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Managing Paper Documents: Three Classification Mistakes Businesses Make

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While many Australian businesses are now looking at ways to switch document storage to digital solutions, paper storage is still necessary for many organisations. Whether it is patient or customer records, tax documents or archived invoices, it is important that your document storage system is easy to use, but this isn't always the case. Make sure your document storage classification system is good enough, and learn from the mistakes that other Australian business owners make.

Inconsistent classification

An effective classification system is vital for any storage archive, or you may spend ridiculous amounts of time looking for specific documents. What's more, in certain situations, missing or lost documents could cost your business money. For example, the Australian Tax Office insists that you keep records for at least five years because you will sometimes need to submit copies of older records as part of your tax return. If you can't find these tax records when you need them, you could face financial penalties.

Inconsistent classification can make a mockery of any document storage archive. Inconsistency can occur because:

  • You keep changing the way you classify documents.
  • You don't have any rules or systems in place for classifying documents.
  • You don't train new staff members about how to classify documents.

In these (and other) situations, inconsistent classification can disrupt your entire document archive. Adopt a single, consistent classification system, and make sure everybody knows how to follow it. What's more, you also need to make sure you have the right management controls in place to keep things on track. For example, regular audits and spot checks will give you early sight of any possible problems.

Wrong type of classification for your business

Some businesses have more complex document storage needs than others. For example, health care businesses may need to keep copies of all correspondence, notes and reports that relate to their patients' medical records. As such, you could have hundreds of documents for thousands of patients. In this case, a relatively complex system that allows you to identify patients by name, date of birth and another unique identifier is almost essential.

However, some businesses only need to keep invoices and order sheets for tax invoicing purposes. For these companies, a simple alphabetical system for all suppliers may suffice, especially if you rarely need to go back through the records. In any case, you should make sure the classification system you use allows you to get access to records in an efficient, timely manner. An overly complex system will take up too much administration time, while a system that's too simple may mean it's too difficult to find anything.

Of course, you can segregate records and use different systems. For example, you may have to store both customer records and financial invoices. In this case, you may need a detailed unique numbering system for the former, while a simple annual/monthly filing system could work for the latter.

Poor labelling and naming

An effective classification system helps you store and categorise the different documents you have, but you'll also need a good naming system to make it easier for staff members to manage and control the documents. According to various Australian laws, there are different retention periods for your documents, and you must make sure you don't keep paper records any longer than necessary.

To achieve this, consistent file naming and labelling are as important as classification. As well as the classification reference, documents and files should clearly display:

  • The file classification reference.
  • A meaningful file title.
  • The date the file was opened and closed.
  • A business owner, such as a department or team.
  • A disposal or review date.

Make sure this information is written on or permanently attached to the file, or staff members may find it harder to locate the information they need.

An effective classification system is vital for your paper document storage. Talk to a records management storage specialist for more advice.