Document Management: When to Shred, When to Keep

Originally published: 06.01.11 by Abraham J. Niedzwiecki


Consider regulatory policy and business benefits.

After the implementation of an Electronic Document Management System (EDMS), a logical thought generally comes to mind: Can I get rid of my original paper documents, and if so, when? After all, one of the benefits of using an EDMS is to get rid of the paper. The answer is — it depends.

Historical and current paper-based documents must be converted to digital files to be used with an EDMS. After this, the question becomes what to do with the paper. Several options exist from destroying the document to retaining the paper. But, is there a hard-and-fast rule that can always be used? The answer lies in the type of document and industry-specific regulation. There are typically three categories of document retention:

•    The original paper must be kept
•    You can keep the paper if you want, but this is not required.
•    No paper needed.

Find out if the types of documents you are maintaining electronically are regulated by any agency. If they are regulated, the agencies will more than likely have a policy governing document retention and originality. This policy typically includes whether or not an electronic

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copy of the document satisfies the “original” document requirement. The ironic thing is that proving the originality of a paper document is much less regulated than proving the originality of an electronic document. When you are dealing with regulated documents, you really have only one choice: follow the policy of the regulating agency.

Even if the policy dictates the need to keep the paper, using an EDMS has many benefits, from freeing up filing space to rapid retrieval for customer-service purposes. The typical scenario if the paper is required is to create the electronic version, then box up and store the original documents for retrieval if they are ever required. One good practice in this case is to index the documents as they are filed to the EDMS with a “box location” code so you can rapidly locate the original paper document in the correct box. This simple step can save countless hours when attempting to locate the paper-based document.

The second type of policy of a regulating agency typically leaves the decision to maintain paper documents in your hands. It’s really your decision whether or not the paper document or the electronic document is the “original.” Once you have made a decision, make it your policy and stick to it. One thing that will cause you problems is not deciding which document is the original. Maintaining both paper and electronic copies and having no policy as to which is the original leaves the door open to possible litigation issues and confusion within your organization. Best practices for this scenario are to clearly define a company policy stating which document is to be considered the legal original. Once that is done, get rid of the paper if the electronic copy is the chosen format. Ensure at least one good data backup is completed before destroying the paper copy.

The third type of policy is the easiest to implement. It has only a subtle difference from the second type. No need to keep the paper and no need to worry about whether or not some regulatory agency will require the original. In this method, the paper documents are put into the EDMS and then destroyed. One key point to consider here is similar to the second method mentioned earlier. The main thing is to ensure you have a reliable backup of your data and documents prior to destroying the paper documents.

Abehas extensive product and implementation knowledge and currently works with the sales team and VAR channel providing business process analysis and system architecture planning. Abe’s experience in business process consulting is far reaching and he is an expert in medical practice business processes as related to systems and software integration and deployment. He began his career as a research associate at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. In 2000 he founded a new company with the developers of the Cabinet NG software. AsPresident of ePaperlessOffice.com, Inc., the company was solely dedicated to development and sales of Cabinet NG software. ePaperlessOffice.com, Inc. changed its name to Cabinet NG, Inc. in 2002.In late 2003, a new management team was implemented to expand company growth and Abe assumed the role of Vice President of Technology. Abe canbe reached at aniedzwiecki@cabinetng.com, (256) 258-0460 or www.cabinetng.com.


Articles by Abraham J. Niedzwiecki

Document Management: When to Shred, When to Keep

Several options exist from destroying the document to retaining the paper. The rules surround what kind of document you have and depend on industry regulations. Abraham Niedzwiecki offers insight for determining when to shred and when to file.
View article.