The importance of a healthy diet of Scanning & Shredding for the well being of Organizations

Document Scanning

Document Scanning

Shredders and Scanners: two devices that can be found in almost every office. Shredders are instruments of destruction within the office space. They are used to eradicate those documents that are of no use or hold information that should not fall in the wrong hands. Scanners, on the other hand, are instruments of protection. They are all about safeguarding data and information by making digital copies of them. Scanners and shredders if used together they can create a more effective work space with less paper. In previous articles I have spoken in detail about shredders. Today, I am going to talk a bit about scanners; those strange devices that complement shredders and can make our office lives simpler, if used in a correct balance.

I remember the first time I saw a scanning device. It was sometime around 1998, a period that computers were becoming more and more central to the functioning of businesses and organizations everywhere in the western world. The internet was growing but nevertheless all was still pretty new especially to those many of us – just like me – who worked on small businesses.

The “scanner” had been around for quite a while but became popular during the late 90’s. At first glance it seemed like an object that didn’t “belong”. It was flat; it seemed almost empty with no obvious reason for existing. I remember at the office that day, they told us that if we put a photo into it or any flat paper, it could copy it into a computer. At the beginning, this seemed difficult to grasp. Surely, I knew that I could print a file from my computer but how could it be possible to do the opposite? And why should I want to do something like that? It just didn’t make a lot of sense at that time. Why should you keep a digital copy of a file that you already have in paper?

 Paper Shredders

Paper Shredders

Years have passed since those days of ignorance and naivety. Nowadays scanning devices are everywhere. They can be found at newspapers and hospitals, or police headquarters. Architects and photographers use them. Scanners are everywhere. They have evolved offering high resolution output at a low price. They have become smaller in size and thinner. Or have become part of other devices such as printing machines. With advances in hardware design and storage capabilities of computers, they have become an essential tool for any IT management strategy. Now, it all makes sense.

But let’s start with the most basic of questions: what is scanning?

Scanning is the process by which paper documents are copied and saved as digital images. And why is it important? For one reason, if done according to specific requirements, the electronic record can legally take the place of the paper document, which can then be destroyed. http://f2.washington.edu/fm/recmgt/scanning

Printer & Scanner

Printer & Scanner

And this can help save time, space, money. The more documents we digitize the faster we can do our job. And in a world where information needs to be available anytime, anywhere, it is crucial to capture documents digitally.

We scan for see three basic reasons:

–       For archiving so that we can discard paper

–       For populating information repositories so that we can have easier access to specific data when we need them

–       At the start of a business process so as to ensure that more of the processes will be done digitally

The fact is that the more we scan documents the more it becomes less about archiving and more about creating an end to end workflow which can and will:

–       Reduce costs from such expenses that require extensive time consuming processes like searching, faxing, making copies. In the long term, it will also save money from buying equipment, from repair or maintenance.

–       Make access to critical information easier and faster. The more an organization grows the more paperwork is created and access to the information becomes more difficult. If we want to be efficient and competitive it is essential to be able to access records fast. Especially in specific professions like those involved with the healthcare and medical industry, access to information in time – when, for example, a patient is in an emergency situation – can be crucial. Scanning documents makes critical information easily accessible.

–       Maximize office space. Every inch with less paper is an inch of free space. Less paper means less paper related machines, less shelves for storing paper, more space for a more happy and productive working environment for you and your employees.

–       Improve reputation. Walking into an office where technology has more or less replaced paper or other more traditional processes gives the impression of a more advanced, more efficient, more forward thinking business. This positive first impression can lead to a better cooperation between customers and a business. However this is not just an impression. A business will function more efficiently and this will increase reputation and create a competitive advantage.

All in all, scanning can make a difference for you and your business.

However, scanning all of your documents is rarely a good decision. Therefore, before you start scanning documents we need to make some choices:

1)    Learn about retention requirements

Different types of documents must be stored for different periods of time depending on what type of information they hold. When we know what are the requirements then we can decide which documents we want to scan.

