It’s staggering how many offices still rely on physical documents. Physical paper has many problems: it’s vulnerable to damage, easily misplaced, and takes up space.

That’s why many modern businesses are increasingly transitioning toward a digital, paperless system. Not only is this shift more environmentally conscious, but it can also transform the way a company manages its documents.

One key benefit of a paperless system is how it impacts document retention. For many offices, document retention policies are part of the responsibility of working within a particular industry or handling sensitive information.

But can a paperless filing system help improve document retention?

Let’s dive into how transitioning to digital documents can optimize operations, facilitate compliance with legal regulations, and future-proof businesses in an increasingly digital world.

What Is Document Retention?

Document retention, also called “records retention,” is a key aspect of records management. It’s a policy that dictates how long an organization should retain certain records, including digital documents, birth certificates, and other sensitive information. This is the “retention period.”

The aim is to balance keeping essential records accessible for legal, operational, or historical purposes while eliminating clutter and inefficiencies associated with maintaining outdated records.

A document retention policy also typically dictates what happens to the documents once the retention period ends. In most cases, these sensitive documents usually get archived or destroyed.

What Is Document Retention’s Role in Document Management?

Document retention is pivotal in the broader scope of a document management policy. It systematically manages a company’s records throughout their lifecycle—from creation to disposal. Retention schedules guide organizations on what to keep, for how long, and when to dispose of records—creating an efficient and effective filing system.

Document retention is particularly important for legal compliance. Many industry and government regulations mandate specific retention periods for certain records. Thus, effective retention policies are crucial to preventing fines and other consequences of non-compliance.

How Legal Regulation Impacts Document Retention

Legal regulations have a significant impact on document retention. Different jurisdictions and industries have varying rules around the retention of different types of records. For example, financial records must often be retained for several years to comply with tax laws. Similarly, certain types of medical records or employee information must be retained under data protection laws.

The challenge arises in staying up-to-date with these regulations and ensuring that your business’s retention schedule aligns with them. This is where a paperless document management solution, such as an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS), can help.

How Going Paperless Improves Document Retention

A paperless system powered by an EDMS offers a robust solution to document retention challenges. Unlike traditional paper-based systems, an EDMS provides a secure and accessible location for all your digital documents. This typically takes the form of a cloud-based Single Source of Truth (SSoT), such as Google Drive.

This management system enables easier tracking of document lifecycles, ensuring timely disposal in line with retention schedules. Version control features help keep track of who accesses and edits each document. This provides several benefits, such as creating a chain of custody for enhanced security and ensuring your team can always access the most recent version of a document.

Furthermore, an EDMS provides advanced search capabilities and file-sharing options, making retrieving and working with stored records quick and simple.

Many document management software options also provide great customization and flexibility. This allows businesses to create rules to monitor and automate a document’s legally-regulated lifecycle. For instance, role-based access controls ensure that only authorized team members can access sensitive information, and automatic notifications can alert users to a document’s approaching disposal date.

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Benefits of Paperless Document Retention

The benefits of paperless document retention extend beyond just legal compliance and operational efficiency. Here are some additional perks:

Space-Saving: Cloud-based digital storage eliminates the need for physical storage, freeing up office space previously occupied by file cabinets and external hard drives.

Improved Security: Storing sensitive information in a cloud-based system offers enhanced security measures, including encryption, access controls, and automatic backups.

Cost Efficiency: Although there’s an initial cost involved in setting up a paperless system, the long-term savings on physical storage, paper, and equipment make it a sound investment.

Sustainability: A paperless system is environmentally friendly, reducing the company’s carbon footprint by saving on paper and energy associated with maintaining physical records.

Accessibility: Your team can access cloud-based documents anywhere, anytime, through approved devices and mobile apps. This helps maintain productivity while allowing for remote and hybrid work options.

What Is the Digital Conversion Process?

Digital conversion (also called digitization or digital transition) is the process of converting your physical documents into a digital format. Less often, a digital-to-digital conversion can help ensure all your electronic records are in accessible, easy-to-use formats.

Typically, the digital conversion process follows the following steps:

1. Preparation: The paper documents get sorted and prepared for digitization. This may involve collecting and arranging the documents, establishing a chain of custody, removing staples or paperclips, and repairing damaged pages.

2. Scanning: Each document goes through an industrial scanner, which creates a digital copy of the document. These scanned files are typically image files.

3. OCR Processing: Applying Optical Character Recognition technology to the scanned images converts the images into editable, searchable files.

4. Indexing: Metadata gets assigned to each file. For example, each document could be tagged with a title, author, creation date, and other relevant identifiers to aid future searches. This can be done manually or by using AI.

5. Quality Assurance: The quality of the digitized files gets checked, and any errors or discrepancies get corrected.

6. Storage: The digitized files are then stored in your chosen EDMS, ensuring they are correctly filed for easy access and retrieval.


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