Paper Records: Keep or Destroy After Scanning?

By James Watson posted 10-08-2010 14:33


One question I get asked a lot is: “Do most firms destroy paper documents after scanning them?”

First, every firm retains the paper documents for 60 to 120 days to ensure there’s no need for a re-scan or perhaps a scan of a page that might have been skipped. Essentially, the idea is to retain the paper until the underlying transaction is complete: The invoice has been paid, the beneficiary information has been updated, the account has been opened, etc. You also have to ensure that a full commit cycle in your enterprise content management (ECM) system has been completed and that the backup and disaster recovery systems have been updated.

Once those activities are complete, now comes the real question: To destroy, or not to destroy the paper? The laws and regulations vary, but generally there are provisions that permit the destruction of paper documents if the electronic document is properly “cared for” (lots of lower-level details here, so I’ve intentionally chosen the term “cared for” so as not to be more specific).

I’d estimate our clients are split 60/40 on this question. About 60 percent are destroying the paper documents, while the remaining 40 percent continue to put the paper in a storage facility. Some use microfilm as the media for their images, and most of these firms destroy the paper as well. And of course those that have begun using electronic images as their official records still have boxes upon boxes of historical paper records to manage, because the cost of performing a backfile conversion is prohibitive, given the infrequency of retrieval.

Yet the tide is slowly turning toward destruction of paper documents. Firm by firm, records managers and their operations counterparts are winning the approval from legal counsel to begin destroying paper documents.

So it’s 2010, and the ability to scan documents has been in use since the mid-1990s. A grand total of 15 years later, we have just 60 percent of the firms destroying paper documents. Now fast-forward to 5 years from now. Vast quantities of your content are stored in SharePoint, but also archived in a records management system. What do you think: Will you get the okay to delete the SharePoint content?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

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