Achieving a True Paperless Office: Mission Impossible?  

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Achieving a True Paperless Office: Mission Impossible?  

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Going paperless is impossible, right? Sure, it reduces resource wastage, saves space and it’s environmentally friendly. But while it’s a goal many businesses aim for, at the end of the day, paper documents are still a vital part of business processes and cannot just be cast aside.

Well, actually, they can.

Brands are no longer at the mercy of the physical file. Digital technology has developed past our need for it and paper really isn’t the holy grail of business management that it used to be. Learn about the truth behind using and storing paper documents and discover why your business doesn’t need them anymore.

Physical Documents Present Data Breach Nightmares

21st-century businesses are well aware of the importance of data protection. Whether it’s GDPR compliance or fear of information breaches on the scale of Ashley Madison, keeping files secure has become a top priority for brands around the world.

While much of our awareness falls upon the protection of digital files, many fail to consider the dangers posed by physical documentation.

If history has taught us anything, from top-secret documents being left on a train to the theft of a literal lorry-load of files in China, paper documents are not safe from potential breaches. In fact, they often present a much greater threat. These threats can often be broken down into three common factors:

Accessibility: When it comes to digital files, documents can be put behind password walls and accessibility features, making it very easy to stop somebody viewing a file they shouldn’t be. With paper files, it is more difficult.

Often, physical documents are kept in filing cabinets, drawers or in boxes. Because of space restrictions, they cannot all be housed in different secure units, similar to the level of protection passwords offer. This means many employees (and visitors) have access to files they don’t need to. The more people that can access a file, the greater the risk of a breach.

Traceability: Digital files can be searched for through software systems. They can be found and located easily. Physical files are much more prone to getting lost, whether they’re left on desks, filed in the wrong cabinet, taken home or lost to a breeze and an open window.

Keeping track of all your documents is essential for maximising security. Paper documents present a problem in that it’s far too easy for files to go astray.

Complacency: With the warnings of GDPR ringing in our ears, many are keenly aware of the dangers involved with digital data breaches. This awareness breeds safeguarding and thoughtful practices.

However, with physical breaches less publicised, awareness of the risks is lower. As such, people become more complacent, increasing the chances of things going wrong. A recent example of this is the police officer who was sacked for leaving files in a car, which was subsequently stolen.

Considering these factors, it isn’t hard to argue that digital files are superior to physical files in a number of ways. In terms of their ability to be secured, digital documents can:

  1. Be encrypted
  2. Be password protected
  3. Have access restricted
  4. Be destroyed easily
  5. Be located and tracked quickly

These advantages are not so easily shared by their physical counterparts. The result is that continued use of paper files puts businesses at a greater risk of data breaches. When all files can be digitised, keeping them in paper form just creates unnecessary risk.

Digital Signatures Are Now Legally Binding

Many businesses still rely on paper documentation for signatures. However, electronic signatures have recently been ensconced within European law. As of 2016, digital signatures are legally binding — if taken properly.

There are numerous types of electronic signatures that can be used. Each have their own status within legal processes and each offer varied levels of protection. The two types of e-signatures we do not recommend using during commercial operations are typed signatures and photos of signatures.

A signature must be authentic in order to be valid in a legal case. Using a fancy font and typing your name does not authenticate a signature, nor does an uploaded JPEG or PNG.

So what is the true legally-binding option?

Touchscreen technology has enabled direct input of a physical signature onto a digital document. Using software designed to record signatures, either with the use of fingertips or peripherals, documents can now be signed in electronic form, just as they can on paper.

What is also important to consider is the legality of the method by which digital files are transmitted. When signed and transmitted properly, a digital signature is just as valid as any other. Businesses have no need to force clients to sign paper documents and store them in archaic fashions. The technology now exists to move beyond that.

Electronic Documentation Is Acceptable Record Keeping

For most of modern business history, brands have been advised to keep physical records of files — everything from invoices to employee contracts — even after their use has long expired. The idea behind this is that you have evidence of important documentation that can be used if ever a dispute should arise. This is a practice many businesses continue to follow: storing paper documentation for safety purposes.

But for many companies, this can be an unnecessary and potentially wasteful practice.

Yes, it is true: keeping an archive of documents is still absolutely essential. If you were to face a problem, such as an employee dispute, tax audit or client legal action, you need those files to hand. But those files do not have to be in paper form. There is nothing that makes a paper file stronger evidentially than a digital file. Modern practices have long moved past the need for physical files.

Naoimi Young is marketing manager at eFax.

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Achieving a True Paperless Office: Mission Impossible?  

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