The idea that you can be ‘paperless’ is one of those Utopian dreams that must surely fall apart as soon as you can't find that vital digital document.
There are practical barriers to paperless freedom: it requires know-how and kit, and a bit of planning and discipline (but then, so did paper filing, right?). But in this short article I want to share with you the real-world experience of Caroline B clients we have helped not only ‘go paperless’ but in the process also discover a whole lot of other unexpected benefits.
Whilst everyone’s needs are unique, the following is an overview and you may find some parts more relevant than others.
My clients nearly always start the ‘go paperless’ journey with boxes and drawers full of 'paperwork', some ordered, others a bit of a jumble. So, the first step is to understand the scale of the operation. This will include an estimate of the workload after the initial ‘go online’ process is complete and a policy for document retention and destruction.
This last point is critical – you need to make a policy about what you will (1) retain hard copy only, (2) ‘scan but keep’ or (3) 'scan and destroy'.
Allied to this policy is a design for the online folder structure, one that reflects the way you will order your world going forward.
Next, select an online storage account and a scanner that suits.
With ‘storage in the Cloud’ solutions, you can access your digital data over any internet connection. Capacity can be limitless and rarely costs more than USD 100 per year. The choice of service provider is growing (here for an article) and as at the time of this blog we opt for Dropbox (light use), Box (office) or Google’s Drive (lots of collaboration).
If security is a big concern and you are looking for end-to-end encryption there are options, but you may also consider setting up your own physical storage device at home (see later, 'Privacy Plus').
A fast, reliable scanner is a must; we have been recommending the Fujitsu ScanSnap ix500 for some time. It’s not ‘flat-bed’ type, so not suitable for bound documents - you need a flatbed scanner for that (usually integrated into an all-in-one office printer).
You need a shredder! Which type will depend a lot on level of use and security. Here's a guide.
At the start of the project you may have a lot of shredding, and thereafter very little. If this is the case, it may be better to buy a shredder designed for occasional use and contract with one of the secure confidential waste companies such as Iron Mountain (our choice in Hong Kong). They give you the sacks, you fill ‘em up with the initial phase of scanned documents and they collect and destroy.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)
Do subscribe to a cloud storage system that supports OCR; this allows you to search for documents using key word search. Not all systems do, and then some – such as Dropbox – only in PDF format (for now), and only if you are a Professional grade subscriber.
The aforementioned Fujitsu scanner has a software setting to scan to OCR, and also sends to Evernote with OCR ready PDFs (see later, 'Staying Paperless').
Whilst there is a general recognition of the need for backing up (duplicating) files, the reality is that you may forget! If you are looking for an auto-backup service there is a wide choice, and as an example take a look at iDrive and Acronis True Image.
In my view, the main risk is accidental deletion. For example, a whole folder is deleted by mistake and the deletion not discovered until 2 months later. Some systems like Dropbox Pro have sophisticate systems for ‘recovering’ from this sort of situation (I know, it worked, phew!).
If you don’t trust the cloud storage, there are reasonably priced alternatives that place the file storage server ‘in your living room’. We have a few clients that follow this solution. It does require a level of technical support that raises the total cost of ownership, but is well suited to larger families sharing data. Here's a good introductory article.
Once you have mastered the cloud-based document storage, you may want to consider the next step in the storage evolution – the note taking system. The best example of which (as far as I’m concerned) is Evernote.
In technical jargon, Evernote is a 'cross-platform online note-taking and organizational system'. In short, it addresses the fact that so many ‘documents’ you will now wish to store are already digital (e.g. web site pages, PDFs downloads). Worth investigating.