Paperless Office

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Let's dispel one myth right away. A paperless office does not mean there's no paper. It means that a comprehensive electronic document management system is in place. Such a system includes redundancies, automated back-ups, protected master index files, multiple data storage locations, and an effective metadata indexing system. Thanks to computer technology, we can have offices that don't depend on row after row of metal cabinets stuffed with file folders full of paper. Information is literally at your fingertips, wherever you are.

Documents are created electronically, distributed electronically, printed when needed, filed electronically, and accessed whenever they're needed with a few keystrokes. A paperless office does not mean, however, that there's no longer any need for paper documents on file. That sounds obvious, but it seems to be an operating assumption. "Oh, I've got it stored on disk, no need to print it." Electronic systems are not inviolate. Organized systematic access to information is one thing, back-ups are another, and redundant systems are critical.

The Truth of the Paperless Office

What happens, after all, when a hard drive crashes if there is no back-up system in place? What happens when you discover only after you've emptied the recycle bin, or shut down the computer, erased the RAM cache, and emptied the Outlook or Eudora deleted files folder? Data irretrievably lost is what happens. The fact is, careless electronic record keeping in a paperless office is a disaster waiting to happen. It's a mirror image of the fate of the 1890 federal census.

For want of adequate storage space and any official federal archives, the documents making up that census sat on pine shelves in a basement hallway in Washington, DC for 30 years. In 1921 a fire broke out. Firemen doused it. After a week or so, the sodden remainder was removed to another building, where it sat gathering even more mold for 12 years before being officially destroyed. Genealogists doing online research hit the same wall time after time: "Census 1890, destroyed."

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