Why it’s time to take your documents digital

Paper workflows can have serious implications for data processing and legal security

In the digital age, the idea of entire businesses being run on paper documents is near impossible to imagine, but forms and documents are still being used in many organisations.

Printed documents that have to be completed by hand can be costly, time-consuming and slow for companies. There is also an environmental impact to consider, with recent studies showing almost seven in ten sheets are eventually wasted.

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The time it takes for employees to edit paper documents is a problem for businesses and makes it harder to respond to developments quickly. This can cause backlogs and clog up an operation. 

With the risks involved in non-compliance as well as significant advances in document editing, management and workflow technology, it is little wonder that many companies have long since started using alternatives. 

All that is needed to create forms is a word processing programme, and to save it as a PDF which will then display correctly on any operating system. A free PDF reader allows digital documentation to be accessed, and PDFs can also be viewed directly in popular browsers such as Chrome and Firefox.

Forms and documents are old school and can have serious implications for data processing and legal security. It's time to join the rest of the world and go digital.

No more data processing delays

Aside from the obvious issues with reading hand-written data from printed forms, there are also significant cost delays which can be incurred from having to process it. One example is for an employee who fills in a printed request form for annual leave. The whole process could take them up to half an hour, from finding and printing the relevant form to physically ensuring it gets to the right place.

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At the other end, the processing department is likely to spend a similar amount of time on it. According to a study by IDC, processes like this account for around a third of working hours.

The resulting delay between data capture and data processing makes matters worse. Direct capture without disruption can easily overcome these issues - rather than printing out a form and getting it to the relevant department, employees can transmit a completed version directly, with the whole process being completely traceable.

According to IDC, putting in place digital-first document processes like this can boost revenue by 36%, while slashing costs by 30%. Analysts estimate that business and legal risks fall by a third when forms are electronically processed end-to-end.

Legal issues

Paper and printed documents can also entail legal problems. Certain aspects of data privacy make hard copy forms and printouts problematic. Without PDFs, it is very difficult to specify the authorised user group for a document. Anyone with physical access to the records, or who just happens to be standing by the printer when the document prints, has access to potentially sensitive data. Paper documents can be stolen or simply picked up with no way of tracking them down.

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In comparison, electronically-produced and distributed PDF documents are considerably safer. Many providers have encryption and access options that mean unauthorised people can't read them. With access management, you can specify who can view, print or change files.

Companies that use PDF documents are also in the best position when it comes to providing proof of communication. Most email providers store a copy of all sent messages and attachments, so that it can be legally proved which document was sent to which address and when.

Digital verification

With digital signatures and e-signatures becoming a prevalent method of authenticating digital documentation, users can be more confident than ever before that regulations are being complied with. 

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Contrary to popular belief, digital signatures and e-signatures aren’t the same thing, but it’s easy to spot the difference. Digital signatures use encrypted code to authenticate a signer’s identity to sign documents electronically. E-signtures, on the other hand, refer to any electronic process that indicates acceptance of an agreement or a record.

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They both replace traditional, inefficient signatures while facilitating digital business transactions, and are as legally binding as a hand-written signature. As a rule of thumb, e-signature processes are easier to implement than their more advanced, yet technically demanding, digital signature cousins.

When looking for a digital authentication solution it’s worth bearing in mind that different countries require different levels of signature verification. Some prefer digital signatures due to the advanced identity verification they provide, while others' legislation will be slightly looser. 

Be aware of different requirements between countries themselves. This creates compliance challenges when conducting business on a global scale, highlighting the need for a flexible solution.

Data back-ups

You don’t need an overflowing bin beneath your desk to remind you that paper is disposable. Neither is it durable. Even when carefully stored in files and draws, documentation has a habit of quickly losing its smart, professional appearance. Perhaps not much of an issue for your to-do list, but when considering official documentation such as contracts which are transported and shared in boardrooms, appearance can be everything. 

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Human error also plays an important role. When a printed form is thrown out, or more permanently still, shredded, the information upon it is lost forever. Several copies may exist of important documentation, but still there is no way of making absolutely sure that the entire file is not accidentally disposed of. In which case, there is no backup, no record at all to refer back to.

By maintaining electronic files, you are ensuring that data remains backed up, be it on hard-drives, flash-drives, or stored safely in the cloud. While this could sound slightly labour-intensive, cloud-based systems can be scheduled to provide automatic backups, removing the need for staff to spend valuable work-hours maintaining these electronic files. 

Essentially, the use of PDF documents allows companies to solidify their digital trail, something that is especially useful when dealing with agreement processes which may have to be referred back to, and other documents necessary for compliance.

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