Storage & retrieval

Storage is a challenge facilities managers all over the world face. Martin Mitchell, a freelance journalist specialising in property in FM discusses possible solutions for a company's paper management problems.

(Photo courtesy by Resource by Morris.)
(Photo courtesy by Resource by Morris.)

Document storage and retrieval, filing and all the associated financial and space planning implications pose a big problem for the paper document generation.

Facilities managers in particular, face a headache if they can't effectively manage the generation of paper within their business and the storage of essential documents. Luckily, there are a few possible solutions available.

Anyone that once thought many years ago that office technology would continue to digitalise our working lives until no information actually existed in hard copy form, has been proven very mistaken.

In fact, the false utopia of the first paperless office never extended further beyond its trumpeted unveiling in the Spring of 1979.

Designed by a management consultant as a model of the office of the future, the building in Washington DC was filled with first generation scanners, microfiche readers and other products.

During the ‘successful' launch, one attendant is fabled to have recalled, a phone rang. The tour guide sat down, answered the call, listened to the person on the other end and then sheepishly asked the assembled throng of guests and reporters if any of them had a pen and a piece of paper, to enable him to take a message.

This turned out to be an omen of things to come. Almost 30 years down the line, we are no nearer to realising the paperless dreams of those early pioneers. If anything, we are further away today than ever before.

It is estimated that since 1979, the amount of paper used in offices has risen by over 600% and continues to increase at up to 20% a year. Industry analysts now estimate that over 90% of business information is still stored on paper. Why has this happened and where do we put it all?

The reason why appears a simple one. Far from reducing the amount of paper we use, technology increases it.

Take a quick peek at any modern office and you'll see any number of printers, copiers, faxes and scanners - machines that require and generate paper, allowing us to use more, not less.

As with other examples such as the internet or text messaging, technology has facilitated developments separate from and even in opposition to the original usage intentions, thanks to the way people choose to use it.

Even the advent of e-mail has failed to stem this tide of paper. Before the evolution of electric mail, copies of important documents were often filed centrally, with just one or two copies available.

Nowadays, e-mail and networks ensure that the initial writer doesn't need to print anything out, they can just check their sent items folder if needs be. But they can't regulate what recipients of their messages will do.

More often than not, some will print out copies for their own records, creating more paper. As a consequence, the storage of individual pieces of information is decentralised and duplicated dozens, sometimes hundreds of times.

What does all this mean?

Basically, far from being put out of business by the disappearance of documentation, companies that manufacture storage and filing systems are having to come up with more innovative and cost effective products and solutions to address the storage needs of businesses.

In fact, this is an issue that extends beyond just the scope of products manufacturers and designers. It is also a significant factor to be considered by companies specialising in workplace interior planning and fit out.

As David Rand, managing director of workplace interior furnisher and consultant Resource by Morris explains, "the storage needs of a business can impact on the way in which its interior space is planned in a number of ways, not least in terms of cost efficiency. If a large amount of non-discardable documentation is being generated, it stands to reason that its storage will take up valuable floor space in any workplace, meaning office rents will rise accordingly. This is especially true in places where office populations are at a high density and ground rent is at a premium, such as city centres, financial districts or growth areas such as the Middle East and China. Plus, even documents that don't require filing still take up space as refuse and generate more expended energy and time via their disposal."

Also, constant storage and filing of information is time consuming, often needlessly so in terms of retaining what may be many duplicates of the same information.

Having a workforce that spends too much time dealing with information rather than using it, becomes a real drain on productivity. Coupled with the ecological implications of paper usage, there is a real need for enlightened management to keep heads above this deepening morass of information.

This is a complex problem that needs a sophisticated solution and that is why an increasing number of organisations are adopting a holistic approach to the issue.

They are training people to better understand the way information works, when to print something off, when to send, delete or respond to an e-mail, what to file and where and how. They are even encouraging people to talk to each other for a change, sometimes by enforcing e-mail free days.

But if we've got to keep all that stuff and it seems like we do in many cases, you can at least have a significant impact on the business's bottom line by looking intelligently at how you keep hold of it.

"Intelligent use of storage can help to future-proof the workplace. It's a powerful business argument for facilities managers who may be worried about the cost of churn - the movement of employees around the office. Flexible, multi-layered storage can help to minimise the costs of disruption caused by business change. Just because office rents are charged by floor space, it doesn't mean that we can't take advantage of the other dimensions available in the office. Vertical storage is becoming increasingly popular as its relative footprint is a lot cheaper than its lower level alternative," explains Rand.


However, if you need to keep hold of certain information, offsite archiving may also provide a more cost effective solution. Some companies offer warehousing as a storage option for businesses with large amounts of non-disposable documentation that is rarely required for reference purposes. This saves considerably on ground rent, as warehouses are understandably cheaper than offices in terms of occupation.

A business may be able to generate significant cost savings simply by carrying out an audit of their filing needs and taking the appropriate steps that mean they are not using costly office space to hold on to things that they can either put into archive storage or do not even require at all.

Assessing storage in this way with experienced auditors can also be an important way for firms to start to address minimising their environmental impact and cut paper consumption. It can be the first step in helping firms to cure their addiction to paper.

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