Boxes, Boxes, Everywhere!
If you are like most cemeteries and funeral homes across the state, you represent a small, family-owned business that has sustained itself for multiple generations. When every dollar needs to be used as efficiently as possible, information technology (IT) resources tend to sink to the bottom of the priority list – which not only means you may not have the latest computer system, but you have amassed boxes upon boxes of paper records.
These boxes are taking up storage space, and in many cases, they are overflowing into valuable office space. They are susceptible to destruction from violent acts of weather, changes in climate, mildew, and even consumption by rodents and other hungry critters. Most critically, they are unprotected from unwanted, snooping eyes.
Records must be preserved and maintained for business and compliance reasons, but keeping them in boxes – whether in your storage room, basement, or attic – puts them at risk. So what’s the solution?
There are options to explore without the need for an IT services team. You could rent out storage space; send your boxes off to a file storage facility; or, you could scan your files and store them electronically. Many factors need to be considered with each of these options. Let’s look at the pros and cons.
Renting storage space
can be affordable and quickly gets those boxes out of your hair. If you are not accessing those files frequently, this can work well for you. However, in some areas self-storage costs per square foot may be equal to, or even greater than the on-site space you’ll be freeing up. Most are not climate controlled, so you are still running the same risks as storing the boxes in your office. If you need regular access to your files, this will now become a time consuming and costly exercise. Without rigorous inventory controls, finding the needed file may be close to impossible. Protection of your files from vandals and thieves is now completely out of your hands.
Contracting the storage of your files with a file storage facility
presents many advantages over renting your own storage space. Most facilities are climate controlled and impervious to violent weather situations. Security in these facilities is normally a top priority. However, you will now be opening yourself up to chain of custody issues. The boxes leave your office and are taken to the storage facility by the facility employees. While your storage will be verified, you have no control over who has access to your files. Access and retrieval of your files will now become even more inconvenient. Most importantly, if a detailed inventory of each box and its contents is not maintained, retrieval of your documents will become even more costly. There will be a fee associated with every request for document retrieval.
Storing your files electronically
can offer many advantages over physical document storage. You no longer need the storage space for boxes, which opens up valuable office space, making your space more efficient and useful. Document retrieval will now take seconds rather than hours or days.
There are several ways to achieve this increased efficiency:
- You can scan your documents yourself and store them on your computer’s hard drive. This could be the perfect project to fill up idle employee time.. However, many small businesses will not be able to allocate employees for this task. Also, storing data on your hard drive leaves your data susceptible to computer crashes and viruses, so if you choose this route, you must back up your data on another source. Most importantly, a copy should be maintained in a secure off-site facility. Bank deposit vaults are a popular solution.
- Storing your data in an online retail data storage center (the cloud) such as Dropbox.com or Amazon Web Services. This can be affordable, but where is your data really going? Is it safe from hacking and from prying eyes? Level of confidence on these matters is not high.
With any solution, problems can arise if a rigorous inventory of the location and contents is not maintained. Ad hoc filing schemes that may seem sensible and logical to the person saving the data may make no sense to others.
There are now services available to take care of your electronic data conversion and storage needs, should you choose this route. Questions to consider when talking with these service providers include:
- Will your documents be scanned onsite, or will they be processed in a remote location?
- Does the company have trusted scanning methodology to ensure your documents are scanned properly?
- Will the company create a custom filing system for you, or will you have to learn their filing system?
- What type of security will the system have?
- How many users can be granted access to the system?
- Will the data be stored in an online retail storage center, or in a private, high security server?
Whatever you do decide, whether it’s moving your boxes to a storage facility, converting your files to electronic storage, or nothing at all, remember that the safety and integrity of your files is of utmost importance. You can replace desks, phones, and stationary within a couple of days; do you know how long it will take to replace your data?
This article originally appeared in the March 2014 edition of the ICFHA Newsette.
Steve Geldermann is Director of Operations for BizDoc Storage, a document scanning and electronic storage company.