Even in our era of always-on connectivity and versatile electronic devices, paper still plays an indispensable role in many industry sectors. Many organisations can find themselves in need of information management solutions that retain solid support for hard-copy indexing, retrieval and archiving — as well as the flexibility to digitise data on demand. While paper-based businesses have traditionally lagged behind digital organisations in the speed of information flows, the best information management solutions can help maximise their responsiveness and efficiency.
Paper-based businesses deal with a range of unique challenges in the digital era. The first of these is the sheer physicality of retained data. In-house archives can take up significant space. Author Paul Wilkinson cites the case of Arup, a multi-disciplinary consultancy that, over 70 years of project work, “had accumulated more than 100,000 archive boxes, with an index held in 150 lever-arch files, and over 650,000 drawings held on microfilm.”
An organisation with this volume of information needs an information management solution capable of not only storing data safely, but also moving it around quickly, auditing it efficiently, and making it accessible easily. Physical archives also force organisations to pay more attention to on-site security and fire protection than they might if their files existed in digital format. While virtual systems can be secured with passwords and access privileges, the physical environment can be challenging to effectively cordon. On the other hand, when stored correctly, paper files cannot be hacked, nor are they vulnerable to data corruption.
A central part of handling large volumes of retained data is appropriate indexing. Weakness in this area can cancel out one of the main benefits of storing paper files on-site: negligible access delay. This is because organisations with a large number of paper records often struggle to determine exactly what is contained within them, making information difficult to locate as well as causing files to be easily misplaced, poorly secured, and unnecessarily duplicated.
In a study released by the IDC in 2012, Melissa Webster found that workers who handled paper documents spent 7% of their workweek dealing with problems and time-consuming tasks unique to hard copies. When taking into account the time spent searching for documents that were never found, the figure rose to 11.6%. If those documents then had to be re-created, this took the total amount of wasted time to 15.6% of the workweek. An information management solution for paper files needs to actively help an organisation address these potential efficiency problems without compromising on convenience or significantly driving up costs.
One of the great advantages of using paper files is the ease and simplicity with which they lend themselves to collaborative projects, especially in construction environments. Large plans often need to be spread out and analysed by multiple parties in challenging locations in the absence of power sources or 4G coverage. However, a drawback in this area is the time taken to physically transport documents between different locations, along with the increased risk of data breach or loss. A lack of centralisation can also make eventual archiving a hassle when all files from a project need to be gathered together and stored for future reference.
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 Wilkinson, P., Construction Collaboration Technologies: The Extranet Evolution, Taylor & Francis, Oxford, United Kingdom (2005) p. 122.
 Webster, M., “Bridging the Information Worker Productivity Gap: New Challenges and Opportunities for IT” at [http://www.idc.com] (September 2012). p. 8, Table 2.