Over the years, you've likely amassed file cabinets full of contracts and other union documents. If you think that transitioning to digital record keeping sounds like a daunting process, you're not alone. Plenty of organizations have reams of documents taking up space in their offices. Yet, as technology has advanced, more and more have also embraced the benefits of going digital.
Here's a look at those benefits — and how to get started.
Having documents easily accessible can save time and money and is likely to be well worth the resources you'll dedicate to make the switch. Consider the following potential benefits to digital record keeping.
- Reduce costs. Keeping paper files comes with myriad expenses, including staff members' time maintaining the files and money spent on copying fees and supplies like hanging files and folders. One tabulation by North Dakota's Information Technology Department found the annual cost of owning and operating a five-drawer file cabinet to be over $2,600. The price of paper has also gone up. When you scan instead, you can send documents digitally, eliminating expensive reproduction and mailing costs.
- Free up office space. The paper records in your office are probably taking up precious real estate. That space can be used for a variety of other purposes, including expanded work space or additional amenities or office equipment you may not currently have room for.
- Enhanced document sharing and tracking. Digitizing records allows you to access them from anywhere. No longer do you need to be in the office to get a fact or figure. You can also easily share documents, making collaboration simpler. Plus, digitized documents are easier to search for — and harder to lose.
- Protect against disaster. Paper documents are vulnerable to major disasters like fires or flooding, as well as long-term deterioration due to condensation and moisture from humid conditions. Digitizing records keeps them safe.
How to Get Started
An important first step with digital record keeping is to figure out the logistics. Do you plan to do the work yourself, or will you hire an outside agency? There are plenty of document management software companies whose job is to do just that — help organizations digitize and figure out how to best electronically store their records.
If you have the budget to hire a company, shop around and get several bids before committing to one. On the other hand, if you plan to manage the project yourself with the help of fellow board or union members, consider the following tips.
- Get the right equipment. You may want to invest in — or rent — a high-quality scanner that can quickly process documents. A sheet-feed scanner has an input tray where you can feed through dozens of pages at once.
- Create a process. Who will be in charge of scanning documents? Will it be one person, a team? Set up a process early on and make sure each player understands their role. Start by preparing your documents for digitizing; make sure papers are free of paper clips, staples or sticky notes. You'll also need to decide how to save documents. Would image or PDF files better serve your needs? Although applications are available to translate handwritten documents to text, they are still imperfect, so an image file may provide a cleaner conversion. Finally, decide how to securely dispose of the old paper documents you no longer need.
- Decide where to store data. Cloud-based services like Dropbox or Google Drive are great options that can be accessed from anywhere. You might also consider a network drive or local hard drives. However, you'll want to make sure you have a way to back up files.
As you begin your transition, of course, new documents and records will continue to come in. Don't let them stack up. Instead, immediately scan all new paper documents. Better yet, consider making the process digital from step one with electronic forms. That way, people will get used to the new process, and soon you'll be fully up and running with your new system.
With 15 years' experience writing for publications including The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, The Christian Science Monitor and Newsday — Deborah Blumberg specializes in business and finance and health and wellness. She writes about topics including corporate communications, financial markets, real estate, renewable energy, cancer, health education, nutrition, supplements, the microbiome and functional medicine. She was a Knight Center fellow and a Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism fellow. Her time working in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase taught her how to best tell a company's story. She's adept at turning complex ideas into compelling copy. She's also an officer of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and a Women in the Visual and Literary Arts board member, and she is fluent in Spanish.