To Digitize Or Not To Digitize

Most businesses have faced the strategic issue of whether or not they should digitize their record keeping in recent years. Whether or not they have decided to take the plunge, consideration of moving to a digital system, is likely to have been on the cards. For smaller businesses, with perhaps only a few employees, it can be tempting to stick with the known. Nevertheless, even sole traders need to think about the benefits digital record management can bring. If they are not, then a competitor will. And if that gives them an edge in the market place it won’t be long before ignoring the issue can start hurting a business’ ability to grow.

Some complain that digital processes and records are inherently flawed and that a business specific paper system can never really be replicated within a computer network. With some high profile and extremely costly roll outs of computer systems in the public sector, directors in the private sector could be forgiven for thinking that digitization, whatever its merits, is too expensive and too complex to be justified. Proper thought ought to be made on both the pros and cons of making the move to the digital world.

One of the down sides that people raise about digital record keeping is that the files are too easily accessed by people who have a connection to the system. Indeed, keeping digital records held on a secure basis in a world, where nearly all computers can talk to one another via the internet; is a potential hazard that everyone needs to face. Digitizing financial information, or other business sensitive data, is another area where managers can be reluctant, often fearing that staff will be able to read material that they would prefer them not to access. Sometimes customers prefer not have extensive database records kept of their details. You only have to hear the outcry amongst some in the general public at the idea of a national database for medical records to get an understanding that, for some, digitization equates with a lack of personal privacy.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of up sides that outweigh the negative side of digital information services. Computerization of customer and client records means businesses can react almost instantaneously to inquiries. By having staff being able to access a customer database, they can speak knowledgeably and personally, without having to defer the enquiry to an expert. In short, digitization improves customer service. With well thought through management controls in place, sensitive data can still be held securely whilst allowing front line staff to get on and do their jobs well. A computer network which has multiple terminals, all of which can access the same client’s records at the same time, means that staff can see their colleague’s notes being updated as they are entered. Workers at different offices can therefore carry on with up to date records and do not have to wait for paper records to be biked over to continue.

Cyber threats are something that all digitized businesses and service providers need to think about. Many information technology consultancies can help a novice business deal with the threat of hacking and inappropriate computer access. If your records are worth stealing then perhaps having them stored on paper is not as secure as a digitized system, after all. For effective information management, the balance between data access, for genuine reasons on the one hand and security on the other, is always difficult to get right. Training staff, so they are aware of the potential pitfalls, is the key to successfully moving to a digitized world.

Nathan Morgan has been an IT professional for 14 years. His work is currently focused on Linux servers. He has encryption experience including the deployment of True Crypt and similar packages, and detailed knowledge of document scanning solutions to transform off-line archives into accessible digital data.

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