Four Pillars of Document Management: Part 3 - The Economics of Digital Document Storage

Brock Philp
By Brock Philp, President and CEO, Doc.It
The economics of storage, a critical factor with document management, is the third of four pillars we will explore in this document management article series. 
Exploring the economics of digital document storage involves understanding the costs of storage methods (on-premise, hosted in the Cloud, or hybrid solutions), in conjunction with the feasibility of each, based on the ecosystem of the accounting firm.  
The methods and costs of storing digital documents vary widely. Consideration must be given to whether the firm's on-premise, incumbent software applications will run in the Cloud and how each storage method impacts workflow firm wide. Storage methods that result in slow or cumbersome document archiving and retrieval processes will negatively impact productivity and profitability. 
Choices for digital document storage have to be balanced based on ecosystem factors, including firm size, retention and risk, flexibility, current technology infrastructure, in-house IT expertise, security, and firm policy. Understanding how these factors are impacted by each storage method helps to identify which solution makes the best economic sense. 
There are known and unknown costs associated with storing digital documents. Examples of known costs include the application, hardware, storage, bandwidth, and hosting of the bundled solution. Unknown costs may be IT expertise, escalating storage volume needs, and the expense of getting data out of storage. 
According to Randy Johnston, president of NMGI, if a firm does $1 million in revenue, it will generate one million documents, which require 62GB of storage. If storing digital documents on-premise, the firm may need to purchase a new server to handle the volume. Alternatively, Cloud storage services, which may have a lower initial entry cost than a new server, may scale up incrementally as your storage needs grow. 
Not all digital document storage archives are created equal. When an archive is not well architected, staff and partners will have difficulty quickly locating and delivering a document when needed. The cost of time wasted searching for a document is often overlooked. Over time, this problem will escalate as the volume of stored documents goes up. In addition, documents will be increasingly difficult to locate when a firm does not have firm-wide document management policy and standardization regarding file naming and storage. 
Another cost that may be overlooked is that of maintaining software licenses for the applications that were used to create documents residing in their native file format in the storage archive. Over time, documents stored in native file format can be challenging, costly, or impossible to open. To avoid this situation, digital documents should be stored in an application-independent file format, such as a PDF, to ensure the firm retains control in the future.
Finally, the firm can incur the cost of maintaining unnecessary storage space when digital documents are archived past their required retention date. Ideally, the digital document storage archive is architected with automation to alert the firm to purge stored documents for consistency, time savings, and the reduction of legal responsibility. 
Whether the firm stores digital documents on-premise, hosted in the Cloud, or using a hybrid solution, documents should be accessible and give staff and partners the personal freedom to work productively when, where, and how they would like. 
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About the author:
Brock Philp serves as president and CEO of Doc.It. Doc.It delivers a powerful scalable full suite of document management products to Accounting firms across North America. Brock believes that in order to deliver true value-added products and services, a software firm must have deep industry knowledge in the markets they serve and employ a "customer first culture." He has held the title of president/CEO of a number of software companies, including Jonas Software, Versa Systems, and Irondata Solutions.

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