Beware the pitfalls of a paperless office

Words by Julie Pickersgill, operations director at Advanced Digital Dynamics Words by Julie Pickersgill, operations director at Advanced Digital Dynamics

A clutter-free, paperless office may sound streamlined, tidy and effective - but it comes with some unforeseen dangers for SMEs.

Julie Pickersgill

Julie Pickersgill

That promised land of smooth running e-delivery systems where no document is ever lost has been anticipated and discussed for at least 30 years. Finally it is becoming a near reality as ever more traditional paper based operations are performed in electronic forms.

We may never go entirely paperless - but as the vast majority of offices produce information only - it is easy to see why so many businesses exclusively create, review, refine, file, store and 'export' electronically.

And a growing workplace practice, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), is driving the movement as employers allow, and often encourage, staff to bring and use their own laptops, tablets and smartphones for work.

This certainly has its advantages, with performance, productivity and efficiency all lifted as employees can work on their office documents anywhere. They may also pass them between devices and media readily and store them online, on hard drives and on the cloud.

Meanwhile, workers also provide the technology from which their employers benefit and give more of their own time to their employer if company work is stored on it.

Security & Data

However, a number of security and data issues come with the paperless route, especially when supported by BYOD, and these should be understood - with measures taken to minimise the risks - before going ahead.

The ease of access to electronic documents and their movement across many devices brings an increased danger of hacking for data theft or destruction, malicious corruption or deletion by viruses and malware invading businesses' own systems. This can cripple a company’s ability to function and lay bare yet more sensitive data, such as client details, financial records, employees’ private contacts and even bank accounts.

This chaos and financial loss could be delivered by a corrupt or disaffected staff member, cybercriminals, activist and anarchist groups or rivals.

Alternatively, if an employee disposes of their personal equipment for an upgrade, what steps are taken to ensure the security of work on it? Should the employee leave, they take their device with them – and the data on it.

If a laptop, mobile or tablet is stolen, the information it holds might find itself brokered and traded, then delivered and disseminated anywhere in the world in a matter of hours – often long before anyone realises that the hardware has gone astray.

The information employees' devices carry can also be compromised if these are shared with partners, friends or children. Any of these can not only heap swift monetary woes on a business, but long term reputational damage too.

Prevention

To prevent these needless own goals, first talk to your IT department or a data security and destruction specialist.

With their support, establish protocols and good practice on sharing, disposal and replacement of devices - as well as the return of all company applications and data upon leaving. Employees should sign that they understand, agree with and will follow these.

Ensure that all equipment used by staff for work have the same, high standard security software – and that scans are performed regularly with all available updates installed.

Institute a password system, with robustly complex codes (i.e. not predictable by someone who knows an employee or has researched them) and regular changes. If staff use their own devices then have a BYOD policy that everyone signs up to and understands.

Educate and inform staff on the importance of care, responsible data destruction and security. It is far better practice – not to mention easier – to engage with and educate them about the benefits and pitfalls of the paperless office than erode cooperation and goodwill by laying down the law.

Julie Pickersgill is operations director of Harrogate based Advanced Digital Dynamics - a global IT supplier