Download the 2005 Paperless Office Buyer's Guide

Following the success of our 2004 Paperless Office Buyer's Guide, AccountingWEB has published an update for 2005.

Compiled with the help of 25 community members, the 2005 buyer's guide includes detailed reviews of 12 paperless office systems and a listing of 48 suppliers serving large and small companies and accountancy practices.

The 2005 Paperless Office Buyer's Guide is now available as a PDF download.

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cverrier's picture

Not easy, but not impossible. (Part 2)

cverrier | | Permalink

Continued from earlier post...

The issue of long term storage of electronic information certainly needs thought (The classic example is the BBC’s 1986 ‘Domesday project’, which used a 12” optical analogue disk for which players no longer exist). This issue can be managed, however, and I would argue that paper also has limited life and is more vulnerable to, say, water-damage than optical media. Paper-based filing, of course, cannot be easily and cheaply duplicated and stored in multiple locations to hedge against catastrophe.

ASCII conversion does have a few problems – It is old (first appearing in 1963) and a limited format that cannot cope with the full gamut of the world’s languages (The ‘A’ stands for ‘American’, remember!) and has really been supplanted by Unicode for textual information. An ASCII conversion will also lose all formatting and graphical elements of a document (the layout, the typeface and the signature, for example).

Various projects are underway to establish standards for long term data-storage. One is based on the Adobe Acrobat format, and is called PDF/A. This is also being developed as an international standard (ISO 19005-1).

While Microsoft may be guilty of many things, I don’t think they actually deliberately seek to alter their file formats for the purpose of selling new software versions. There is always a tension between the need to be backward compatible, and the desire to take advantage of new technologies that demand new file-formats. I’d say that Microsoft have trodden this line as well as any software developer.

Electronic filing should certainly not be undertaken just for the fun of it, but even allowing for my obvious interest as Product Manager for one of the systems in the Guide (Singleview, since you ask!), I firmly believe that there are real, measurable, benefits to be had, and that they can be implemented to a far greater degree than most people are aware.

Not easy, but not impossible.

Anonymous | | Permalink

Moving towards paperless operation is certainly a challenge - culturally as much as technically. It's worth remembering that there are benefits to be gained for even partial success ("less-paper" rather than "paperless"!) - it doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition.

There are two vital documents for UK organisations wanting to implement paperless office systems.

1. The 1995 Civil Evidence Act
2. British Standards Institute “BIP 0008” – Code of Practice for Legal Admissibility.

Both are relatively weighty documents, but the upshot of both of them is that many of the barriers to paperless operation have actually disappeared in recent years.

The 1995 Civil Evidence act in particular changed the playing field. A properly stored copy of an original now has the same weight as the original (and the copy can be electronic, microfilm, photocopy, whatever).

Electronic copies of documents, including legal agreements and contracts, are perfectly acceptable as evidence (we can all recall high-profile court cases that turned on the contents of an email), and the real issue is one of the evidential weight of such documents.

In most situations electronic evidence will be admitted into evidence by admission and where the authenticity of the evidence is disputed, the Court can have regard to standards on storing information such as the BSi’s “BIP 0008” and consider whatever expert evidence is necessary, in the same way as with a paper document, to rule on a challenge to the veracity of a document.

If your electronic records can be easily altered or subverted, then you risk them being challenged, and being given less weight than properly secured records. This is not unique to electronic systems, but would also apply to a paper records system that does not protect against surreptitious replacement of an original document with a faked variation (the traditional protection here, of course, was the author’s signature on the file copy).

The increasing use of electronic filing means that a very large number of UK tax-returns are held only as electronic documents – with HMRC holding the return only as a set of database entries – verified using a security code rather than an ink signature. This situation is only going to grow, with more and more statutory submissions being completed without the use of a single piece of A4.

Issues

baseline | | Permalink

The vision of a paperless office is fine where there are no regulatory or legal requirements on the information stored.

Another factor is long term storage of electronic information as it does not have the longevity of paper. The technology behind the information is also one to be considered as it may not be available in the short term.

Companies like Microsoft have to employ thousands of people and sticking with the same technology is not going to keep them in business. They have to constantly reinvent better ways of doing things.

If electronic data must be archived it should be converted to ASCII and then a process of data refresh on the storage media should be undertaken from time to time.

The fidelity requirements of electronic storage often meet with a Digital Signature Blindness, however rules for this are not well established in the UK.

Given these issues, perhaps the paperless office is just a marketing dream and not a reality.