Electronic Document Storage Basics for Small Business

Updated: August 28, 2009

Most of us realize that using less paper is good for the planet and saves business costs. We've all heard the little tricks to reduce paper waste: don't print all of your emails, purchase a refurbished copier and eco-friendly supplies, and research your equipment purchases to find the most energy-efficient machines. Even offices that curtail waste in all of these ways continue to store documents the "old fashioned" way- in paper files. Paper document storage can be time consuming, waste producing, and error-ridden. Why not switch to a more effective, less expensive method of document storage? Paperless storage equipment is becoming increasingly more advanced, and recent data indicates that most companies are recouping the costs of a data storage system itself in about a year. Here is a quick overview of electronic document storage options for small businesses:

Document Management Software: The backbone of any electronic storage system. Document management software is what allows you to scan, convert, save, and retrieve files electronically. The most effective systems employ OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, which allows scanned images to be converted into text, and search functions that allow you search for miscategorized items. Document management software ranges from the basic (free, downloadable programs like SimpleOCR) to the advanced (hosted solutions costing thousands of dollars a month).

Storage Options: You can store data on your own server, or use a hosted solution. Hosted storage relies on an internet connection, and doesn't require any large cost outlays for equipment. If you choose the self-storage option, you'll need to purchase hardware and software outright before you implement the program.

Scanning Services: Documents will need to be scanned before you can access them electronically. Most software programs with OCR require a high-quality scanner- some digital copiers can perform scanning functions, and most basic office color copiers are usually compatible with document storage software programs. If you have a large volume of documents to scan, it's a good idea to invest in a high-speed scanner or to hire a document scanning service. If you're hiring a scanning company, you've got options- you can have the documents scanned on-site (especially convenient for those companies with large storage needs or very sensitive documents) or can ship them to a scanning service provider. You'll need to decide how far you want to "back scan" and if you want to keep any paper files.

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