There are two main types of data which are the backbone of most organizations: structured data and unstructured data. Structured data resides in fixed field within a record or a file and is generally found in spreadsheets and databases. Unstructured data is information that does not have a pre-defined data model and includes items such as paper documents, word processing documents, PDFs, e-mails, images, and video. It is estimated that unstructured data may account for 70% to 90% of the data in an organization.
Efficient management of an organization’s unstructured data is essential and directly impacts profitability and the ability to react to a natural disaster or technical failure. Managing paper records, scanned images, e-mails, spreadsheets, and other digital assets is time consuming and labor intensive. Document management software provides the ability for you to search for (and across) specific documents to quickly retrieve items which are relevant to a particular issue.
Document Management Software
In the 1990’s scanning and indexing of paper documents became ubiquitous. The price of scanners dropped and their ease of use and functionality increased such that most organizations began using them to convert paper files into digital images. The ability to apply multiple indexes to electronically stored documents as well as the improved accuracy of optical character recognition (OCR) allowed documents to be easily retrieved and resulted in dramatically increased efficiencies. Converting a paper repository of documents into electronic files provided the ability for a backup copy to be stored offsite, ensuring that the documents were safe from fire, windstorm or flood.
In our current “Online Era”, the same drivers for document management which existed in the 1990’s are still very much in place – increased efficiency and disaster proofing your organization. An added component of document management today is that a great deal of information never starts its life out in paper form, but is equally important to be managed. This information includes e-mails, PDF files, digital photographs, word documents, and spreadsheets. An effective document solution today must address both the traditional scanned images as well as the additional electronic files. With all of the content related to a particular aspect of your business stored in a single repository, rapid access to relevant information becomes possible.
Modern document management software solutions will handle all of the previously mentioned types of documents and files so that you can have a unified view of a matter. Multiple indexes (also known as metadata – “data about data”) should be easily entered or even automatically applied based on specific requirements. Full text searches across repositories are especially important for organization such as law firms. Browser access allows access to documents even when not in the office. Many times access to information is required from a mobile device such as an iPad, iPhone, or Android so the software should adjust the document view accordingly.
Document storage options
Where and how to store your electronic documents is an important question. In the traditional world, many things survive for an awfully long period of time just through benign neglect. For digital things, they will survive only if you plan and think systematically about their survival on a continuing basis. All devices eventually become unworkable or unusable (i.e. remember floppy disks or eight track tapes?) so it is important to not only have a plan to manage storage of digital items but to also have a plan for eventual migration to other media as well.
Local storage - Traditional storage strategies include transferring files to tapes, CDs or DVDs and the use of external hard drives and network storage devices which allow storage and sharing of data from several computers linked over a network. Recordable CDs and DVDs are inexpensive and portable but their useful life is subject to debate. Some experts claim that a self recorded DVD may have a shelf life of only 2 years. Heat and light can damage CDs or DVDs; if you rely on this method you should be aware of risks such as nearby heat/fire or disks left in strong sunlight. Flash drives are inexpensive and useful for transferring data, but are quite easy to lose, thus offering the potential for your data to get into the wrong hands. Portable hard drives connected via USB are very economical and can store several hundred gigabytes. They offer the advantage of quick data transfer and high capacity but if you leave them with your computer you risk loss of information in the event of a fire or flood. Backup copies of documents stored on any of these devices should be kept offsite.
Storage “in the cloud” – In the Online Era what has been added to the mix is the ability for an organization’s data to be stored in and accessible from online resources that comprise a “cloud”. Cloud storage provides great access and reliability, but does include the potential for security concerns.
Online storage offers several advantages over traditional means. Data is offsite and cloud vendors have multiple redundancies - which is a key recommendation in disaster planning. With an Internet based file storage system, the issue of life expectancy of various types of storage media goes away as access is available through commonly used browsers or web folders. Information store in the cloud is available from any Internet connected computer or mobile device.
A limiting factor of online storage is bandwidth. If an Internet connection is slow or unstable, it may not be practical to upload large document collections. One approach is to upload a large document repository and then only "synchronize" data that has changed. This should become less of an issue over time as transfer rates increase. Another factor with cloud storage is security. Information being stored in the cloud should be encrypted in transit and while stored.
Your document management and storage strategy is an important decision. There are a number of software and hardware solutions available to address the requirements of organizations, both small and large. Take the time now to pick the correct approach, implement the solution, and enjoy the peace of mind that your essential document assets are accessible and protected. If you would like Moore Tech Solutions to provide consultation in this area, please contact us.