Paper on a messy desk, not secure at all.

Paper is always less secure

In Digital Transformation by Endre Walls

Hackers. Data breaches. DDoS attacks. Phishing. Just hearing these words can put IT managers on edge. And given how often you hear about data breaches in the news, it stands to reason that it’s the digital infrastructure of an organization that is most vulnerable to attack. But while digital security hogs the headlines, there’s a more insidious threat to your organization out there that’s hidden right under your nose: paper.

Digital Worries

This isn’t to say that digital breaches aren’t of critical importance to an organization — they obviously are, and you need a plan in place to prevent and respond to these attacks. But while any number of prognosticators have made the claim that paper is on its way out, the fact is that “58 percent of businesses say that their critical business information is still stored on paper” — this according to a 2015 Information Mobility Study from IDC, commissioned by Ricoh. And while digital security is a key part of most business strategies, far fewer organizations have a plan in place to keep their organization’s paper assets secure, other than placing it behind a lock and key.

While different industries are at varying levels of information maturity, many are still hesitant to move on from paper, citing a number of reasons. Digitization can be time-consuming and many businesses don’t want to make the investment when they already have a storage solution in place. When this digitization is complete, employees must then be trained how to access the information they need. There’s also the comfort of having a tangible, physical copy of a record, rather than calling up a file on your tablet. And of course, there’s the fear of a data breach.

But while these are legitimate concerns, they shouldn’t stop you from making the digital transition.

Problems with Paper

Keeping critical company information on paper has a number of drawbacks that could end up causing big problems for your business:

  • Physical security: A few years ago, I worked with a healthcare company that suffered a data breach — but not a digital breach. Every night, after everyone had packed up and gone home for the day, the janitor would go through people’s desks looking for personal information like social security numbers and birthdates, which they would use to apply for credit cards and make large purchases. Often, this personal information was left out in plain sight. And while a clean desk policy may have helped mitigate this identity theft, it isn’t much in the way of protection for your critical information.

  • There’s no paper trail: In the past example, this theft went unnoticed for months because there was no trail linking this data breach to the identity theft. With digital data breaches, it’s significantly easier to figure out what may have been taken and how they were able to access that information. While it may seem counterintuitive, paper often doesn’t have a paper trail.

  • Keep the future in mind: While digitization has the benefit of reducing the need for massive warehouses to store physical records, it also eliminates the possibility of a fire or flood destroying years of records. And when you leverage a cloud-based infrastructure, or when properly backed up, this information can be made easily accessible, even in the event of a disaster.

  • Playing by different rules: While a number of regulations have sprung up to protect digital data and customer privacy — especially in the healthcare field — many of these rules don’t apply to paper. There is a strong argument that data protections are now much stronger for digital, rather than physical data.

Making the Transition

Making the digital transition takes time and planning. It’s imperative to have a strong change management strategy in place, to help employees make the switch themselves and develop a “learning culture” that creates buy-in and enables continuous innovation. Multiple backups of paper documents should be made before any physical records are destroyed or removed. And each LoB should have its own plan in place to automate and digitize its processes, so that every department — from HR to payroll — can make the transition and see immediate benefits.

In my experience, most companies cite the efficiency and productivity gains of digital as why they choose to digitize their physical records and move away from paper. And as most workforces become more mobile, it will be increasingly important for organizations to join these businesses in making the digital transition in order to provide workers with the anytime, anywhere access to information that they need to be most productive.

Considering the security challenges that paper presents, it’s clear that the clock is ticking.