2)    Scan only the necessary

Following my previous point, it goes without saying that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to scan documents than need to be stored for only one more year before they can be shredded.  Therefore use your time and money wisely to find those documents that you use more often than others or that must be stored for the longest period of time.

3)    Decide what to do with documents after scanning

A third basic point I wish to make is that after scanning a crucial decision has to be taken regarding what we will do with the paper documents we just scanned. Should we keep them? Should we shred them? Check with authorities about the length of time that you must keep documents after you have captured them digitally. In many documents the period varies from 1 to 3 months but there are cases that you must keep them for much longer or even indefinite. Nevertheless, be sure before you shred any documents.

Remember, the issue is not to create a paperless office but an office with less paper, a more efficient business. Too much scanning can be as bad as too much shredding. The issue here is to be able to access those documents quickly, efficiently, in accordance with regulations. Document scanning and digitizing can create a competitive advantage if done correctly for any business, small or big. And if you think this process is too time consuming or too complex there are professionals out there who have proven their expertise and can do the job for you: http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/scanning/

In any case, it is in the interest of any business or organization to start the scanning process. It reduces costs, it creates space, it makes work more efficient; it makes access to information easier. It makes for a better organized business. And a healthy balanced organization is in the interest of all, employers, employees and customers.

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Shredding for our future: a history of man’s struggle to create and destroy

Papyrus, bill of sale for a donkey.

Papyrus, bill of sale for a donkey.

They say that man is the animal that creates. I say that man is the animal that can create and will destroy. And sometimes a creation’s purpose could be destruction. This is the case with shredding machines.

The year was 2.560 B.C. when man in his desperate search for means of expression created papyrus. Before that his irresistible urge to express himself manifested mostly on cave walls or clay tablets or other difficult to impossible to shred mediums. Papyrus changed all of that. [1]

With the invention of papyrus, man felt for the first time in history the need to rip into pieces something that he created to imprint certain information. Why? Because for the first time in history, man could do it; Papyrus made possible such action.

This first papyrus shred to pieces could be of a painting or a poem gone horribly wrong. Or of symbols that articulated emotions or desires for the future. It could be a list of financial assets or a text of religious significance. The owner of the papyrus could have destroyed it. Or maybe it was a thief. Or it might even be a jealous wife or a loyal servant. We don’t know why or who did it but we can be certain that someone took the decision to destroy. There could be a reason for doing it or there could be no specific reason at all but it was done by someone.

And after the first man, there were many more that followed a similar course of action because they could do it. The Chinese discovered paper [2], and as centuries passed, humans kept finding new reasons to destroy.

Early wooden printing press, 1568

Early wooden printing press, 1568

Gutenberg [3] discovered the printing machine and the mass paper media was born. Reading was not anymore a privilege of the aristocracy.

In 1806 a man called Henry Fourdinier created the Fourdinier machine. These were steam-driven papermaking machines that could make paper with fibres from wood pulp. Great quantities of paper could be made in great speed. [4]

By the 20th century paper was an everyday commodity, part of every human activity. Common people used it, companies used it, and government agencies used it too.

And then, in 1909, almost 6.000 years after the invention of papyrus, 103 years after the creation of the Fourdinier machine, a man from the United Stated of America called Abbot Augustus Low had a simple but glorious idea. In a world dominated by paper, he had a simple idea. He thought: “What if I created a machine that shreds paper?” And thus, he filed a patent for what he called a “waste – paper receptable”. The first shredding machine came into existence. A creation meant to destroy. It could change the course of history. It did!

Papermaking machine

Papermaking machine

According to him, his invention related “to the provision of improved means for disposing of waste paper and is designed more particularly for use in offices and other places where not only the collection and storage of waste paper is desirable, but also its cancellation or mutilation in such manner as to render it unavailable or unintelligible for re-use or for information”.

The invention consisted “of a receptacle having a cutting or cancelling device interposed between it and a receiving hopper, whereby the papers are disintegrated and rendered useless as such before they enter the body of the receptacle, in which latter the fragments are stored temporarily in a suitable bag to be removed from time to time for the disposition of the waste”.

