Two-thirds of UK businesses “hoard paperwork” and “risk losing important documents”

No less than 66% of UK businesses could be putting themselves at risk of document loss due to the mismanagement of vital business paperwork, with many lacking any document management strategy and leaving themselves open to serious threats including General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) fines.

The results of a new survey commissioned by Cleardata highlight that 44% of businesses admitted to using storage lock-ups or self-storage facilities, while 22% store documents in basements and lofts which could be prone to flooding and damp. 17% even put paperwork in sheds and 16% store documents in garages. For 72% of respondents, the main storage option is an array of filing cabinets, cupboards and drawers that take up expensive floor space.

David Bryce, managing director of Cleardata, explained: “Our research found that many businesses are archiving critical business documents in weird and wonderful locations including sheds, basements and lock-up garages and for an average of just over ten years. This can leave vital and sensitive information open to theft and damage, while also making it difficult to find quickly if needed for legal or data compliance purposes.”

On average, it takes businesses between five and six days to retrieve paper documents, although for 44% it takes over a week and for some it takes over a month. This indicates a lack of document management strategy making it difficult to retrieve paperwork quickly when needed, which could prevent some businesses from meeting the required GDPR compliance standards or responding to legal requests for information.

There’s also massive inconsistency in how long businesses hold on to paperwork. This ranges from just six months to over 100 years and suggests that, while some businesses are archiving documents for too long, leading to unnecessary cost and complexity, others are ditching documents that they should be keeping for reference and legal reasons. Only 33% of the businesses surveyed actually use a purpose-built secure archiving facility.

Trademark and Intellectual Property documentation

The paperwork kept for the longest (at 15.17 years on average) is trademark and Intellectual Property documentation, followed by employment records and contracts (13.25 years). In contrast, the paperwork held for the shortest average time (of 7.16 years) is recruitment records such as job application forms, then procurement paperwork, for example supplier contracts (for 8.4 years).

David Bryce continued: “Although we live in an increasingly digital world, historical and new paper-based documents still need to be kept safely and managed effectively. A staggering amount of UK businesses simply don’t seem to know what to do with their paperwork and underestimate the risks that this can create. Implementing an efficient document management process is vital, and especially so if businesses want to comply with the new GDPR and ensure important resources are not being wasted in sifting through oceans of paperwork.”

In conclusion, Bryce informed Risk UK: “It’s clear that the majority of businesses don’t understand what paperwork they’re storing. Without the ability to know what information is being archived, businesses are at risk of a number of serious threats. They can benefit from engaging a third party document management specialist that’s able to ensure important documents are stored correctly. This service can include indexing the documents. Often, businesses don’t have the in-house resource or experience to do this themselves.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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