Digital Documents

In the Old Days...

When all your bills, statements, documents were all printed on paper, you used to file them in folders that sit inside metal file cabinets. As days go by, out-of-date documents may get reshuffled into corrugated boxes and sent to self-storage.

And then came the Internet.

Not so fast. Although two decades have passed since the popular adoption of emails, it wasn't until recently when "paperless" document became the standard with most major financial institutions, government agencies, and commercial vendors. There were a few early adopters who had converted to PDF invoices/statements, or online invoices, most of us were still printing out these documents and file them the old fashion way. After all, the great majority of our other documents from other institutions and vendors were still printed documents, it made sense to print out the handful of PDF invoices and continue the filing tradition.

However, as more and more institutions and vendors turn their printed statements into e-document, we now have the majority of our invoices/statements in e-formats than paper formats. So here's the dilemma. Do we continue to print out the PDF invoices on our own and file them? When there was only a few, it was an easy chore. But when most of the same document is now digital, printing them out not only takes a lot of our time, we also become the bearer of cost for all the printing. So more and more of our institutions and vendors have finally realized how much time and cost they can save by digitizing all documents, we get stuck with having to spend more time and our money. While the document digitization practice is definitely environmental friendlier and lowers overall cost, an unintended consequence is becoming more and more critical.

Let's Define the Problem.

We are not going to emphasize the importance of keeping a clear track of your paperwork as this should be common sense; a solid housekeeping skill of relevant of personal or business documents is important. From IRS on down, keeping track of relevant documents is just plain necessary. However, the new paradigm of digital documents has turn everyday filing into a new challenge.

Do you spend the time and money to print and file?

While seemingly convenient, vendors and institutions who have gone "paperless" are actually "shifting" the costs, both in time and money, onto us. We are spending more time and money just to continue to do what we are used to.

What's wrong with traditional filing?

Nothing. This is the tried-and-true technique that is the gold standard since the industrial revolution. Since we were dealing with physical paper and physical filing cabinets and boxes, things worked as they should - like peas in a pod. If we continue to print out the digital documents on our own, traditional filing is the only way to go. But in a digital world, taking up physical space for file cabinets and boxes seems unnecessary if not excessive.

How most people store digital documents?

OK, let's try not to print out the digital documents and file them the traditional way. There are two common ways that most of us organize our digital documents. The most common way is to leave them alone on whichever website that provides them. May this be a bank or online merchant, we just kind of leave these important documents on our account page and forget about it. The other common practice is to download these digital documents and store them on our computer. Let's explore some of the pitfalls with these two common methods.

  • Method 1: Leaving digital documents alone on account page.
    This may seems to be an easy method at first glance. A lot of people do this not because it's nice and easy, but because they do not know what to do with the digital documents otherwise. Most institutions and vendors will not keep your documents indefinitely. A great majority of them keep these documents online for a year, two years at most. So what happens once they are no longer accessible online due to the time limit? Some provides the service of retrieving them offline for free while some may charge us for the service. There are many who just don't provide any retrieval services after the documents go offline. It is understood that once your documents are made available online, it becomes our own responsibility to download and store them.
  • Method 2: Saving digital documents on our computer.
    That is, if you're still using computers to access the Internet. A lot of us access the Internet on tablets and smart phones, there's no local storage to try to organize all these digital documents. Nevertheless, let's assume a computer is used to download and store all the digital documents from these various institutions and vendors, what's the potential problem of doing this? While this is the ultimate destination for your digital documents as envisioned by our institutions and vendors, this is definitely not the best way to keep our digital documents. Why? Because our computers get infected with virus, hard drives crash, and we get new computers every now and then. All these events will easily wipe out our stored digital documents. Some people think it'd be smart to use an external drive, like an USB flash drive, to store these documents. That is, until they misplaced these external devices. How about other unforeseen events such as fire, flood, black-outs, burglary, etc.? There's no protection against losing these important digital documents.

Here's an interesting tidbit, most people get new computers every four to five years and most consumer-level hard drives will live for three to four years. Put these interesting data along with your digital document storage plans on your computer, you can see storing files locally is really NOT a smart solution.

The Benefit of Going Digital.

Before we explore possible solutions to handle digital documents, let's take a step back and think about the benefits of going digital. After all, if the benefits of going digital does not outweigh the traditional methods, why is anybody even going digital? While many aspects of our lives are now digital, we're going to confine our scope of discussion to that of digital documents vs. traditional paper documents.