Waste Paper Receptacle, 1909

Waste Paper Receptacle, 1909

Augustus didn’t just invent the device but knew of the advantages it could hold for banks and other organizations “where the practical destruction of correspondence, memoranda, liquidated bonds, accounts, books, and the like is a desideratum […] since the particles of paper are useless for identification, information, or fraudulent purposes of any character” [5]

However, not many sh(a)red his enthusiasm. And as it is often the case with all those we come to admire as genius, it took society quite a long time to understand the necessity of such a device. [6]

In reality, there was no demand for a paper shredder; no market. And how could there be such a demand when most of the people didn’t feel the need to shred their documents using a device. And while it was probable that US intelligence agencies might have understood its importance the simple fact is that the concept of identity theft or data protection was not very common; not common enough for the “common people”. [7]

Now, all this has changed. In the 21st century, “information destruction” is a multi-billion business and shredding machines are at the centre of it.

Shredding machines have evolved and are becoming more and more sophisticated. They will destroy from paper to DVDs and CDS or hard drives. Anything that can hold data of any kind can be destroyed and recycled. [8]

Shredding Machine

Shredding Machine

Everyone is using them. From small offices to big corporations, from government agencies, to schools and hospitals; in some countries it has become a requirement of the law to shred specific documents using shredding machines. [9]

Companies make shredding machines and sell them. Other companies are going mobile, arriving at an organization’s premises with trucks equipped with machines that chew and spit piles of paper. They destroy data that are not meant to be seen by the general public, data that should not fall in the wrong hands. Doctors, spies, everyone uses them.

From the papyrus to the computer and the world of internet, creation goes hand in hand with destruction. In reality, evolution was also the evolution of the means of destruction; they seem somehow interrelated, as if they complement each other. It is human somehow. This is how we evolve; this is how we express ourselves more effectively. We create paper to destroy it; we share information to delete it; we decide what to keep; we shred for our future. We evolve.

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ts%27ai_Lun
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johannes_Gutenberg
  4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fourdrinier
  5. http://www.google.com/patents/US929960?dq=ininventor:%22ABBOT+AUGUSTUS+LOW%22
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abbot_Augustus_Low
  7. http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2013/06/26/declassified-govt-report-details-decades-nsa-computer-spying/
  8. http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/secure-shredding
  9. http://www.cpni.gov.uk/Documents/Publications/2013/2013062-secure-destruction-sensitive-information.pdf

Please Think Twice, it’s All Right! Data Backup and its Necessities

There is a song by Bob Dylan, this legend of American folk music that used to make me enthusiastic when I was still a student. He used to sing it with his characteristic, passionate voice (even if it doesn’t always sounds as such) back in the early days of his success. The song was entitled “Don’t think twice is all-right” and Dylan kept on repeating these words time after time during the three-four minutes that the song lasts.

It is a wonderful folk song that echoes the spirit of the times when it was written: the rebellious 1960s. It is one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, even if as I was growing up I came to disagree with the meaning of what he was singing about! Allow me, please, to explain myself! It always feels great not to think too much when you’re young, I know. You can get drunk without thinking about next morning’s headache, you can go and talk to that beautiful lady who sits alone in the bar and you can be spontaneous and act before you think, as if there is not a problem with that.

If you have to wake up the next morning to go to your office or if you have a lovely wife waiting for your back home, then you aren’t “free” not to think twice before you succumb to instinct and desire. In this case, you are obliged, or to put it better, you want to think things twice!

When it comes to the important things in life, we must think it twice, indeed. Take for example data protection and management. We know it from personal experience: we need to have a back up of all of our important files stored in our PC. A hard drive crush is something familiar to everyone reading these lines as it is, and, unfortunately for us, an unavoidable accident.

