Paper Documents still matter, more than you think
While there is a clear push for paperless offices, paper documents are still vital for your business.
Paper documents have been the most stable form of information retention and records in businesses. This is despite the rise of computers over the decades. While many suggested computers would render paper obsolete, it has yet to happen.
Computers have become faster, able to store more information and they do make access to information quite simple when the data has been well organised. Paper on the other hand has not changed much, it is not faster, does not hold more data and it too requires a degree of organisation in order to be used efficiently.
So why then are we still using paper documents in business?
First, let us take a look at some of the pros and cons of paper documents versus digital documents.
Advantages of Paper Documents versus Digital Documents
Advantages of Paper Documents
Paper is tactile. For many of us the feel of paper in hand cannot be beat. Like reading a paperback novel, handling paper documents offers a sensory experience that digital documents just cannot.
Of course, there are more advantages to paper than just its feel. Paper can be worked with easily, remember when you spread out all those notes across the boardroom table to compare? A paper note on a colleague’s desk has a bit more impact than a sms.
Then there is the fact that load shedding has less impact on the use of paper documents, so long as you have a little daylight. Paper documents require no internet connection and they have require no load time As long as you have an efficient filing system, and perhaps file tracking software, paper documents can be bookmarked for easy reference and accesses and filed away fairly easily and quickly.
On oft-overlooked advantage of paper, or rather, the biggest reason for making use of paper in business is its legal status. Paper records are more easily admissible in legal matters and are less prone to being challenged on technical grounds.
Disadvantages of Paper Documents
Paper documents are the leading cause of paper cuts. Paper documents also happen to take up a great of office space. Besides the costs of office space, there is the cost of the paper itself and the printing costs.
Paper is not very portable when its volumes grow and it can be easily damaged. When your filing system is not well maintained and staff no longer follows access protocols it can get messy really quick and reduce productivity.
Paper is also not much of a team player, as it cannot be shared without having to duplicate it one way or another.
Advantages of Digital Documents
Digital documents have many advantages over paper documents. For one, they can be easily shared and team members can collaborate on the creating of documents quite easily using many widely available software applications and cloud storage solutions.
Digital documents take up very little space. Depending on the size of the files, 100 000 documents could be stored on a single DVD.
Another obvious advantage is the fact that digital documents make backing up and disaster recovery much easier. They can be duplicated and stored in multiple locations and moved around quite easily.
So long as one has, a well worked out digital archive with categories and tags, digital documents can be accessed easily and quickly.
Disadvantages of Digital Documents
A major disadvantage of digital documents is their legal use. While the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act 25 of 2002 (ECT Act) allows you to keep records in digital formats and even for them to be admissible as evidence, the Act does not supersede other laws where digital records have no validity. The admissibility of digital records also comes with challenges to their admissibility. Processes and procedures in creating digital records can be challenged and may lead to them not being admissible.
Digital documents are also subject to the availability of electricity, so load shedding could prove the undoing of a paperless office. IT issues, such as poor internet connections, computer glitches, etc. can also make digital documents frustrating to work with at times.
Another major disadvantage comes in the form of data breaches. It is far easier for competitors, disgruntled employees and hackers to steal, damage, distribute, and access large volumes of company information when that information is digital.
So, the Paper Document is not dead
In conclusion, it is safe to say that paper documents are likely to not only be around for a while yet, but that they are also an important part of any companies information retention strategy. Thus, the completely paperless office must remain an idealistic dream for the time being.
Now that it is obvious that both paper and digital documents have advantages, how can we use them to complement one another? In our next article, ‘The Paperless Paper Office’ we’ll take a look at a hybrid solution.
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