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By Rebecca Delaney
| April 18, 2017
If you own or manage a small business, you may have walls lined with jam-packed file cabinets. It’s organized. Sort of. But when you need to find a specific document—for sales, or marketing, or legal, or a customer—it probably induces a headache.
You know it will be a distraction that might take 10 minutes, an hour, or an afternoon to track it down. If you even have it. According to research, employees spend approximately 30 percent of their time looking for information.
If one essential business strategy has emerged in the last decade, it’s that learning, collecting, and holding as much information as possible about your customers, about your business, about your inventory, and about your seasonal cycles can all be pathways to future success.
But it can also be overwhelming, especially if you are the office manager in charge of knowing every little detail about where records live. And it’s only going to become more important, as it’s estimated that the amount of data created and stored by organizations is doubling every two years.
If you’re a small business (National Small Business Week runs from April 30-May 6), adapting to a world of big data could mean the difference between a good year and a great one, or a small crisis and a devastating one. And with three of the first four months this year seeing an increase in small business hiring, optimism that hasn’t been since 2012, it might be the right time to pivot.
“Today many small businesses lose valuable time physically searching for paper-based information,” says Matt Booterbaugh, senior operations leader at Iron Mountain, the Boston-based storage and information management company that helps businesses make the transition by identifying what records must be kept, what can be discarded, and then scanning and storing documents so they can be easily accessed.
“Staff are forced to rely on the last person who touched the information to have to put it back in the correct spot,” Booterbaugh says. “When the physical information is not placed back in the correct location, it becomes a full-on search effort, oftentimes pulling in additional staff to assist when instead they should be focused on higher-value tasks.”
Transitioning from paper to digital sounds daunting, expensive, exhausting, scary, time-consuming. In fact, it’s smart, safe, easier than you think, and it can save money and time, make your business more efficient, more profitable, and create a more desirable work environment.
For starters, paper takes up prime office space, or unnecessary office space, which is one reason why small business owners are seeing the value in moving their valuable customer information from paper to digital.
“We often see small businesses start with hard copy files and as they grow and get more and more records, they see the advantages to electronic document storage,” says Robert Nelson, district director of the Small Business Association of Massachusetts.
Easily accessing and sharing files, protecting information against damage, loss, or unauthorized users, and streamlining workflows are just a few of the benefits businesses realize when they migrate paper files to digital.
When files are scanned and digitized they are assigned keywords, making it easy to search for documents using terms the business and employees use every day. These keywords can link to other documents with the same metadata, making it easy to locate related files. Instead of sorting through boxes and file cabinets, employees can access a digital file in real time and share the information immediately and securely among authorized co-workers.
Protecting customer data becomes easier once files become digital. Small business owners can track who accessed what files when. “Transitioning to digital enables [companies] to limit who had access to specific information within their organization, limiting the risk of critical information falling into the wrong hands,” says Booterbaugh.
Once files are digitized, most of them can be shredded—freeing up valuable office space. And since authorized staff can access files from anywhere, at anytime, they can work remotely easier—allowing some businesses to downsize their physical office space, and becoming an employer of choice by offering a more flexible work environment.
There’s another benefit, as well. One fire, flood, or other disaster could wipe out paper files and customer data forever. According to an Iron Mountain report, “66 percent of lost data is irrecoverable after a natural or manmade disaster.” Safe and secure digital record keeping—not simply putting records in the cloud—is a path toward peace of mind.
“You never know when a disaster will hit,” says Nelson, who counsels small businesses on disaster planning. “Having digital records can help with a small business’s recovery.”
Iron Mountain Incorporated (NYSE: IRM) is the global leader for storage and information management services. Trusted by more than 230,000 organizations around the world, Iron Mountain boasts a real estate network of more than 85 million square feet across more than 1,400 facilities in 46 countries dedicated to protecting and preserving what matters most for its customers. Iron Mountain’s solutions portfolio includes records management, data management, document management, data centers, art storage and logistics and secure shredding, helping organizations to lower storage costs, comply with regulations, recover from disaster, and better use their information. Founded in 1951, Iron Mountain stores and protects billions of information assets, including critical business documents, electronic information, medical data and cultural and historical artifacts.
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