3 Steps to Disaster Proof Your Business Documents

Sixteen named storms are predicted to hit this Atlantic hurricane season, which runs until November 30. Areas surrounding the North Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea could potentially see four to eight of those develop into hurricanes.

Damage from these storms, as well as other forces of nature like floods and tornadoes, also impact local businesses, even the best run companies. They harm or destroy your office and business records, and disrupt your operations through the lost time while you're dealing with productivity outages. A disaster can also create conditions where the privacy and security of your information is thrown into question. According to the U.S. government, 40 percent of businesses do not reopen after a disaster strikes them and another 25 percent fail within one year.

Maintaining the continuity of your business in the aftermath of a disaster in part depends on being able to access and use your documents. One option for organizations to address this is maintaining off-premise storage of records. But these services can prove costly in the long run making them impractical for many small and medium sized businesses.

Turning your paper records into digital documents rids your organization of the paper that can be damaged or destroyed during a disaster, or that can become lost in day-to-day work operations. This approach can not only improve your disaster preparedness but also your business operations. For instance, digital documents can be created so content within the documents is searchable which makes finding information a lot easier then hunting through file cabinets.

Here are three steps organizations can take to improve their disaster preparedness.

Reduce or eliminate paper processes. Many organizations are still too dependent on paper processes. Use scanning tools to turn paper into PDF documents, which is widely accepted as a worldwide document format standard.

PDF documents not only bring an improvement for archival purposes but also as a communications vehicle. Sending digital documents for proposals and as part of business dealings with customers and vendors reduce the paper files you need to maintain - and that are vulnerable to disaster.

Today's PDF technology is very interactive, meaning you can do tasks like handle fillable forms electronically and build into hyperlinks to web content into your documents. Taking steps like these in your business work processes can go a long ways in training your staff to resist the urge to print which can create more paperwork in your operations.

Back up your documents to the cloud. Moving to digital documents is a good first step. But if they are maintained on computer systems you keep in your office, these electronic documents are still vulnerable to a disruption that may occur from a flood which results from excessive rain or even something more common like a burst water pipe in the office. You should safeguard your business records by backing them up to a cloud storage service, like Box, Dropbox or one of the many other easy-to-use services.

Adopting the best practice of using a cloud storage service will help you ensure continuity of business. It will also help you in daily operations by making it easier for your employees to capture and access documents, wherever they are working. For example, a remote employee can use a web-based computer at home to securely access work documents. Cloud services offer file protection with centralized security controls and reporting, and document encryption to safeguard your information.

Make it easy to print documents outside the office. Even if your organization has made great strides in moving towards a paperless office, the reality of business life will require at least some printing. Many business transactions, such as those in banking and real estate, are still dependent of paper documents. And most likely, not all of your customers or business partners have made the move to digital.

Remote and mobile print capabilities can make it convenient for your employees to print documents using their smartphones, tablets and laptops at home or on the road - or from print services such as those offered by Staples or Office Max. And you don't need to sacrifice document security. Today's print software requires users to authenticate themselves before printing, helping you keep private information from prying eyes. These print capabilities can even extend for printing documents from cloud-based storage services.

One can never be certain if or when a disaster may strike. But all businesses can take steps to mitigate their risk and improve preparedness should that day come. Digitizing your documents, supported by cloud back up and remote printing, can help secure your business information so it is always available when you need it.