Online Document Storage and Management for Small Businesses

Documents are an essential component of every business. Online document storage is the most efficient and effective way to store needed documents. Yet, there are still some businesses stuck in the 20th Century, maintaining paper files, thinking it is a more secure means of storage.

Paper files can easily become lost, and they require space. When information is needed it is time consuming to gather, transfer and prepare. Digitally stored documents are easier to find, maintain, and analyze for key information. Cloud-based systems can be accessed from anywhere and are often more secure than paper or files maintained on a hard drive or similar hardware.

According to a recent article in TechRepublic, “Nearly 1 in 5 of the 1,000 U.S. office professionals surveyed ranked ‘digging for files they need’ as the No. 1 problem to support the future of remote work; another 58% of the office pros said a quick search for files and documents is a “top-three problem.”

In the same survey it was determined that 54% of office professionals report wasting time searching for files in cluttered online systems. This wasted time negatively impacts morale and affects the company culture, because disorganization leads to less productivity and professionalism.

With the number of things small business owners have to manage, organizing documents isn’t often a priority – until key information is lost or due dates are missed. A small business file management system needs to support contracts; record retention requirements; and compliance with federal, state, local, and industry regulations.

An effective file management system is designed to maintain business files. Office documents and records are stored and reports can be run to gather key information.

With eContract management, documents are to be easily produced, signed, and stored so that all parties have ready access to them. The ability to run a report to determine which documents have been signed is crucial when acknowledging a new regulation or process. It is also important that signed documents can be voided or canceled and reissued with a visible paper trail, and only the individual who it is intended for has the ability to sign it.

Record retention is essential to the small business. Many laws, regulations and best practices dictate which records should be retained and for how long. Financial, corporate or legal, and human resources documents all have different retention requirements. Prior to online storage, companies had storage lockers and basements full of boxes of files from the beginning of time.  Online storage allows records that are no longer of immediate value to be moved from active accessibility to an inactive status, but accessible if needed.

One overarching reason for having a well-crafted document storage system is to ensure compliance. As an organization grows there are more and more regulations that impact it and all require maintaining documentation. Having a scalable system that supports the growth and compliance is essential for the small business owner.

The most recognizable computer or cloud-based methods for storing information may theoretically offer everything “in one place,” but between our hard drives, email, iCloud, Dropbox, and the dozens of other common cloud storage options, documents are lost all the time. Just like with paper-based systems, misnaming or misfiling can result in hours of searching or reproducing work.

A system that has pre-designated locations for each document type and offers support to prevent documents and records from ending up in duplicate places, being easily overwritten, or lost in a morass of other files with similar names, is what small and growing businesses need.

The following are key aspects of an effective electronic document management system designed for small businesses:

  1. Roles or Permissions

A role based system defines the access for each user. This ensures anyone who accesses documents follows uniform rules and protects against unauthorized use. Confidential information is accessible only by select individuals; while others can access the information they need.

  1. Customized Pre-designated Folders

Having a system that is set-up with you and for you, makes it impossible for an employee to mess up the document management structure. You want your system that is designed for everyone to follow a uniform approach when managing and storing files. Not allowing anyone in the company to create their own folders is the best way to keep a clean, manageable system.

  1. Avoid Duplication

Duplicate files lose data integrity. Document storage should be used to store the final document, not as a collaborative platform. Having the storage system and the collaborative system combined can be a recipe for duplicate files, mislabeled files, overwriting information, and unmanageable document storage. It should be easy to detect duplicates and misfiled documents, while providing the ability to easily remove or refile the misfiled information.

  1. Security

Security is a fundamental part of document management. You don’t want your company or your client’s confidential data exposed. Although every system has the potential to be hacked, having two-factor authentication, encryption features and security management processes in place is necessary when dealing with confidential and personal identifiable information.

  1. Report and Audit Features
    Conducting periodic audits of your information ensures that everything is working and data integrity is maintained. The ability to run reports supports the auditing in terms of accuracy and efficiency. Having the ability to download reports and documents en masse saves time and money during an audit process, or when changing or upgrading systems. The proper documentation management improves the accessibility to the required documentation and makes the workflow transparent and traceable for auditors.

Final Thoughts

Documentation management is important for every business, from the solopreneur to the multibillion dollar conglomerate. Starting your small business with a document management system that is easy to use and scalable will be a boost to your productivity, company culture and success.

Jonathan Jiang is the co-founder and CTO of AttacheWorks, a SaaS resource platform for entrepreneurs and startup companies.