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From supplier invoices, purchase orders, contracts and receipts, businesses produce a mass of documents on a daily basis that have to be dealt with, to ensure they can be easily found again.

Trying to deal with all this information manually with paper documents and rooms of filing cabinets is cumbersome, time-consuming, costly and underutilises the capabilities of employees.

Electronic document management systems improve these processes, removing the need to store documents manually and increasingly automating much of the filing process through integration with other business systems.

The need to make the document management more efficient is highlighted in our report Risky Business – analysing the state of UK business processes which found that 33% of finance staff feel their efficiency is being constantly reduced by the amount of lost or hard to find documents they have to deal with at work.

This inefficiency is the overwhelming feeling within finance teams in UK businesses of all sizes; more than half (52%), say they occasionally feel they are made less efficient by how their company deals with documents.

However, relief is on the horizon in some organisations that are seeing the benefits of electronic document management systems.

More than half of those in our survey (58%) said their company is now using some form of electronic document management system to file attachments, while 40% now use an automatic filing platform.

Ending the reliance on manual document management

Unfortunately, there is still a significant proportion of companies subjecting their employees to tedious, tiresome work practices. These rely on either manual document storage or multiple fragmented electronic repositories accessible only to individual users where documents are stored electronically.

Our research found:

  • 18% store documents as attachments in their emails to be retrieved when they are needed.
  • 11% file all attachments on a shared company file server and 5% store attachments on a personal file server.
  • 8% use a more convoluted approach, printing attachments out and then scanning them back into their company system to be stored digitally once dealt with.

Reassuringly, only 2% said they still had to print attachments and store the paper document in a filing cabinet – although it is worrying that any employee is still dealing with documents in this way.

Are outdated document management processes a security risk?

While businesses are continuing to rely on manual document storage, very few – if any – have the space in their office to store all this paper on-site. Alternatively, they could likely make better use of the space.

Our research backs up this assertion with 77% of finance workers admitting their company still relies on using external storage space to store documents – including documents that could include sensitive client or commercial information.

This raises some serious concerns over security and data privacy.

By storing documents off-site businesses have little control or oversight over the security or integrity of them.

The most obvious risks being that the documents could be easily stolen, or they could be damaged.

There has been some false confidence that paper documents somehow sit outside the remit of the ICO. As a wake-up call in December 2019, the ICO fined a pharmacy £275,000 for failing to store special personal data correctly.

They left approximately 500,000 documents in unlocked containers at the back of their premises, with the data including names, NHS numbers and various medical information. Additionally, some of the data had been water damaged, and therefore unintelligible.

Modern electronic document management systems

By managing documents using an electronic document management system, businesses can create a single source of information with full life cycle management of each document. Documents are secure, searchable and stored for only as long as required by setting retention dates.

Electronic document management is also much cheaper. The monetary savings associated with internal space-saving and the elimination of external storage costs alone normally provides the business case.

Not only does it remove the hidden costs of document storage: it can streamline the distribution of documents with version controls, ensuring the latest version is always the one being worked on – reducing the amount of time teams spend on a particular task.

To read our full research report, click here.