TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE
COOL TOOLS WITH MICHAEL TAMBURO
Protect Your Papers: Go Digital
Use scanning, DVD and Web storage technologies to ensure access to executed documents—regardless of circumstances.
Your firm likely has a file room full of signed and executed documents, and probably documents in an off-site storage facility as well. Law firms produce tremendous amounts of paper and, in most cases, are organized about their filing and storage processes. Without such organization, locating hard copies of documents becomes difficult and time-consuming (to say the least). But what would it cost your firm if all those documents were truly lost? The impacts could be catastrophic.
In a previous Cool Tools column (January/February 2002), I discussed strategies and technologies for ensuring you can recover from a computer system meltdown, with a focus on data already stored on your computers. But the possibility of calamities such as theft, fire and flood should lead your office to prepare for yet another type of data disaster. Think about how you can protect your valuable document hard copies.
Making and Saving Digital Copies
To effectively protect important hard copies, you should make digital copies of them. The scanning technology for doing so has become commonplace and affordable. Many firms, in fact, have photocopiers with digital scanning capability built in—but few use that capability on a regular basis. As a matter of routine, when documents are copied for placement into files, digital copies should also be generated and systematically saved.
You can save the digital copies in a standard format, such as Adobe Acrobat, for simple on-demand retrieval and printing. Those copies can then be archived to CD-ROM or DVD, so they can easily be pulled up at later dates.
Storage Requirements and Trade-Offs
The storage requirements for maintaining digital copies of all your documents can be enormous. Is there any way to control it? There is a trade-off between digital file size and document quality—you sacrifice quality in order to get the file size down.
Without getting too involved in the process, the average user can easily scan and save a document in Adobe Acrobat PDF and expect to see the resulting file size range anywhere from 50KB to 500KB per page. It will depend on the scan resolution settings and document type. A typical DVD holds 4.7GB, which translates to anywhere from 9,400 to 94,000 documents per DVD. Consider how many file storage boxes and file cabinets would be required to hold the same number of documents. (Blank DVDs cost less than $10 each when purchased in volume.)
Some firms may choose to store their digital copies on disk drives. This approach allows for rapid retrieval of documents—but it can require a significant investment as storage requirements grow over time. And, of course, the firm needs to consider the cost of backing up those drives. Periodically archiving documents to DVD is a good way both to reduce the hard drive storage requirements and to back up documents. Network DVD devices exist that enable users to access very large amounts of data over the office network.
When backing up to DVD, remember to make multiple backup copies and store at least one copy in a secure off-site location.
Web-Based Storage and Document Retrieval
Once you start making digital copies of your documents, you’ll quickly realize how your firm can benefit from having those documents available via a Web site. When lawyers are on the road and want to retrieve a document, they no longer need to phone the office and have someone hunt down the file. Instead, they can log on to a secure Web site, locate the document and print it right from the browser.
The benefits, however, extend beyond convenience for road warriors. Even if you store document images to DVD or use some other reliable backup solution for your digital files, Web-based storage gives you immediate access to documents regardless of the level of calamity your office might encounter—from losing a document, a box of documents or even the entire file room.
A number of application service providers offer Web-based storage solutions. Make sure that any companies you consider provide enough storage space to allow your requirements to grow substantially. Companies should also be able to provide archived documents on DVD. Perhaps of most importance, get detailed information about vendors’ security procedures. Never forget that security is extremely important if your documents will be available on the Web. You do not want to give anyone the opportunity to hack into your sensitive information.
If you are considering setting up your own hardware to host all your digital documents, think twice. The start-up and maintenance costs for properly setting up such a system can be quite high. Consider using an enterprise-level hosting company.
Matters of Routine
If you routinely save digital copies of your documents, then losing the originals will never be a big issue. Incorporate digital copying into your firm’s document control procedure. Make sure that you have multiple copies of your digital documents stored off-site, either in disc format at a physical facility or at a Web-based document warehouse. Routinely check to make sure that your backup copies are good.
If you use a Web-based provider, routinely have the provider verify that all your documents are there and available. Obtain and review those documents on a regular basis. Although the routine may sound a bit tedious, remember, there is nothing routine about losing access to your valuable documents.
Michael Tamburo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is President of ConexNet Corporation, Inc., a privately held Chicago-based company he co-founded to provide connectivity-based solutions. He specializes in the implementation of Microsoft-based hardware and software solutions.
Web Site Usability
It’s not enough to have a Web site—your site needs to be usable. Okay. But what does that mean? At useit.com, you’ll find excellent background, tips and advice from Jakob Nielsen, a renowned guru on the subject (dubbed "the world’s leading expert on Web usability" by U.S. News & World Report). In addition to Nielsen’s biweekly column, you can access a range of reports for pointers on usability topics relating to e-commerce, site maps, home pages, PR sections and guidelines for users with disabilities. The site also features news, reviews, testing and seminar materials. And with one click you will learn why useit.com has almost no graphics. Worthy of note.
Here are some of the vendors that offer Web-based storage solutions:
- AmeriVault: www.amerivault.com
- BackupNet: www.backup.net
- BackupUSA: www.backupusa.com
- SkyDesk: www.skydesk.com/backup.asp
- Data Protection Services:www.dataprotection.net
- E-stor: www.e-stor.net
- FreeDrive: www.freedrive.com
- Ibackup: www.ibackup.com
- StoragePoint: www.storagepoint.com
- Xdrive Technologies: www.xdrive.com