That is why a back up of the backup is an ideal solution for us, not to mention businesses that need to be extra careful, as a potential catastrophe cold hypothetically mean the end for them. Nowadays, data centers are much safer and properly designed in order to avoid the terrible effects of a big data loss. However, they are not impenetrable.  A simple accident can actually destroy what was carefully saved there for years.

Typhoon Haiyan Relief - City of Tacloban

Typhoon Haiyan Relief – City of Tacloban

We witnessed recently another huge disaster that occurred on this planet; I’m referring to the typhoon that attacked the Philippines. It proves that as much as we try, we will never be 100% safe from an unexpected disaster. The powers of nature combined with the tricky nature of an unwanted coincidence can cripple even the best defensive mechanisms ever implemented by humans.

Iron Mountain, the leading expert on data and information management strongly recommends to businesses to have in mind that a backup of their data is not enough: they need a backup of the backup.

Today, many businesses choose cloud backup in what it is a solution that is surely not the best or the most secure. Cloud is relatively easy to handle, but we should never forget that the data stored in the cloud is actually stored… down on earth and inside a vulnerable data center! Therefore, cloud might come pretty handy for companies and businesses but the danger is still there – so it comes as a necessity to actually think twice even about perfection, especially for business makers.

When Bob Dylan was young he told us not to think it twice. Nevertheless, as he grew up he significantly changed and turned from a rebellious youngster into a more moderate human being. After he became himself a successful businessman, something tells me that he actually changed his motto as well: please, think it twice, it’s all right! As what we learn from not thinking twice once (maybe when we are young and restless) is to actually think twice forever after.

85th Annual AHIMA Convention Exhibit, October 26-30, 2013.

The AHIMA Convention & Exchibit is an annual conference about healthcare management. More than four thousand experts participated in the conference this year. In case you are interested in the field, you shouldn’t miss it next time.

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Trust: It’s the Bottom Line of Life

Emmanuel Sumithran Gnanamanickam, a community leader and manager of an NGO in South India, is an inspiring young man. He and his small group of people have dedicated their lives to provide basic health care, education and support to tribal groups in the region. He said that his experience with the tribes taught him a very important lesson:

unless you are willing to trust, and be trusted by people, life cannot go on, because a lot of what happens in life is based on trust. It’s the bottom line of life”.

There are quite a few things that have happened recently that made me also think about trust, how important it is for our lives. There is an unprecedented crisis that affects us all. Companies close, people are left unemployed; there is a lot of insecurity and uncertainty out there. Many seem to have lost their confidence in their government or even towards society as a whole. Others feel betrayed as if somehow a contract has been broken. I have heard too many speak of their lost faith in the human kind; they are our friends, our neighbors, our family.

Our lives are woven together as in a fabric, but the connections that used to make society strong now seem to make us vulnerable. What we seem to be lacking of is trust and somehow this seems to have a negative effect on everyone’s life.  It is proven for example that where trust is low, crime and corruption are high.

From a business perspective, IBM boss Thomas J. Watson notes that: “The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy.”

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Trust is valuable and needs to be fostered. Trust is the key. When you are in a relationship, if you can’t trust the person you are with, the relationship will fail. Trust involves a degree of vulnerability; People feel safe in the hands of another therefore share personal information, feelings, thoughts. It is necessary in a romantic relationship, in a relationship of a patient with a doctor, in a relationship between a customer and a company, between a citizen and his government. Trust is a silent contract; people have confidence that the other part will not act or use information shared against their interests and will fulfill a certain role.

Almost everything evolves a relationship of trust. A trivial thing like driving a car is based on trust. If I didn’t trust that the drivers of the cars coming against me would stay on their own side of the road, driving would become a very difficult and dangerous experience. A law is valid only when people trust that it is on their interest and act accordingly.

To give another example, if I was lost in a country I‘ve never been and I didn’t trust the people, I would be quite stressed and full of anxiety when asking directions or any kind of request. I would personally spend a lot of time and energy to evaluate the correctness of the information handed to me in fear of being tricked into an unknown and unpleasant situation. You’ve seen horror movies. You know how it all starts and how it ends. Can you really trust these strange people?

