Businesses world-wide are coming to the realisation that storing, managing and maintaining electronic records is a far easier task than managing the thousands of pieces of paper an average company generates each week. This has resulted in the launch of many conversion projects aimed at converting paper documents to electronic format.
"As can be expected, technology vendors have jumped on this potentially lucrative bandwagon and are offering a host of solutions designed for companies that have decided to go the digital route," says Guy Kimble, IT and operations director at Metrofile. "While fast and efficient technology is critical to record conversion, it is not the most important consideration."
Guy Kimble, IT and operations director at Metrofile
"The most important component in a record conversion project is the process and the level of detail involved in converting paper to digital format. The best technology is really useless if it does not allow the records to be effectively classified for easy retrieval and management."
The first step of an effective conversion process is to classify all records the company retains into predefined types. While many record types will be common across a host of industries, each business will have a unique combination of records and data fields it wants to retain.
These fields are used in the classification stage of the conversion process as the business decides what criteria it will use to identify each record. "In other words, the company needs to decide on what field is unique to each record, or what combinations of fields are unique," explains Kimble.
Indexing a record on surname is likely to cause confusion as there can be multiple people with the same surname. Adding initials or first names to the index, for example, will help in differentiating records.
Kimble recommends using a minimum of three fields to ensure each record can be uniquely identified. For example, using an account number, surname and initials would be sufficient to ensure unique identification.
Wherever possible it is recommended to record a date of capture for every record. This could be a contract start or end date, the date an amendment to a contract was made, or simply the date it was converted to digital format. This date is needed to determine how long the record should be retained for in respect to the associated retention period for the record type.
Recording the retention period along with the other unique fields is critical to ensure the company does not retain records longer than it is legally required to, or longer than is useful. With the date recorded, companies can easily determine each record's retention date and automatically have their systems highlight which records are due for destruction after being held for the appropriate period.
Whatever the retention period, Kimble advises that every document be reviewed at least once a year to determine if it is still pertinent and if it is still of value to the organisation. "Not every document will be important or an active contract," adds Kimble, "but they may be useful as reference material or collateral."
With these relatively simple processes in place, a company will be able to convert its paper-based documents into electronic records with all the associated benefits: documents will be easier and faster to access by more than one person at the same time if needed and they will not vanish under a load of paper in someone's inbox.
Moreover, automated systems will ensure only records the company needs to keep due to legislation or relevance are kept and are always readily available. The age-old paper chase, which has been with us since paper was invented, will be reduced without hindering the operations of the company or its compliance with corporate governance principles and legislation.