5 Steps for taking your small business from paper to digital

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A successful and sustainable move from paper to electronic files requires a strategic approach. Here are five steps to help your small business move from paper to digital, modernize its data, and build new information management practices for the future.

J.D. Wyborny
J.D. Wyborny
July 28, 20237 mins
5 Steps For Taking Your Small Business From Paper To Digital

While there will always be instances where using or storing paper files is required for compliance, tax, and other business purposes, you should do your best to seek a balance between physical and digital files. Paper files slow down almost every aspect of business operations and breed a reliance on manual processes, many of which are repetitive, time-consuming, and prone to errors. 

In today’s fast-paced, ever-advancing world, small businesses need to identify areas where digitization—the conversion of a physical file to a digital one—can help promote collaboration and reduce overhead. This means everyone on your team needs to focus on tasks that add value to your bottom line and help accelerate your digital transformation journey.

What is digital transformation?

Digital transformation is the process of integrating digital technologies and strategies into all aspects of your business operations to improve efficiency, enhance customer experiences, and stay competitive. This process typically includes converting paper files to electronic files, using cloud-based tools for data storage and collaboration, automating manual workflows, and using data analytics to make more informed business decisions. 

Explore our five steps to digital transformation:

It’s no surprise that the majority of small businesses are adopting digital technologies to transform their existing processes. Digitization is helping these companies drive customer engagement, increase employee productivity, optimize resources, and build resiliency. 

If you are ready to join this digital evolution, here’s how to get started:

1) Identify - Take a good look at what you’ve got

At the outset of any type of digital transformation, you must have a complete understanding of all the records and information you possess, including business-critical records, duplicate files, and protected or sensitive client information. This is usually done through an audit and includes identifying not only what you have but what value it holds for your business.

Don’t be the company that keeps everything “just in case.” As you comb through file cabinets and storage boxes, remember that while keeping everything may seem like a good plan in the short term, it’s potentially damaging. Here’s why:

  • Keeping everything costs more. The more paper files you store, the more you pay.
  • Keeping everything can impact compliance. With more to physically keep track of, record loss is more likely. Loss or damage can compromise sensitive data and incur fines and reputational damage for your company.
  • Keeping everything is inefficient. With paper files, the average employee spends up to 50% of their workday filing, copying, indexing, or retrieving documents. 

See how incorporating information lifecycle management (ILM) can benefit your small business and make this first step in the digital transformation process a sustainable one. From creation through disposition, ILM can help you establish retention schedules, stay compliant with industry regulations, and keep your paper from piling up.

2) Digitize - Convert paper documents to electronic files

After you’ve identified the contents of your records inventory and set your retention schedule, it’s now time to scan the files you decided to keep. When it comes to digitizing paper through scanning, you have options. Here are a few paper converting processes to consider:

  • Entire backlog: Backfile conversion involves digitizing all of your existing paper files by scanning them and storing the document in digital format for access via an image. It requires a significant upfront capital investment and works best when segmented and prioritized into a series of projects.
  • Image on-demand: In situations where complete conversion is not a practical choice, image on-demand is just what it sounds like—digitizing individual documents as needed. This usually involves a partnership with your storage vendor and allows you to directly request certain records to be prepped (staples removed, pages aligned, damaged documents repaired) for scanning to digital. 
  • Day-forward digitization: This is both a service and a business process methodology. Documents that come in on paper are scanned right away, and processes are put in place to better organize and reduce the volume of paper transactions. It also provides associated storage and shredding services. It’s typically used in conjunction with backfile conversion or image on-demand.

Remember, even paper files that are vital to your business operations can be converted into digital formats. The originals can be stored or shredded, depending on your needs and obligations.

3) Store - Choose the right digital storage

Choosing how to store your company’s digital records matters. The right-for-you digital storage will boost your company’s efficiency and agility, which is one of the primary purposes of digital transformation. For example, many digital transformation efforts exist to increase the business insights you can extract from your data. Storage that allows you to easily access and analyze your data is important if this is your goal.

Here are some options to consider for small business digital storage:

  • Keep your data onsite. Onsite storage is the winner when it comes to convenience. There’s no third-party involvement. There’s no need for offsite data transfers. There’s no risk of someone else’s downtime affecting your business. However, with a dramatic increase in device usage and data creation, storing your data onsite can quickly get inefficient and expensive as you build out infrastructure and hire additional staff.
  • Store your data in (colocated) data centers. Outsourcing your data storage can relieve IT personnel of the burden of managing onsite infrastructure, allowing them to focus on more high-value initiatives related to business intelligence. A shared data center is essentially a rental space in a third-party facility where you maintain control and management of your hardware, servers, and storage and networking equipment. This allows you to share—and therefore reduce—costs associated with cooling, utilities, and physical security. 
  • Use cloud storage. Cloud storage is ideal for today’s remote workers who need on-demand access. Cloud technologies can remain flexible and scale with ease, being used to back up active data or as an archive for legacy data. Not all cloud solutions are the same. Many providers have built clouds that emphasize storage volume and scalability, while others were designed specifically for business data management with a greater focus on security. The cost of cloud storage varies and can be managed by working with an established vendor who “rents” cloud storage to your company.
  • Take advantage of “old” storage. When it comes to legacy data storage, it doesn’t make much sense to choose a solution that promises 24/7 connectivity and on-demand access to data, as you’ll ultimately be paying for features you don’t need. Stripped of the extra bells and whistles of colocation and the cloud, comparatively older data storage methods are less costly to maintain and offer a lower total cost of ownership than any of the other storage options. Disk or tape storage are two examples of older types of digital storage.

4) Automate - Establish workflows that work

As you move your business records from paper to digital (through scanning), and into your digital storage of choice, you’ll want to consider the automation that will carry this and other related workflows into the future. Establishing automation across your information management, human resources, invoicing and accounts payable, and other business functions frees up employees to spend their time focusing on strategic, high-value activities instead of busy work that has less impact.

How often has month-end close been delayed because an item couldn’t be reconciled, or deals with vendors bogged down by unnecessary paperwork? By automating ongoing administrative tasks, you eliminate bottlenecks, optimize your digital efforts, and make your business faster, leaner, and more agile.

5) Unlock - Modernize the way you manage digitally born data

So, how important is a management strategy once my files are digital and automated?

The answer is: very important. 

Although it’s often more efficient, cost-effective, and “hands-off” to manage digital data than paper, the reality is digitization still involves some level of management. The way you choose to handle your data has a profound impact on your company’s digital transformation success.

Without a solid information lifecycle management strategy in place, all of the work you’ve done to convert physical records to digital will be worthless. 

For digital transformation to be a success, you must find the most efficient way to classify, manage, store, and analyze your information, just as you did with your paper records. There’s no one right way to master digitization because it all depends on the needs and budget of your small business. At the end of the day, analyzing and optimizing your newly converted data should fuel your digital transformation goals and prepare your small business for future growth.

Start your journey to digital

Digital transformation doesn’t have to be overwhelming. At Iron Mountain, we are committed to helping businesses make the transition from paper to digital. Explore our scanning and storage services, or speak directly to a sales rep.