Will there be a day when the word “document” doesn’t imply a piece of paper? Will we ever become a truly paperless society?
Probably not any time soon, experts say. There’s a lot of pulp in the world. Take a look—it’s probably got your computer surrounded.
Start-ups and small businesses would be advised to give serious thought to document management questions. More and more, American business relies on data, so companies large and small need to consider how they should store it and what they might want or need to do with that data down the road.
Failure to build a dependable data management plan can be disastrous. Up to 70 percent of businesses that lose all their data go out of business within 12 to 18 months, said Eran Farajun, an executive vice president with Toronto-based Asigra, a developer of cloud storage software. Of course, all businesses have different needs.
So what is your business doing to protect itself from a data debacle?
The Pros: Let’s be honest. Paper is that soft but ratty flannel shirt in the closet, the one you can’t bear to donate to Goodwill (or pitch into the trash). It’s comfortable and comforting, and it provides the same experience, time and again. That is, until it becomes so damaged that the sleeves fall right off.
We like that we can find a piece of paper, we can touch it or stick it in someone’s face to say, “Yes, I did pay that bill.”
The Cons: Where to start? Paper takes up a lot of space. It tears, the ink fades. Despite our best efforts, paper sometimes disappears into that file into which we never look. And we don’t have those same search capabilities that come with electronic storage. Furthermore, sharing a paper document requires you to make a copy, or scan, and that takes more time than accessing and e-mailing.
Paper will always have its place, said Greg Park of DB Technology, a document management firm in Clark, N.J. “You can’t push for technology just for technology’s sake,” he said. “It has to make sense.”
But it’s making more sense these days to get most data into a digital format.
Local electronic storage: From the tiniest thumb drive to the heartiest server
The Pros: When you have one box at your workplace containing all your stored electronic data, one thing is certain: you have control. This is true especially if a company employs robust security.
Another upside for onsite storage is cost, which continues to plummet. You can find a terabyte of storage for less than $100, unheard of a couple years ago.
The Cons: With control comes great responsibility. Data doesn’t necessarily back itself up. (Well, it can, but such processes still require human intervention.)
“Backup is like exercise,” said Asigra’s Farajun. “Everyone knows they should do it, but few do it really well.” That said, if someone in your organization has exceptional discipline and attention to detail, a server or hard drive might work.
Cloud or off-Site storage
These days we hear a lot about the cloud, but perhaps not everyone knows what it means. Data stored in the cloud can be accessed via the Internet from remote locations. One of the fastest-growing examples of cloud computing is Google Docs, whereby users can create word processing, spreadsheets and other documents that they then can access through the Web.
The Pros: The cloud, when done well, is easy. As suggested above, cloud storage puts responsibilities of backup and access onto the provider. In essence, the cloud allows enterprises to attend to their core business and spend less time on the IT function.
“Be a user, not an owner,” suggests Farajun. “Capital outlays are really expensive when you’re starting out,” he said.
Cloud storage compares more closely to renting space. And cloud storage costs have plunged, just like hard drive prices. Farajun pointed out that businesses can contract for the amount of space they need in the foreseeable future. Most businesses, he explained, don’t need a terabyte of space. Cloud storage allows them to get 100 gigabytes if that’s all they need.
The Cons: Companies whose business involves sensitive data should have reservations about cloud storage. And if they go that route, they should do some homework on providers.
Farajun suggests that companies pay close attention to encryption. He encourages users to ask about how the data will be encrypted when it’s offsite and en route. And companies need to understand whether their provider will have the encryption key. For some businesses, that’s okay. For other businesses, with more sensitive data, they may not want anyone to have the key.
Park and DB Technology work mainly in the health care industry. Clearly, the data privacy needs are different in that arena, which is why his clients are careful about getting into the cloud.
Whether you want your data in the cloud or in a utility closet on site, it’s most important to think about what you’ll need that information for. Then, ask lots of questions.