To digitize or not to digitize? That´s the question. Perhaps, since long ago, many companies have been asking themselves the same question without finding a right answer, and it is precisely the passing of time that is working against them. After all, during this long period of uncertainty, the pile of documents continues to grow. Jorge López, Vice President and distinguished analyst of the Gartner Group, tried to answer the question at the CIO & IT Executive Summit 2013, which took place in September 2013, in Mexico City. He pointed out that “the key to obtaining a successful position in the market through technology, is to be aware of the fact that that digitization is not just something temporary, but a trend that is changing the future”.
From this new point of view, the life cycle of a document has changed. Now, the document stages include: production, capturing, storage, management and distribution. Likewise, the challenges, better called advantages, that a company is facing when implementing digitization processes can be summarized as follows: cost saving, productivity and safety increase, and green technology.
In a company, cost saving is entirely related to the digitization of its business documents. To underline this statement, we may take as a reference the “Study about document digitization and the cost of paper conservation”, carried out by the European Union, Andersen Consulting and Gartner Group. This report shows that storing a document in a traditional paper file costs 6.53 euros, and a company would be saving around 10.53 euros for each document that is not physically stored. Moreover, the average cost of the space needed to store traditional files is of 11,000 euros, against 114 euros if documents are stored electronically.
On the other hand, the increase in productivity levels is highlighted in a study carried out by AIIM Europe 2009 (the Global Community of Information Professionals), where they point out that more than 15% of an office’s space is destined to paper file cabinets. This space and rather chaotic file organization systems are the reasons why it takes an average of 50 minutes a day for an employee to search for and find paper documents. The facts demonstrated by these figures may obviously result in a poor corporate image, loss of credibility, and even incorrect business decisions.
With regards to safety, it is not generally not advisable to scan all documents. Each company should decide which are the most important business documents, and these should be scanned. Usually these are the most recent, active, oldest and damaged documents.
With most document management systems, one or more employees may consult a digitized document at the same time, but only authorized people can access a digitized document. In other words, security is guaranteed, because of specific access permissions, and because document contents can be sent in total or partially, by email or any other electronic system, without the need of sending physical copies or having to wait for the documents to be received.
An office that saves paper is a green office – a work space that respects the environment. According to a study conducted by Telefónica, one of the largest private telecommunications companies in the world, an employee uses an average of 10,000 sheets of paper per year. If this figure is multiplied by the number of workers in a company, the result can be shocking.
The Legal Gap
One of the factors that is hindering widespread use of electronic documents is the legal gap around the concept. For example, in the European Union there is little clear legislation in relation to the legal validity of electronic documents, although substantial efforts have been made over the last decade. Why is it so difficult to implement proper legislation regarding electronic documentation in Europe? Mainly because each EU member country must translate the corresponding European directive to a national law, and most recent directives are clear about the purpose, but no so about the means to reach this purpose.
Moreover, there is a lack of homogenization among the different countries of the EU. For example, in Belgium, Spain, France and Holland, there is no clear legislation regarding the destruction of original physical documents, while in Germany and Italy there are specific laws regulating this issue. A particular case is that of the United Kingdom, where companies are destroying their original paper documents because of the ambiguity of British law. They have no explicit law regulating the concept.
As might be expected, the safekeeping period of original paper documents is not regulated in any standard way either, and each country defines the corresponding authority that should determine document storage times. As a curious fact, in Switzerland, for example, documents related with real estate should be kept between 20 and 25 years.
The legal gap is direct evidence of the lack of legislative homogeneity, both at an international and national scale. After all, it is not logical that, on one side, legislation regulates electronic digitization and filing, and, on the other hand, destruction of the original documents is not allowed. This situation is neither productive nor sustainable. The corresponding authorities should take action in the matter and evolve along with technology, in order to guarantee effective electronic business interaction between markets and consumers.
Documentary Solutions for Every Taste and Budget
There is no solution that works for everyone. There are many document systems that include digitization, storage, retrieval and management of business documents as a comprehensive part of the solution, and there are other systems that specialize in document digitization. Specialized applications might be the ideal option for companies that want to to digitize large volumes of documents, but that do not need a sophisticated document management system. On the other hand, if a company wants to integrate a document management system in its document creation and generation processes and, for this reason, needs more control, then modular or comprehensive document management solutions will be the most suitable option.
While some time ago, comprehensive solutions were very expensive, nowadays, many document management software manufacturers have reduced their prices, because document management is increasingly popular and in order to be able to offer the many benefits of document management – originally only within reach of large enterprises – to small and medium companies.
- Gartner. “Study about document digitization and the costs of paper conservation” (EU, Gartner Group and Andersen).
- AIIM Europe 2009
Freelance Consultant for Doc Path