software – in addition to the continued maintenance of it, there is a one fee for using the software as a service (document management software) and the cloud storage. All IT duties related to the computers that house your electronic documents are carried out by the cloud storage company and their staff. They handle all upgrades, maintenance, and security. *Note: most organizations do not purchase cloud storage directly, but use it as one of the service offerings that automatically come with a cloud document management solution.
There are also great savings that come about with having on demand access to all records from any location. For example, consider a situation where still useful documents are in filing cabinets or boxes in another part of a building or even offsite. A lot of time is wasted both filing and accessing these documents. This negatively affects productivity and is an extremely inefficient use of time. Offsite document storage of hard copies are especially costly in this way. It is also easier for documents to get misplaced or lost, and if say a tax audit is done, could lead to even more unnecessary costs.
- Ease of Controlling Data – a cloud hosted setup is nothing more than an electronic offsite document storage solution. Offsite in this context though is quite different from hard copy storage when it comes to ease of access and control of the documents. A cloud storage solution allows all of this to be done through your keyboard – at your fingertips. Every single document – whether imaged first and converted to digital format or existing electronic files added to the system, can be interacted with at any time and from any computer that has the proper authorization to login. Documents can be locked down in an electronic format where no data can be altered. They can be read at will or copied as needed. User access permissions (multiple types) can be set on a per document basis, if needed.
What is Needed to Store Documents Offsite, While Maintaining Full Access and Control?
To move or transition to electronic offsite document storage, there are two services or capabilities that are necessary.
A Document Management Service Provider – one that offers cloud hosted solutions. The provider will charge one fee for access to the DM software and cloud storage (monthly or longer basis). Fees vary, usually depending on how many users are estimated to have authorized access. This can be scaled up or down as necessary and the provider is responsible for all security, maintenance, and all future software upgrades. Your organization simply accesses the service through a web browser, uploads documents, sets authorization/access criteria, and interacts with your data as needed. You data and documents are your property at all times.
Document Imaging Capabilities – for hard copy to digital conversion capabilities. For data still in a hard copy paper state, these must first be converted to a digital form so they can then be uploaded to your cloud document management account. The DM software you select will determine what scanning equipment is necessary for this type of conversion. This option – where you image all documents yourself, is best suited to smaller organizations. For a small organization just beginning the electronic conversion, sometimes there are many historical documents that need converted also. In this situation, and for those with much larger volume requirements, a third party scanning company that offers both back file and day forward conversion is the way to go.
Back File – conversion of already existing paper documents to electronic format
Day Forward – conversion of current and/or future hard copy to digital
An imaging company that also offers document management and indexing services, will allow a wide range of choices and flexibility in converting your documents. You don’t have to commit to doing every single document. You choose say part of your HR records to start. Then convert more if and when you feel it is would be advantageous to your organization.
Many organizations are in the process of using current technological advancements to upgrade from the old way of offsite document storage. Not everyone needs the same thing at the same time, budgets are different, many have both paper and electronic files, and so on. Maximum choice and flexibility are key to managing this conversion process. Contact us and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have about how electronic document storage can work for you.