Eliminating Sensitive Paper Trails


C-Suite executives and especially CIOs across all industries are always looking over their shoulders when it comes to battling security issues within their organizations. Educating CIOs on reducing or eliminating sensitive paper trails within their organization is a worthwhile cost cutting and security enhancing proposition. Knowing when to shred paper documents is nearly as important as knowing which paper trails to eliminate. 

As the volumes of corporate data continue to grow, the challenges in properly securing that data grow in unison. According to a recent IBM report, the exponential growth of data increases the pressure on scarce and competing IT resources. The typical enterprise experiences 42 percent annual increase in data volume. Very few CIOs have reliable procedures or practices for disposing of older data so that new information accumulates on top of generations of stale data.

As electronic data along with printed paper trail volumes continues to grow, there are more opportunities for disposal related data breaches to occur. The possibility of a data breach should always be at the top of the list of CIO concerns.

Before you can eliminate those sensitive paper trails you need to determine which types of documents can be legally shredded. One possible way to accomplish this is through classification of your organizations documents. Attempt to separate documents into three different categories:

1. Original documents that your organization is required to keep for some legal reason.

2. Documents you wish to retain for some reason but are not legally required to retain.

3. Paper that seems to serve no real purpose to the organization and holds no perceived value. Your organization can definitely live without this paper.

It's the first two categories of sensitive paper that are most difficult to eliminate from the paper trails of the organization. As a result we tend to believe that it is wise to hold onto that paper forever. That really is not the appropriate solution as paper storage space and associated costs will continue to grow out of control over time.

Selective and targeted document imagining is one solution many organization implement. Offsite document storage is another approach to the same problem. With both solutions we can minimize digital conversion costs as well as the long term paper storage costs by developing a sound paper shredding policy. When you shred documents you filter the noise and save on long term digital and paper storage fees. The investment made in securely shredding paper documents pays a ROI year after year.

Knowing this CIOs should develop a long term corporate paper and document shredding policy within their organizations while also understanding there is no one common shredding solution that will suffice across all industries. CIOs should begin to develop a company shredding policy first by consulting both legal and tax professionals. They are knowledgeable in the regulatory requirements that the company must adhere to, and can determine appropriate retention periods for its records. Sometimes the decision to retain an original document is not based on the content of a document but rather on the requirement for an original non-imaged set of signatures.

Increasingly, the trend across industries is towards greater acceptance of an imaged version of paper documents. They are legally accepted as the record copy in lieu of the paper copy. There are instances though where only the paper copy will constitute the official record. In the absence of a hand signed signature, what constitutes a legal record?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) clearly defines which documents are considered actual records and which are not. ISO 15489 specifically defines a record as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence by an organization or person in the transaction of business, or in the pursuance of legal obligations, regardless of media."
So organizations need to consult attorneys and tax professionals to make the final determination as to which papers are official records and which are not. The answers will vary by industry simply because regulations vary by industry. Here are a few general guidelines to consider when developing your organizations’ document retention policies.

There are often both professional and ethical rules regarding document retention. As an example consider lawyers. They are typically required to maintain original files for at least five years. There may be different requirements within your specific industry.

Maintaining important documents in digital format may be sufficient and enable you to shred the paper copy but this decision should be made in consultation with a lawyer that can research the requirements for your industry. For example, patient medical records in some states need to be kept active for from a period of five years (Medicaid records), six years(HIPPA compliant patient records ), to as long as ten years for some types of medical documents created by doctors during the course of patient treatments.

According to Legalmatch.com, it is important to learn the statute of limitations for breach of contract as well as for malpractice in the state in which you work or practice. For breach of contract actions, these time periods vary widely between the states and can range from 3 to 15 years. So your retention policy should make sure you keep all important documents for at least that long. Important documents in this case are those that have original signatures or any documents for which you would want originals to protect yourself against any claims.

We previously discussed how the daily trash generated by most businesses contains information that may cause potential harm to the organization if it finds its way into the hands of a competitor. This is especially true if it contains the details of current activities such as project plans, marketing materials, sales strategies, or discarded daily records including phone messages, memos, misprinted forms, drafts of bids, and random drafts of correspondence.

All businesses suffer potential exposure due to the need to discard these incidental business records. The only means of minimizing this exposure is to make sure such information is securely collected and destroyed by shredding when appropriate.

To shred or not to shred, that is the key question. Hopefully you have answered it by now and developed a state compliant document retention policy. If you decide to shred papers and important documents onsite what features should you look for in a business office shredder?

Next Generation In House Document Shredding

As the IT professional in a SMB you will most likely wish to shred sensitive papers in house in order to contain costs. You want to look for a feature rich shredder that is simple for you and your organization to use. Ideally, the shredder should have superior auto feed technology built in so you do not have to sit there and hand feed the documents. The shredder should accommodate crumpled paper, double sided color printed paper, glossy paper, multiple sheets folder over, paper clips, staples, junk mail and DVDs. It should also be very quiet and secure with lock draw technology.

One shredder that works well is the AutoMax 500C Shredder from Fellowes. It can quietly and securely continuously shred 500 sheets of paper into 5/32” x 1-1/2” cross-cut particles. This provides a security level of P-4, high enough to safeguard most companies in most industries.
Recent investments in the development of new document shredding technology now makes the shredding process faster and more secure than ever before. Previously, organizations had to dedicate valuable employee resources to hand feeding documents into a single sheet shredder.

For example, the Fellowes organization has introduced document "load, lock and walk away" shredding capabilities to their AutoMax product line of large volume, auto-feed commercial shredders. These enhancements make the internal disposal of large quantities of confidential information a much easier task to accomplish. CIOs currently sending documents off-site for shredding should take a look at the potential cost savings and security benefits of shredding documents in house with a shredder such as the AutoMax 500C.


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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of CIOZone.com and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and About.com.