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“Prediction is difficult – particularly when it involves the future.” Attributed to Mark Twain, this statement perfectly captures the dilemma faced by business organizations every day. Business documents need to preserved, some for a short time, some for a longer term, some forever. And when those documents are paper, the choice of preservation format demands special attention.

Paper is an ancient technology, and writing is a universal format. The format is still readable  after hundreds, even thousands of years, and it will be so into the future. For some documents, paper is the obvious choice for long-term information preservation: deeds, contracts, and health records, for example.

But paper records have certain disadvantages:

  1. Susceptible to loss, deterioration, or destruction – fire, insects, humidity, filing errors, and pilfering make paper inherently risky. Guarding against these risks is expensive.
  2. Bulky – the average business today spends 3% of its revenue on paper costs, according to research company Gartner. Document storage is a significant part of those costs.
  3. Labor intensive – filing paper documents, searching for filed documents, and disposing of outdated documents requires many person-hours of labor. And labor costs are only going up.

At NOS, we have been recommending document imaging to our clients for some years. Imaging makes a digital version of a paper document. The digital version has all of the advantages of any digital file: searchable, shareable, secure, space-saving, sustainable. Even if you retain your paper documents after imaging, you’re avoiding many of the disadvantages of paper-only records.

But imaging – a far newer technology than paper – can have pitfalls for the unwary. One thing that is certain about the digital future: It’s guaranteed to change. How many people still play CDs in their cars? Still have a laser disk player? Still use floppy disks? Have even seen a floppy disk?

Rapid obsolescence of digital technology can be a disaster for businesses. When an organization images its documents to a format that isn’t future-proof, it has set itself up for the loss of vital information. An obsolete digital format is just like a fire destroying paper documents; the information is gone.

To guard against the consequences of digital obsolescence:

  • Talk to peers who have gone through a digital conversion process.
  • Consult with a vendor who has an extensive track record in the field; they will steer you toward a future-proof imaging format.
  • Practice good digital hygiene by updating software and converting files to newer format standards in a timely manner.

Another quote from Mark Twain: “Plan for the future because that’s where you’re going to spend the rest of your life.” And that goes for your business documents too.

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