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.