Are you using a typewriter or PC in the workplace? If you are using a typewriter, you can skip this article. If you are using a PC, it is time to digitize your business.
The benefits of a paperless office are huge. More important, the strategies for going paperless will need to be customized for your situation and your firm's office policies. So, what are the steps and tools needed to convert from paper? What new systems are needed to take advantage of those tools and be in compliance?
First, the tools. To go paperless, you will need a scanner, shredder, server or file sharing capability, a personal computer (a PC that is preferably a laptop and docking station), document software, and backup software and storage. As for scanners, I prefer desktop versions for convenience and use the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500. If you are not familiar with this scanner, check it out on YouTube or read the reviews on Amazon. It scans both sides of a document at the push of a button and will handle up to 50 pages at a time. It is also very fast.
Once you complete scanning, decide what to do with your original - toss it, shred it, or store it. Once the document is scanned it can be converted to a number of popular formats such as a Word document, jpeg or PDF.
Now that you have an electronic document, I recommend you store it on a server or a network storage device as opposed to your local hard drive. If you store it on your local hard drive, no one else can access it. If you store it on your network, you can grant access to others who need it, like your assistant or partners.
There are various types of commercial software to handle the electronic conversion process, and most scanners have software bundled with them for this purpose. You can now access your stored electronic documents with a PC, laptop, or tablet. I like using a laptop with a docking station so I can simply take my PC with me if I leave the office, without needing to disconnect all of the USB plugs for my scanner, printer, Internet connection, etc. Whoever else processes a lot of documents in the office should have a desktop scanner as well. Yes, you can all share the same scanner if necessary.
Next, you have to upgrade your systems. The three most important are your customer relationship management (CRM) system, your meeting preps and follow up system, and your document management system.
Your CRM system is used to manage your contacts, calendar, tasks, and typically e-mail. Outlook and Lotus Notes are a few of the systems that are popular. If you are using a paper calendar, how does your assistant set appointments for you? If you set your own appointments, what if you lose your paper calendar? Paperless CRM systems are the way to go. You can access your calendar in the office or out of the office, either online or through a mobile phone or tablet. You can grant access to your assistant to schedule appointments for you. You can email a calendar to clients showing your availability. You can also convert emails to appointments, contacts, or tasks from right within your tool. I have yet to meet an advisor who fully utilizes the capability of their firm's paperless CRM tools. And when they learn how, they are astonished at how much time they have been wasting.
Next, you can collaborate with your staff if you have electronic documents stored in a central location. No more waiting for a folder. Updates are shared with the group simultaneously. You will need to decide what paper records you have in storage that will be converted to your paperless system. Paper is vulnerable to damage and fire. Paperless can be backed up and stored securely. Most firms use encrypting software for this purpose. Check with your firm's policy when storing documents electronically.
Finally, the SEC's Rule17a-4 provides guidance in regards to electronic document management. The rule requires the following of organizations: Original copies of all communications, such as interoffice memoranda and email messages, must be retained for a period of no less than three years, the first two in an easily accessible location. Records must be maintained, retained, and available to be produced or reproduced using either micrographic media (such as microfilm or microfiche) or electronic storage media (any digital storage medium or system).
Every firm will have its own compliance guidelines regarding electronic records. Please check with your firm before adopting these recommendations. I have a great project management checklist for the paperless office that you can request via email at email@example.com.
Todd Colbeck is principal and founder of the Colbeck Coaching Group,
a subsidiary of General Business Center, Inc. You can reach him at this email address.