Are your important business documents trapped in the office?

Just two years ago, a mere 5 percent of the UK workforce considered their home to be their main place of work. Today, as we battle COVID, around 20 million of us are working from home—an increase of more than 1,000 percent.

Thanks to cloud applications and remote access to emails, of course, most of us are able to work safely from home. But as lockdown after lockdown stretches on, we’re discovering more of the things we rely on, even in our ‘paperless’ age—physical documents—aren’t that easily accessible from home. 

And that’s starting to be more and more of a problem. It’s particularly an issue in smaller companies, where documents are less likely to be digitised in a format that can be accessed remotely. Xerox reports that 46 percent of SMEs are still reliant on paper-based processes that could be automated or replaced with digital content and document management, for example. A recent survey found that CIOs have struggled to maintain “acceptable” experiences for remote workers. Alongside the expected issues of forgotten passwords and network downtime, some 55% of workers were unable to access vital information held in on premises applications.

Many small, independent accounting firms rely on paper-based documents

For those organisations, the question is what can you do when you can’t physically sign off on a contract, or an important piece of client data is locked in an office filing cabinet you can’t safely get into? Poor access to information is becoming an increasingly significant issue for workers in lockdown. When staff can’t access the information they need from home, there are two likely outcomes. First, workers may feel they need to come into the office to access documents, creating a risk to their wellbeing. Alternatively, they may resort to taking papers home with them, creating risks around data security, privacy and intellectual property. In the study mentioned above, 26% of workers said they had taken a copy of important work documents home with them during lockdown, “just in case”. There is also the issue that under current rules, a journey to the office to get files would actually be classed as illegal by the Police as it would be a non-essential journey.

An industry where these choices are getting more and more real is Accountancy. Many small, independent accounting firms rely on paper-based documents, and are providing services for small businesses and traders who rely entirely on paper invoicing, receipts and contracts. This self-assessment tax deadline month means thousands of accountants are struggling to process client’s paperwork and are having to work in the office—simply because there is no secure way to access this information remotely.

It’s not just an issue affecting accountants (which also, of course, has implications for all the millions of self-assessment tax filers, sole traders, consultants and other such microbusinesses). Similar issues are faced in sectors such as property, healthcare, financial services and businesses where signatures or statements need to be physically signed or witnessed. Even where documents are available online, if workers do not have a scanner or printer, they might still struggle to sign paperwork, or complete an important process.

Identity and access management systems

To address these risks, IT leaders must ensure that workers have secure, remote access to digital versions of critical documents. This means investing more in online collaboration, document access and sharing platforms. The global document management system market is expected to more than double between 2019 and 2025 and will be worth more than $10 billion by that time.

But it might not just be content management that needs to step in here. Two thirds of CIOs contacted by Hitachi ID Systems said that if they had been given the opportunity to prepare for the current situation, they would have paid more attention to collaboration tools, and a third would have invested in identity and access management systems to support access to sensitive corporate applications and documents.

Good luck to anyone facing these issues, but let’s hope lessons are learned to prevent future disruption… in the next pandemic?

thedmcollaborators editor

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