Yes, you guessed correctly, low trust makes you paranoid…

The simple fact is that you don’t have to get lost in a strange country with strange people to become paranoid. Just ask all those who don’t trust their government. Maybe they have a real reason.  According to recent researches, fewer Americans than ever trust their government to solve their problems. The same goes for British and Greeks  to give but a few examples of a growing global tendency.

And what happens when citizens don’t trust politicians? They seem to get drawn towards conspiracy theories. In Greece, more and more people believe in the theory of chemtrails. Paranoia, is a sign of low trust and signifies a severely damaged relationship; in the case of Greece between citizens and government.

We live in times of a crisis. These are difficult times for many that test the strength of our relationships. This is true for individuals, as it is for companies and governments. My recent observations would suggest that nowadays more than ever progression in business demands uncommon levels of trust. Buyers are more nervous than ever before. And it makes sense.

The only way to turn this situation around is by really caring for your customer. You see, the thing about trust is that you can’t fake it. And this is where actions speak louder than words. Action is the only language of trust.

In the field of business, an example of such an action that helps foster a relationship of trust is a software escrow agreement http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/software-escrow.

. It is signed between developers and users of software to ensure that despite what happens, in case of an uncontrolled catastrophe, due to a bankruptcy or a merger with another company, the user of the product will not be left without access to the source code that might be required for maintenance, disaster recovery or upgrades. And this can make the difference.

As Emmanuel Sumithran Gnanamanickam said, trust is vital; without it “life cannot go on, because a lot of what happens in life is based on trust. It’s the bottom line of life”. In our difficult times (which will unfortunately be with us for quite a long) this is truer than ever. In the end, “to be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved” (George MacDonald, The Marquis of Lossie, 1877). Just think about it.

The importance of trust and the question of software escrow agreements

trust_blocks

Trust starts from the very beginning. From the way you lay the foundations of a business. It is about the relationships you form with your employees, with your customers, with your providers. Trust is the invisible glue that keeps all parts together. Without it, all collapse. It can’t be measured but when it exists, you know it is there. In its absence, simple problems can lead to catastrophes.

Take for example, the case of a possible important decision that you will have to make; the choice of customizable software for running your business. Now, what weights the most in such decisions is that the software fits your needs. But the next most important aspect is that the software you decide to purchase will keep on working under any circumstances. You just can’t risk organizing your business on a program that might fail you on a critical moment due to circumstances out of your hand. This is just out of the question.

You will ask me and you will be correct to ask me such a question: “how does this have to do with trust?”

In order for your business to run, it needs specific programs provided by software vendors. You find the software that fits your needs and you purchase a copy of it. When you purchase the software what you gain access to is the “object code”. The object code is the program that runs at your computer and all supporting data that are necessary for the software to run properly and according to your needs. Therefore, when you buy software what you gain access to is the use of an “executable” program, not the program itself;  its deep rooted essence – the “source code” – is something completely different.

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A copy of the Source-Code in a protected location.

But why is the “source code” so important?

Source code” is what makes a program; a sequence of statements and operations that have a logical sequence written in a computer programming language such as Java, C++ or Visual Basic. It controls how data is processed and how the software functions. These “logical sequences” can be many thousands of lines of code. Who “writes” these lines? That is the work of programmers, specialists who know how to read and what to write in such languages. You could call them, computer linguists. In the end, when all work is done, the result is an “executable code” which the consumer and user of the program can install and run on his computer.

Software vendors don’t usually give access to the “source code” or technical documentation that goes in depth. They don’t want to. Why should they give you access to knowledge of the ways the program functions, when as a consumer you only need to know how to use the program? Why should they give up so easily on their intellectual property? They see themselves as the owners of a knowledge that is on their interest to remain confidential. It makes sense.

However, there are cases when all becomes very problematic; special circumstances that require that access to the source code should be made available. Such case is when the software developer doesn’t have the ability anymore to support the product due to an uncontrolled catastrophe, due to bankruptcy, or a merger with another company. If the user of the product doesn’t have the source code he can be left with software that lacks support and functionality. In such cases the common solution comes through a software escrow agreement. It is all about trust.

