Regardless of where you are on your digital transformation journey — or even if transformation isn’t on your agenda — a strategic storage plan can deliver big payoffs for organizations that want to reap the benefits of the latest advances in information technology.
Commodity hardware, cloud computing, low-cost storage and open-source software have put powerful capabilities within everyone’s reach. Now is an excellent time to review existing practices with an eye toward digitization and process automation potential. Strategic storage helps ensure that modern updates to data and information management infrastructure yield a good return on investment.
Start by reviewing document storage and management practices with the goal of eliminating as much paper as possible. This doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing process. Clearing out old records one filing cabinet at a time saves space and enables your organization to digitize assets at a feasible pace. Along with saving space, removing paper from your organization optimizes processes, reduces compliance liability and saves time spent searching for information.
The second stage in your journey is to digitize existing assets. Once content is in a digital format, it becomes easy to move, copy, search, index and archive. The cost of retrieval plummets, and organizations regain much of the 25% of the average work week that people spend filing, copying, indexing or retrieving documents.
Digitizing paper documents previously entailed scanning them, which produced an image but not much data. Thanks to recent advances in machine learning, however, computers can now learn and extract the data from scanned documents and structure it for record-keeping and analysis. For example, they can identify fields like date, price, SKU numbers and addresses in scanned receipts and load that information into a database. They can even identify people and places in digital photographs. Data that was once all but inaccessible becomes shareable and actionable.
Digitization is the foundation of process automation. Digital information can be routed instantaneously and programmatically. Multiple people can work on the same documents at once. Digital assets don’t get lost or fall to the bottom of an in-basket. Notifications alert process owners of needed actions. Audit trails are built in. This kind of automation quickly pays for itself in improved efficiency, error reduction and employee productivity.
One Step at a Time
Digitization need not require massive investments. It can start with a management directive that all information be created and stored electronically whenever possible going forward. Simple steps like cloud document shares and digital signatures can deliver immediate results at low cost. You can then expand at your own pace by addressing workflows one project at a time, such as automating parts of the employee onboarding process.
Digital organizations need to reformulate their governance processes around digital documents. Metadata standards are essential to improving the discoverability and usefulness of documents over time. This involves creating a set of universally applied metadata elements in a collaborative process that includes representatives from everyone who handles data, such as IT, legal, compliance, data governance, security, audit and records management.
Robust metadata standards help organizations keep track of all their critical documents and the information they contain. They cut retrieval times and help organizations create records retention schedules that plan for the orderly and timely disposal of documents that are no longer needed — a must in regulated industries. And as concerns about the handling of personally identifiable information multiply, metadata helps ensure that records don’t fall through the cracks.
Consider the Cloud
Finally, revisit your approach to document storage and retrieval with the cloud in mind. You may want to move some of your less critical data offsite and into one of the many available classes of cloud storage, to avoid purchasing and managing storage hardware.
There are also cloud archival options that offer compelling cost advantages for storing data that is too timely to be committed to tape. Putting all your data online, whether on premises, in a cloud object store or in a cloud archive, boosts organizational agility by greatly reducing retrieval times while freeing up IT staff for more strategic tasks.
Protecting investments in new digital technology has never been easier. Many of the digitization initiatives described above are available from cloud service providers on a pay-per-use basis. This gives organizations the freedom to proceed at their own pace, test new capabilities at minimal cost and scale using a flexible combination of owned and rented infrastructure. This flexibility allows organizations to digitally transform at a rate that works for them.
A strategic storage plan paints a complete picture of organizations’ information assets and lets them quickly find what they need. It’s a key first step toward digital transformation.