document storage

I was wondering how many small businesses and nonprofits have gone paperless. So, I conducted a survey on LinkedIn to find out. I was surprised by the results. Can you guess what percentage have gone paperless using an ECM (enterprise content management) system? This technology has been around for many years. I have been helping organizations go paperless using Laserfiche ECM for over 30 years.

So, by now you would think that most companies are paperless. But, in the survey, I discovered that we are far from that.

Of the 321 small businesses and nonprofits that answered the question, only 33% have implemented an ECM system such as Laserfiche. 34.5% store their important papers in filing cabinets. And an alarming 28.7% store their important documents as PDFs on their server.

how are documents stored

We will talk about each method and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Storing Important Documents in Filing Cabinets

Many people think they have gone paperless and improved their situation by storing PDFs. And they are shocked when I tell them that I think they were better off when they were storing paper documents in filing cabinets. I will discuss this below in the disadvantages.

Advantages of Storing PDFs on the Server

Here are key advantages most people think of storing important documents as PDFs on a file server:

  • Accessibility and Availability: Storing documents as PDFs on a centralized file server allows for easy access and retrieval of files from any device with an internet connection, improving productivity and collaboration.
  • Security and Backup: PDF files stored on a secure file server can be better protected from physical damage, loss, or unauthorized access compared to physical paper documents. Cloud-based storage also provides automatic backup and disaster recovery.
  • Searchability and Organization: PDF files can be easily searched, tagged, and organized on a file server, making it quicker and more efficient to locate specific documents compared to a physical filing system.
  • Collaboration and Sharing: PDF documents on a file server can be simultaneously accessed and edited by multiple users, facilitating real-time collaboration. Sharing files is also easier through links or email.
  • Environmental Benefits: Storing documents digitally as PDFs reduces the need for physical paper, ink, and storage space, contributing to a more sustainable and eco-friendly approach.
  • Compliance and Audit Trails: File servers can provide detailed audit trails of document access and changes, which can be important for compliance purposes in regulated industries.

In summary, most people believe the key advantages of storing important documents as PDFs on a file server include improved accessibility, security, organization, collaboration, and environmental sustainability compared to traditional physical filing systems.

Disadvantages of Storing Important Documents As PDFs

The key disadvantages of storing important documents as PDFs include:

  • File Size and Performance: PDF files with embedded source documents can be significantly larger in file size compared to the original source files, which may impact storage requirements and document transfer/access performance. And, large PDFs take a long time to download, where some ECM systems break each page as a separate TIFF file, so downloads are instantaneous.
  • Potential Loss of Functionality: Storing documents solely as PDFs may result in the loss of certain functionality or editability compared to the source formats, depending on the document type and intended use. Most people don’t know that there are many different PDF file formats, not just one. And, the way PDF files are rendered can vary across different PDF viewer applications, operating systems, and browsers, leading to differences in text, image, and layout rendering. When converting a document to PDF, the print driver and printer settings used can impact the final rendering of the PDF, even if the content is the same.
  • Potential Security Risks: PDFs can contain viruses and can easily be corrupted and therefore unreadable. Many people do not realize it but just google “corrupt PDF sometime and you will see. There are even tools to repair corrupt PDFs.
  • Conversion and Migration Complexity: Migrating large volumes of documents from other formats to PDF, or converting PDF files to new versions, can be a complex and time-consuming process that requires careful planning and execution.
  • Easily Misplaced or Lost: PDF files are often lost. It is very easy to inadvertently drag and drop that file into the wrong folder. Or a typo can be made when creating the file name. When this happens it is very difficult to find these documents. This is where I think paper documents are better. It is easier to flip through paper documents than to click on a PDF at a time download it and open it to read. This is so time-consuming that most people give up and see if they can recreate the lost document.

In summary, while PDFs offer some advantages for document storage and sharing, there are also some potential drawbacks that are too great in my opinion. I would rather have paper documents than PDFs.

Here is more info on this topic: Scanning and Storing PDF’s Is A Bad Idea

Storing Important Documents in Paperless (ECM) Solutions

scanning paper documents

Paperless document storage solutions have been around for many years. Laserfiche one of the world’s leading enterprise content management systems was founded in 1974. I have been helping organizations for over 30 years implement Laserfiche paperless solutions.

