Paper and the need to store paper documents will for a long time remain a job that needs to be addressed.  The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) accepts records that are produced and kept in paper format; paper format later converted to, and stored in, an accessible and readable electronic format; and an accessible and readable electronic format. You should contact the Canadian General Standards Board for “Scan and Shred guidelines” to ensure legal compliance if your intention is to destroy originals; however, the benefits of electronic document storage to your business’ internal use are tremendous.

Apart from our legal requirements of “audit-ability” by the Government of Canada there is one very important application for electronically storing documents in your business – Accessing documents – simple retrieval of electronically stored documents together with other electronic pieces of data is what a document storage system should offer.

With “Modern” software, Document  storage should be an integral part of your ERP system like purchase ordering is, for example.  Imagine looking at an order and having an electronic image of the customer’s PO, attached with the Supplier PO issued, conveniently linked to the point you are reviewing that order from.

Remember as a Small/Medium Business your challenges are the same as a “Bigger” business and your ERP system should allow you the very same functionality as that of larger enterprises. Here is a list of basic functionality you should look for in your electronic filing system, as a minimum.

  1. You should be allowed to attach electronic documents or files anywhere a data record is created. For example, an inventory record, an account payable invoice in the A/P, a customer PO on the order document in the sales module and so on.

Why is this important? – flexibility in this area makes it more likely your document storage system will be able to fit your business needs rather than dictate how you rap your business around the EPR’s document storage rules.

  1. Your software should control the files attached and by this I mean you should not be picking a location on your file server where that file will be stored. Once attached the EPR system should take control of the file, and store it on your system for you.

Another important reason for having the system manage storing your documents is that this would also make the document storage system “mobile” ready.  In systems where the file storage is managed by the software it is very easy to make a request from a mobile device for any file.  The system would be responsible for getting the file and delivering it to your mobile device saving you from having to solve the challenge of how you locate that file on your remote server.

  1. Search feature, even a basic one is very useful. Be careful in this area as the more powerful the search feature gets the more expensive a system will likely become. My minimum would be the ability to search on a file name but if a file comment can be added and searched upon, this is better.  The ability to search within the name for a string rather than a search that only looks from the front of the name/comment would be a minimum level of functionality that I would recommend.  Everything else would be nice unless you have more than average document management requirements.
  2. Data file security is another really nice feature to have built-in to your ERP system. Once files are attached to your ERP system, the software automatically encrypts that file and stores it safely on your data storage device. This would be a beneficial feature to have as your files are now hidden from anyone who could copy files off your file server and you would/should be able to control who has access within your software as you establish user access for your ERP system.
  3. Finally, in systems where mobility is supported, data encryption during the process of moving files between the server and your mobile device should be built-in if access to your document management system is allowed.

If your ERP system offers these basic features you will be on a good track towards compliance with Government requirements for Document storage.  You will also have greater control over security of your company’s data by dictating “who has access to what” and ensuring that your company’s data is encrypted both within your business and while “on the road”.  Today’s modern software should not require a 3rd party add-on but rather offer Document  Storage as a built-in component of your ERP system.

Don’t just ask “Why?” Ask “Why not?”.