As mentioned previously, the biggest reason for institutions and vendors to go digital is lowering of cost (under the disguise of being environmental-friendly). The amount of paper, ink, equipment maintenance, envelopes, postage, and labor saved by converting to digital documents is substantial. For the past few years, digital adaption on documents have exceeded critical mass and now the majority of institutions and vendors all provide only digital documents. But cost-savings for our vendors aside, there are benefits for us, the recipients, of these digital documents. Well, at least, "potential" benefits. Let's examine and debunk some of these potential benefits.

  • Digital documents are portable. True. Not so much portable in a sense that we can carry them around with us; papers in folders are portable, too. Digital documents are portable in a sense that they can be transmitted to any desired party in a matter of seconds. Try to do that with printed papers.
  • Digital documents take up less space. True. If there's a viable solution to organize these digital documents, you can literally do away with the bulky file cabinets and boxes that take up spaces in your home or office.
  • Digital documents are cheaper to produce. Almost true. This is abundantly obvious for the producers of digital documents. But for us, the users of digital documents, we can save on office supplies, especially the ever-rising cost of copier paper, ink and toner, storage furnitures and bins, postage, etc. But all that goes out the door once you start printing out your digital documents.
  • Digital documents are searchable. Well, not 100% true as it depends on how the digital document was prepared. But for the most part, under normal circumstances, digital documents are supposed to be searchable. That is, at least the file names are searchable. Being able to search for a document by its file name is helpful but not efficient. Being able to search through the contents of many digital documents at once is the best way. Unfortunately, most computers' file system does not provide this function.
  • Digital documents live forever. Definitely not true. While printed papers are lost or destroyed all the time, the same can be said for digital documents. As easily as they are created, they can be just as easily lost due to various reasons. One can make the argument that digital documents are easier to lose than printed paper. In short, digital documents can live as long as there's electricity and the integrity of the medium that stores these files are sound.
  • Digital documents are easier to organize. False. Conceptually, it may seem to be true, with folders and sub-folders that you can create in your computer, there doesn't seem to be a limit on how you can organize your files. But in reality, it is just the opposite - the same ability to create endless folders and files becomes the biggest hurtle in keeping your digital documents organized. The volume of digital documents, from emails to digital photos and everything in between, is many times more than what we could have accumulate in the days without the Internet. The physical cost of producing documents in digital format have lowered to almost zero, so the production of documents in digital format has become a less selective process. Henceforth, a monumentous amount of digital documents are created not only on a societal level but also on an individual level.

So, Keep It Digital or Back to Traditional?

This is not a serious choice that we can make; the trend of the world is everything going the digital way. Trying to print out digital documents and do the traditional filing becomes very expensive, in every way, for us document users. While we may insist on printing it out certain documents, we can't possibly print out all the digital documents that we need to keep, file, and store. Eventually, sooner rather than later, we'll be keeping all of our documents in their digital format.

What's the Solution?

To help keep things organized, and to fully reach the potential of digital documents, there are digital document management services available. However, these services are mainly geared for large corporations with deep pockets. There's no price list for their services as their fees are quoted based on the corporation's needs, functionality, and volume. For small businesses and consumers, you're out of luck. That is, until CATALOQ.COM - A light-weight, easy-to-use, affordable, cloud-based document management system for consumers and micro/small businesses.

Why do I need CATALOQ.COM? I can print and file my documents.

While we aim to replace the traditional way of document organization and management, we recognize that some of us may still prefer to handle something that's tangible. We respect traditions. However, we'd like to present our service as a viable alternative to manage your digital documents whenever you feel there's a need for keeping documents in their native digital format.

Why do I need CATALOQ.COM? I can organize my own digital documents.

Yes. It's true that any of us can start creating tiers of folders inside of other folders and file our digital documents inside the plethora of endless folders. However, this doesn't look like "organization," it is dysfunction in disguise. Furthermore, as pointed out previously, there are many risk factors that can affect the integrity and longevity of keeping your digital documents in this fashion.

Why do I need CATALOQ.COM? I have many cloud drives.

Cloud drives such as Google Drive, DropBox, or OneDrive are literally hard drives on the cloud. The sole and main function of these cloud drives is to store files. They are basically the same as your computer's local hard drive, except much slower, but safer and easier to access. Cloud drives are not inherently document management services; they are simply "containers" that you put things inside.

Why do I need CATALOQ.COM? There are other document management services available.

While we do not claim to be the only game in town, we do claim we are the most affordable solution geared to people with a small budget but still need to keep organized. There are more robust and feature-rich services available, but their services fees are proportionally, if not exponentially, higher than ours. Such higher-end services are not designed for consumers and small businesses.