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.

Winners write history: from Hosni Mubarak’s regime, to the Stasi and the Nazis, a history of shredding

 Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

Sir Winston Churchill, 1942

Sometimes I wonder, how much do we really know about past events?

It was Winston Churchill  who said: “History will be kind to me for I intent to write it”.

Yes, history was kind to him. He was among the protagonists of a world war that had cost the lives of many millions of innocent people. He, as a part of the winning side, made history. And history is favorable to the winners. They write it.

Different accounts can come to dominate in different periods of time or in different societies; depending on how free a society is, these accounts can be more or less accurate to the events in question.

Power struggles within societies can question the present social order. New agendas would rise that could question old dominant discourses and thus lead to a retelling of historical events bringing forward accounts, events and details that had been cast aside. It has happened before. [1]

But history cannot be objective. It is the story as it is told by the winners. It doesn’t have to be the “truth”. The truth is that half of the “facts” we think we know are merely fictions, pieces put together to create convenient and powerful stories; myths that support a certain scheme of things, a dominant power/knowledge system. [2] From what we have been taught in schools to the everyday news we read in the newspapers or the live coverage of important events on our television screens: all past is history, all present is history as well..

We can’t avoid it. We cannot avoid or dismiss history; choices of what should be kept and what we should forget. And yet, history is always on the making. And sometimes winners will become losers. History will be rewritten. Then, as regimes fall, and the dominant discourse and its surrounding myths collapse all kinds of evidence can rise into the surface; facts of the real nature of regimes that would otherwise be forgotten or would exist just for the eyes of the privileged few.

Egyptian State Security kept files on citizens and activists.

Egyptian State Security kept files on citizens.

This is the case with Egypt. On March the 5th of 2011 thousands of Egyptians stormed the headquarters of the State Security Police known as Amn Al – Dawla. Among the people of Egypt this is the “Capital of Hell”. They wanted to halt any effort by allies of the ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s regime to destroy police and intelligence documents of great value. Demonstrators succeeded to get hold of thousands of records providing evidence that there was a wide-reaching campaign of surveillance, torture and secret detention. Evidence was found that proved that media owners were on the payroll of the secret police. Documents existed that described extreme violations of human rights. However, protestors also found mountains of shredded or burned documents on the spot. [3]

In East Germany, during the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 – a series of political demonstrations against the regime of the GDR (German Democratic Republic) – Stasi’s offices were stormed by protesters. Stazi existed almost for 40 years. But the amount of agents and informers was such that the files they amassed had filled more than 60 miles of shelving. They had huge special shredding machines that could shred hundreds of meters of files. They worked day and night for more than three months. At the end, when they finally abandoned their posts, more than 16.000 sacks of shredded files were found which accounts just for 5% of the most important documents.

According to Karina Juengert – an archivist who has devoted her life in piecing together shredded documents of her nation’s past – the effort to reconstruct those destroyed documents is an effort to reconstruct a nation’s “shredded” history: “Nobody is going to spend time and energy tearing up documents that have no importance. So the work we are doing is, yes, of absolute importance“. [4]

From left to right: Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Galeazzo Ciano.

From left to right: Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Galeazzo Ciano.

In Nazi Germany they did not have nowadays technology of paper shredders. If they had, so many of the evidence of what the Third Reich had done or did plan to do would have been lost. With no evidence of the events many war criminals would have walked away free still advocating their ideas of hatred, denying the horror of their actions. Yes, it is true, neo-nazis still deny the Holocaust, and the existence of death camps, the experiments on humans, the millions of deaths. But if documents were shredded, the victory of the Allied forces would not be so clear. Without evidence, history would have been more kind to the Nazis. Even nowadays, they try to rewrite history by destroying documents; assistance comes from unexpected places.  [5] 

History is connected with documents. And there are times when the most secure thing to do is to shred them before they are used for harmful purposes. You know, it doesn’t have to be regimes or secret agencies. This is also the case with companies or organizations, public or private, which deal with credit reports or other documents containing sensitive consumer information such as patients’ records. [6]

Documents of this nature are a vital part of the personal history of individuals that no agency or company should keep copies off. Information of this kind in the wrong hands can be used to blackmail or to deny access to services, they can even prove valuable for identity theft purposes. [7] In that sense, shredding is a procedure of essential importance for citizens and businesses alike.

Sorting & Shredding Room

Sorting & Shredding Room, 1901

In fact, this is not just an ethical issue. Under the Data Protection Directive, it becomes a requirement of the law to destroy any documents that contain sensitive information. According to the Directive, data – processing systems should be designed to serve man; “whereas they must, whatever the nationality or residence of natural persons, respect their fundamental rights and freedoms, notably the right to privacy, and contribute to economic and social progress, trade expansion and the well-being of individuals” [8]

Failure to comply may lead to proceedings against the data controller, large fines or financial compensation to the data subject. The Directive – after the NSA leaks – will become stricter. [9]

Shredding machines is the most secure and common tool that people use to destroy sensitive documents. Shredding has been used to protect regimes as it is used to protect citizens. In the end, history is not definite; it can be kind to us as long as we respect the laws and make good use of the tools we have in hand. Shredding machines is such a tool. [10]

  1. http://www.rcgfrfi.easynet.co.uk/ratb/cuba/cuba_rev.htm
  2. https://www.msu.edu/~comertod/courses/foucault.htm
  3. http://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/egyptians-seize-secret-police-files/
  4. http://www.npr.org/2012/10/08/162369606/piecing-together-the-worlds-largest-jigsaw-puzzle
  5. http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/Holocaust/swiss-shredding.html
  6. http://www.frostbrowntodd.com/resources-512.html
  7. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/08/09/us-greece-tax-theft-idUSBRE9780QX20130809
  8. http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:31995L0046:en:HTML
  9. http://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=958ca7da-9c49-4510-9a0f-7626e2197069
  10. http://www.ironmountain.co.uk/services/secure-shredding