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Papers to Keep in the Computer Age
October 1, 2008

(October 2008) Many companies are moving more information to computers and disposing of papers. While computer-based information is accessible and takes up no space, the information isn't failsafe; hackers, natural catastrophes or other events could impair the information. Advice: there are certain papers that every firm should retain.

 
We've never become the "paperless society" predicted decades ago. Still, many companies no longer keep all of their papers; instead they rely on computer-generated information and may scan information on paper into computer files. That's great, but there are certain papers worth retaining forever.
 
Historic information
When companies start up, they may not foresee a time when those early days will be nostalgic. For purposes of maintaining and using company history, it's a good idea to keep the early papersóthe first lease, the first contract, etc.
 
Tax information
Many businesses today prepare and file tax returns online; they receive an electronic acknowledgment from the government that the return has been accepted as filed. What happens if something happens to the government's computers or your computers? It's advisable to keep a paper copy of all returns filed with the government, along with proof of filing (a certified receipt or a printed copy of the government's acknowledgment).
 
Financial information
Companies may now be receiving bank statements, credit card statements, and other financial information online. While it's easy to work with computer-based financial information, there is always a risk that critical information can be tampered with or lost entirely. It's wise to retain the most recent statements so that if problems arise, the correct information can be re-imputed into the computer.
 
Encryption key
If you use computer backup to an online service, you have an encryption key that's required to recall your backup. Without it, your information may be lost forever. Store the encryption key in a fireproof safe. Even better: Make several copies of the key and keep them in different (safe) locations, such as storing in the company's safety deposit box.
 
Where and how to store papers
Papers are vulnerable to fire, water, and rodents. Storing papers in a paper box may not provide the necessary protection in case of a fire, storm, or other event. Consider using a fireproof safe or fireproof file cabinet for storage. Since the amount of papers stored here should not be massive, the needed space is modest. If papers are accessed frequently, then climate control is another important concern for preservation.
 
Old papers may require special storage consideration so they don't dry out and crack. When in doubt, talk with an expert in the care of old documents (e.g., try the owner of a shop selling old maps, books, and prints or an archivist at a library).

 

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