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.

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.

Read the whole story

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.

1

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.

7773989880_d6d533fa74_z

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.

Disaster Recovery and Why We Need it

WF_20120402_BLOGS01_120409995

Will Your Data Survive A Disaster?

It would have certainly been absolutely great if we could have predicted all of the possible disasters. Life would have been much easier and comfortable; we wouldn’t have to be afraid of anything. Wait a minute, though; don’t you all agree that in that way life would have been something completely different from what it is now? I’m quite sure you would have agreed on this. And maybe you would have agreed that even though during our lives certain bad things happen we do love the fact that life is unpredictable… just like love is after all!

The unpredictable is an essential part of our human life; we learn how to cope with it as time goes by. Sometimes it’s hard and some other times it’s much easier; the fact remains that no one can have absolute control of his life. Eventually, things that we haven’t planned might occur and disrupt our peace and quiet; the important thing is to know how to prevent them in the future – if this is an option, that is…

A loss of a human life for example cannot be replaced by another; every human life is unique. The rule does not apply to things, though, whatever these might be. We might be able to replace what we have lost in a case of a fire even if it might take some time. Thing is, that there could be ways to prevent some disasters from taking place in the first place. Take for example the fire that occurred a few months earlier in Macomb County, Michigan, which destroyed the county’s servers and entire phone system. There was one thing missing that could limit down the terrible effects of this event and that was a backup data center.

It even sounds weird to my ears; in 2013 I simply cannot imagine that people leave in chance things as important as the proper functioning of a county’s daily operations. A backup data center could have left the county having to deal only with the damages of the building. They would have been sure at least that their data and all of their valuable records would have been safe. Some years earlier a data system failure caused the loss of the jail records of the county.

Nowadays, it goes without a saying that disaster recovery is more than essential for any company or business that wishes to do business in a serious and effective way. Check here http://ironmountain.co.uk/services/records-management-offsite for disaster recovery services by Iron Mountain, one of the leading companies on the field. Their services come as the longed-for answer to puzzling situations that we might confront ourselves with on a daily basis nowadays, in the full blossom of informational society.

What is more, according to reports the county was planning to build a new data center to replace the existing one. Nonetheless, a backup data center seems that it wasn’t in their plans, which surely indicate the fact that there is a strong need for essential changes on data management. Indeed, in the era of big data, there is no room for mistakes like this. The Macomb case should become an example on how things shouldn’t get done; we must always live and act according to our times!

When I was still a child, I honestly couldn’t have imagined that we would have lived in times where information is so much a critical issue. However, one would safely argue that information was always driving the world – as information is power. In our times, though, we are capable of preserving this information much more adequately in comparison to previous historical times.

Stay Connected & Productive

One can only dream on how history would have evolved if humans were once able to preserve their knowledge against time… the burning of the library of Alexandria simply meant that the world lost forever tons of information that could have possibly altered history as we know it. It is certainly very hopeful to think that we live in a world where such catastrophes could never happen again. The digital era which we live in made it easy for us to store and preserve unlimited amounts of data; the only thing left is for us to take advantage of what we have at our disposal…

The Importance of Archiving Data

Memories

When I was young I used to collect all sorts of things: cd’s with my favorite music, magazine articles for things that interested me, coins, DVD’s, gadgets from my holiday’s destinations and even matchboxes for a short while. The reason is obvious: it was the simple desire to store and preserve everything that made me happy or brought to me good memories from the past. Well, it is a habit I kind of miss since I grew up a little bit. I remember the joy and the feeling of satisfaction every time I felt like updating or even checking on one of my boyish collections. It was a true feeling of joy!

What does it mean to grow up? Well, it means that the necessities of life knock at your door at some time (along with the pleasures of the adult life that is). A necessity of adult life couldn’t be other than the need to gather and preserve data that concern your professional life. You might need to do it by yourself if you are an accountant that works from home. Or, you might need to do it for your company if you’re one of the lucky ones that has his own office downtown (in the times of high rates of unemployment around Europe, yes, this is what I call luck!).

Archiving Data

How many times a company had to face devastating results in the light of a mismanagement of its data? I guess it must be many! Nowadays especially, the need of a company to store its data in an appropriate way it’s not only a necessity directed from the need to operate smoothly and efficiently but it is also a matter of stricter regulations and policies concerning data management and archive storage. E.U. recent regulations have generated heated discussions concerning the issue. Nevertheless, what matters in this case is not how things should have been but how one can adjust to new realities.

Guinness World Record/Shred Day DFW 2012

Iron Mountain provides excellent services for document storage. The company simply gathers the documents and stores them to their off-site storage facilities. Web services offered by the company provide an easy and quick access to your archive. What is more, you can label, search and of course request a retrieval of documents at any time. Iron Mountain has over 1.000 storage facilities around the world and has been operating on the field since 1951. Now, this is what I call a safe choice if you want to guarantee business continuity for your own company!

Apart from storing data and information though, there is also another necessity. It consists of the simple fact that some data, some information, needs to be destroyed. And this is another sensitive issue that has been thoroughly discussed by everyone concerned: individuals, companies, institutions and governmental agencies. It goes like this: some information is valuable (it could costs millions sometimes!) and some other is simply, from a point onward, confidential waste, meaning simply waste. And these are confidential waste that a company must get rid of.

Interactive Kiosks

In addition, by being waste it means that you need to make proper use of them! The world we live in faces a problem, we all know it: it is the single most crucial problem this planet faces and will need to face in the future and it’s the ecological one. I will put it bluntly: if we want to imagine that sometime from now in the future normal life will still go on than we really need to start protecting the environment. In other words, your confidential waste must become recycling material and obviously this is a job that needs to be handled professionally.

Businesswoman signing the contract.

Many companies choose to outsource the job of destroying their data in order to keep up with data destruction requirements and ecological concerns. Usually, they are provided with locked consoles which are emptied on a regular basis by the external company’s stuff. The waste will be 100% recycled. In addition, a small company that wishes to avoid signing a contract, it can request on-demand shredding services by another company. That means that they can use their services whenever is needed as a small company probably doesn’t need to deal with huge amount of information and confidential waste that is.

This whole issue is all about responsibility and transparency in case you didn’t get it. I only hope that most companies will comply with all of the the rules and regulations…