Even in 2018, many businesses still retain the use of physical documents — otherwise known as paper — as a method of record keeping. There are numerous reasons why businesses still do this: it might be for ease of access, they believe it legally necessary or simply because they’ve been operating for decades and this is how they’ve always managed their files.
Paper documentation, however, carries risks.
In the modern day, there are very few reasons to still genuinely use physical records and files over digital ones. What’s more, there existence brings with them numerous threats many businesses should be keen to avoid.
So what is the problem with paper?
Physical Documents Are Vulnerable
Physical documentation faces a three-pronged threat:
1. Improper Disposal
When you delete a digital document, it is wiped out. Recovery is sometimes possible, but only by those adept in the art of computer software and hardware. For the average person, it’s gone. Physical documents, however, aren’t so easily removed. Common practice is to shred or tear up sensitive information, but these items can be patched back together and their details recovered by unwanted parties. Carelessness can also have an impact. When employees fail to follow proper document destruction protocol, it opens up risks of interception after disposal.
A physical document is material, which means it can be destroyed. Fires, floods and even the occurrence of minor issues like damp and moisture build-up can result in the loss of vital business documentation.
Given the problems with accessibility, it will come as no surprise that theft of physical documentation is a serious risk. People looking to gain information about your business and its employees or those that want to blackmail or damage your company are able to do so, if they can get their hands on physical documentation. This, as we’ve established, isn’t always difficult.
All of these circumstances can lead to catastrophe for your business, which means taking steps to avoid these becomes critical. Digitising physical documents reduces or even eliminates the risks posed by these three threats by adding extra layers of security and stability not offered by paper.
The Challenge of Restricting Access
Locking down digital data is fairly straightforward. Documents and files can be put behind passwords and logins, access to certain systems can be given only to select individuals and encryption can be established to deter prying eyes.
This kind of security is not available when it comes to physical documentation.
Controlling who can access certain information can be a challenge. You have the opportunity to lock away documents in places like drawers, offices and safes, etc., but these have their limitations. Storing one file separately from all others is expensive and uses a lot of room, which means paper tends to share space with other documents. The result is that as more and more people need access to documents in this space, the potential for them to be viewed by those who shouldn’t or needn’t be doing so increases.
Imagine the scenario. Only your accounts manager needs to access payslip information, but the physical copies are stored with all employee files in a filing cabinet located within HR. All of HR has access to these files. Now, this file may be within a locked cabinet or it may just be within the HR department office. If the latter is the case, anyone who has the ability to enter that office space may also access that file. This includes people from other departments, management, cleaning staff, the postman, visitors and even disgruntled employees. If these payslips were digital, however, these unique files could be guarded by unique access protocol. This major vulnerability problem is immediately solved.
With paper, it’s also far easier for a document containing sensitive information to be left in a place where it can be accessed by an unauthorised party. For example, your business may be faxed sensitive information. If this is not picked up immediately, it may simply lie out in the open for anyone to see. Let’s say your business is a legal firm: this kind of situation could not only be disastrous, but may also be breaking the law. However, if the fax was to come through to a digital platform, such as a online fax service, it would not be left in plain sight. Here, it would only be visible to those with appropriate access.
A quick summary would be this: without what some would see as excessive and intrusive security, the use of paper documents makes restriction of access to sensitive or confidential information difficult for businesses. But this isn’t the only way your paper documents are vulnerable.
Difficulty Tracing Documentation
When a document or file is held online, it is stored in a singular location. It may be on a server, within a computer folder or on a cloud system like Dropbox or Google Drive. It can have copies, but these are also housed in one place. They are easy to track down and locate. Physical documentation can be harder to track, primarily because it may often be on the move.
Take the example of a contract. It can be passed to multiple individuals, move through different departments and even travel between geographical locations. Along the way, it is possible for numerous problems to befall it. We’re all familiar with the horror stories; such as the top-secret, terror-related intelligence documents being left on a train in Britain. Unfortunately, human error is a potential issue when handling even the most sensitive of information.
Because of this, physical documents are also much harder to trace. If it’s not in an assigned location like a cabinet, because it has been removed, the paper can be incredibly hard to track down. This is not a problem for digital documentation, where files are much more easily located and kept secure.
A Hit to Reputation
Environmental impact is a concern for consumers, with over a third of individuals opting to use organisations that are more sustainable than competitors. People care about how their activities, and the activities of the businesses they engage with, affect our planet.
As a result, going paperless is a key issue many of your customers are keenly aware of. Reducing your wastage of resources is not difficult in this day and age, given the existence of newer online technologies that remove the need for paper output. Switching from paper faxing to cloud-faxing, for example, ensures you maintain the ability to transmit visual documentation without the need for excessive paper usage. Likewise, sending invoices, notices and promotions via an online service, rather than in the post, reduces the impact on the environment.
These are simple practices your business can and should be following. If you aren’t, and consumers find out, you may face backlash for lazy and unethical conduct in the modern age. Paper usage can risk profit loss, simply by not keeping up with the outlook and moral constitution of consumers in 2018.