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Business handshake

The one side – the potential buyer and user – wants assurances from the other side – the software provider – that what they are getting will keep on functioning and will have support through its whole life cycle. The other side – the seller – wants to reassure the buyer that their software will keep on working no matter what happens to them as developers. Therefore, in order to seal the deal between the two sides, they agree to sign a software escrow agreement where both sides agree that the supplier holds on to the source code and will release it to the buyer – user of the software – under pre-agreed exceptional circumstances. What the supplier gets in return is reasonable assurance that the source-code will not be released in a way that can hurt his interests.

The next step is to find a trusted neutral third party that will retain a copy of the source-code in a protected location and will make it available if the specific requirements agreed are met. The deal is sealed.

Business is not about buying and selling. Business is about relations of trust. Trust creates the field for successful business. And successful business is good for you. It is good for society. It makes for a secure future for everyone. It makes life easier.

Knowledge is power: Industrial espionage, data protection and the quest for meaning

There are people who suffer from a specific condition of the mind called hyperthymesia. It is a neurological condition where one cannot forget anything that has ever taken place in his life. The effect of such a condition is destructive because knowledge is based on forgetting.

Without this ability, we wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything since everything would be always present. Meaning comes through the choice of what needs to be remembered and what can and should be forgotten. Like when you bring in your mind the image of a forest, first, we need to forget about the details of all those single trees.

timthumb

If this is the condition of the human mind, what does this mean in a world based on data collection and management? Or, to pose the question in a different manner, if in order to create knowledge the human mind needs to forget, what data does an organization or a business needs to put aside? Should there be an expiration date, where after it passes, certain data collected loses meaning and has to be deleted or should we hold on to all data forever? Would this be meaningful? What needs to be protected?

The right management of data is power. The choices organizations make on what to keep and what to “forget” makes them more or less effective. What remains is all that gives meaning to their existence; valuable pieces of data which when combined produce knowledge.

Knowledge is Power. People know it, companies know it, nation states know it. In this context, certain data need to be protected just like certain data can be forgotten. It makes sense.

In a recent article from Der Spiegel, after the recent NSA scandal and the revelations of large scale data mining by the USA, the author claims that data protection and security has become an issue of even greater importance.

As noted in the article, executives in many companies in Germany have become increasingly nervous and have taken extreme defensive measures. Specific documents that were sent by email are now delivered in paper to the recipient. The only data that are still sent via email are those that have no real value and the company would have no issue posting publicly.

data_breach

It has become common knowledge among companies that they have to protect themselves from the eyes of competitors. Spies are everywhere.

They might be working for an intelligence agency or an industrial giant. They might be plain amateurs. What is clear though is that there is a secret war taking place in the web. Just like in real wars, there are armies of mercenaries waiting for the highest bidder to buy their services. Knowledge is power.

In Germany, the number of attacks every day is in the hundreds of thousands. The United Kingdom reports 120.000 attacks every day. Only in the state of Utah according to a report made by the chief information officer and executive director of the Utah Department of Technology Services there are more than 20.000.000 attacks per day, while in a most alarming news story, according to officials of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the agency in charge of U.S.A.’s nuclear weapons, reports their computer systems face millions of hacking attempts daily! The number of attacks increases by the day all over the world. It is well documented.

To secure your business’s data, in these conditions, is not an easy task. However, there are trained professionals that have proven themselves on the field of data protection. Companies that can give you a sense of security when it comes to insuring that your valuable pieces of data that give meaning to your organization’s existence and well being will not be lost. Companies that will help you manage effectively the increasing cost and complexity of data growth, of what to keep and what to “forget”. That will train your staff on critical elements of data protection.

Maybe this is the most crucial choice that you will have to make. The choice of the professional you will trust to help you fight most effectively a war of increasing importance; the war for knowledge.

And this is something you should not forget: this war is not a matter of choice.