I have my main office at home, but also work all over the country and with a number of different associates. One of the main problems I have is ensuring we always have full access to all the information we need. This information is variously held on the office computers, laptops, an Ipad and numerous paper based files. It has been becoming increasingly difficult to keep all this information properly up-to-date and synchronized and this had led to important information being missed or out of date information used on occasions.
Our challenge then was to create a system which allows immediate access to our information and data including electronic files and documents, emails and all our paper files.
Sorting Out the Paper Files
The first stage in the process is to make our paper files available electronically. However if you don't have a paper filing system that works don't even try to digitise what you have it just wont work - sort it out first. So what did we do?
We created a file for each of our clients, this was then sub-divided into separate projects, and further subdivided into sub-projects and if appropriate key subjects or categories. Each client file also had a general correspondence sub-file.
We also created separate administration files for invoices and receipts, expenses, payroll, VAT returns, Company tax& accounts, general bills and business development.
I also took the opportunity to create a personal filing system for items such as personal bank statements, tax forms etc. which I would store separately from the company information.
All the documents were then sorted, per file, into date order in preparation for digitising them using a scanner
We then created electronic folders on the office network drive corresponding to each of the paper files
Each document was scanned and saved onto the office network drive, into the appropriate folder as described above.So for example: "JBloggs/TUPE-Transfer/Pension-issues". The actual document would simply be identified by date and subject e.g.: "25-01-2011: pension transfer situation".
The scanning software also allows the allocation of categories / keywords to the document, so it would be possible to allocate e.g.: "legal-advice" to the document so it could be retrieved using that category / keyword.
The use of categories or keywords also allowed us to identify documents which might be applicable to several clients but only saved in one place e.g.: legal-advice; pensions
The process of scanning the paper files is fairly slow and time consuming, and is made more difficult if you use a flat-bed scanner, one sheet at a time. We used a Fujitsu iexplorer serial key S1300 Document Scanner which has a 10 page document feeder and can scan both sides of a document at once pretty quickly; the software that comes with it is also very good indeed. If you are interested there is more info on Amazon where we bought ours.
What about the E-mails and Electronic Documents?
We wanted to ensure that every email related to a file topic was also saved with that file. Doing things electronically has allowed us to do this by simply saving e-mails into the appropriate file folder. We use Microsoft Outlook, and this allows an e-mail to be saved as a.msg file. Just go to the e-mail in question and choose the File>save as option. We use the same naming convention for e-mails as for other documents.
Similarly where we had created electronic Word or Excel (or any other type of electronic document), we would similarly save this in the appropriate folder / sub-folder with the same naming convention, and utilising the category / keyword convention. Where we received electronic documents from others - almost always as e-mail attachments, we would save these with the original e-mails in the appropriate folder as described above.
How Can We Get Access to the Information?
Now we have all the information nicely organised, we need to be able to gain access to this as effectively as possible. There is no problem when we have access to the office network, as all the files are stored on folders on the main network hard drive. However the problem is accessing this information when not in the office. The solution we use is the Cloud - that is storing information centrally and securely on the internet where we can reach it using a web browser from any computer. We use Dropbox, but there are also other places to use such as Google Documents. Storage in the Cloud is not expensive, but it all adds up if you use a lot of space. Therefore we only load our live client files, and any which are likely to be required in the short-term. However it is very easy for a full folder to be uploaded (by someone in the office) in a matter of minutes should remote access be necessary.