Paperless solutions go by many names. You may hear it referenced as a content management system, document management system, ECM, and many other names. So, it can be confusing. You can read more about it in my book, “Destination Paperless …”, you can find it here.

Advantages of Paperless (ECM) Solution

The key advantages of storing important documents in an ECM (Enterprise Content Management) system include:

  • Increased Productivity: ECM systems automate manual document management tasks like locating, sending, and tracking documents, freeing up staff to focus on more valuable work. Many of these systems have workflow and form tools to automate paper-based processes and forms.
  • Improved Compliance: ECM provides a centralized, secure repository for storing documents to meet regulatory requirements, with features like automated retention policies and audit trails.
  • Enhanced Security and Data Protection: ECM systems offer robust security controls to protect sensitive documents from unauthorized access or data breaches, including access permissions and encryption.
  • Better Collaboration and Remote Access: ECM enables easy sharing, editing, and remote access to documents across an organization, improving collaboration.
  • Reduced Physical Storage Costs: Digitizing documents in an ECM system eliminates the need for physical filing cabinets and offsite storage, saving valuable office space and costs.
  • Streamlined Disaster Recovery: ECM provides a reliable backup of digital documents, ensuring business continuity in the event of a disaster that damages physical records.
  • Easier Document Retrieval: ECM systems offer advanced search and indexing capabilities to quickly locate specific documents, saving time and improving productivity. Most great ECM solutions, such as Laserfiche, include the ability to do a full-text search on the contents of any document. In addition, each document can have several fields of metadata (additional data) such as author, creation date, type of document, and specific fields like invoice number, company name, and many more. These fields are also a good way to search and find the correct document quickly.

In summary, the key advantages of an ECM system for storing important documents include increased efficiency, better compliance, enhanced security, improved collaboration, reduced costs, and more reliable disaster recovery.

Disadvantages of Paperless (ECM) Solution

  • Vendor Lock-in: Relying heavily on a specific ECM vendor’s proprietary system and features can make it difficult to migrate to a different platform in the future, leading to vendor lock-in concerns. It is important to find a good long-term vendor that is stable. I have had many people come to me and request that we export their data and import it into Laserfiche because the previous vendor was no longer servicing them. Here are a few examples of paperless vendors that went out of business or were acquired: Alchemey, SpringCM, Captiva, Documentum, M-Files, Perceptive, Worldox, and many more. That is why I recommend Laserfiche, they have not been acquired or have acquired any other production; that is 50 years of stability.


What is the best way to store important documents?

The best way to store important documents is in an ECM (enterprise contentment management system), also called a paperless solution, such as Laserfiche, in TIFF format, not PDF format.

Where do companies store their documents?

28.7% of companies store their documents in a paperless solution (ECM), 33.3% store them as PDFs on their server, and 34.6% of companies store their documents as paper in filing cabinets.

How do you protect valuable papers?

Valuable papers are best protected when stored as TIFF files in a paperless solution that also has a backup to a cloud storage solution.

How do you store business files?

Business files should be stored in a paperless solution such as Laserfiche.

What do you call a place where you store documents?

The place where you store your documents is called a document repository.

What is the safe way to store important documents?

The safe way to store important documents is in a cloud-based paperless solution such as Laserfiche Cloud. It is not recommended that you store your important records in Google Drive, SharePoint, DropBox, or any other document-sharing service.

What is the best way to organize important documents?

The best way to organize important documents is to mimic the way the documents were organized when they were stored as paper documents. This makes the transition to paperless easier for users.

What is the best way to store documents long-term?

The best way to store documents long-term is in a paperless solution provided by a very stable content management company such as Laserfiche.

How Long Do You Need to Keep Business Records in the United States?

Most business records should be kept for 7 years, but certain records like tax documents, corporate documents, and pension plans should be kept indefinitely. Business owners should review federal, state, and industry-specific requirements to develop a comprehensive document retention policy.

Do you need to physically store important business documents and records?

Important business documents and records do not have to be kept if they are stored in a secure paperless solution. But, many experts recommend keeping physical, hard copies of many important business documents in addition to digital storage. This includes documents like:

  • Adoption papers, divorce decrees, death certificates
  • Loan documents, property deeds, vehicle titles
  • Insurance policies, health insurance cards
  • Tax returns, payroll records, financial statements
  • Business formation documents, licenses, permits