Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.
Tanya Reitzel wants to stop pushing paper. As the owner of Vancouver-based Coastal Trademark Services Ltd., Ms. Reitzel oversees trademark registration and filing for some 2,000 clients. All of that business has left Coastal with more than 5,000 paper files.
The company, whose local customers include surveillance technology provider Avigilon Corp. and juice maker Happy Planet Ltd., opens a new paper file for each name and logo application that it submits to the trademark office. When a client expands abroad, that means opening more files, explains Ms. Reitzel, a registered trademark agent who bought Coastal in 2005.
"Some of our larger clients can have a couple hundred files, depending on what their business is," she says.
Ms. Reitzel has been thinking about making the switch to a paperless office since 2012, when she looked at several systems but decided none of them was the right fit for Coastal.
Two recent events have renewed her interest in finding a cost-effective solution.
First, the five-employee company, whose revenue for the last fiscal year totaled more than $700,000, has put its network on the cloud. Second, last summer Coastal opened a satellite office in Kelowna, B.C., after Ms. Reitzel's husband was transferred there for work.
"With me moving to Kelowna and trying to build our office here but maintain the office in [Vancouver], now my challenge is trying to get an electronic system so that I can see the files and they can see the files," she says.
The company is caught between worlds. Ms. Reitzel, who also cites environmental considerations as a reason to dump paper, says nearly all of the company's correspondence with clients and the trademark office is via e-mail.
"More and more the trademark offices are going electronic, so we can file our responses and file the applications and stuff online now," she says. "But we're just so used to filing it online and then printing out the application and putting it in the physical file."
Ms. Reitzel wants a system that lets clients log in to Coastal's website and check the status of their application. Another wish: "Because we have a certain way of organizing our physical files, I'm looking for something with the same type of organization so all the correspondence with the trademark office will be in one section, whereas all the correspondence with the client will be in another."
Although any exchanges between Coastal and the trademark offices are public, the paperless solution must keep client correspondence private. "It has to be an extremely secure system," Ms. Reitzel says.
The Challenge: What's the best way for Coastal Trademark Services to go paperless?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Théodore Azuelos, president of the document management specialist TACT Group, Montreal
If they share a lot of documents with outside clients, it will be interesting to consider a cloud solution.
People send all kinds of documents by e-mail, and the least secure process is e-mail. You can intercept it so easily. When you have to interact with different parties, you create space in the cloud and you give access to specific people. In other words, it's whoever you want to have access to that vault. It will be way, way more secure than e-mail.
If they want to have an electronic signature with a strong identification, it can be a bit more costly, but it's still available, technologically speaking, and it will be more efficient than moving paper back and forth.
If they receive only e-mail, they need a capture system to index it properly as it comes, so they can skip the scanning part.
Tom Hill, managing director of the technology consulting firm Slater Hill Inc., Toronto
Moving to the cloud would benefit them. They would be able to expose things to external organizations without having to worry about firewalls or VPNs (virtual private networks). It sounds like they'd probably be a prime one for Microsoft's SharePoint Online because it has all of your document management capabilities within it. Coastal would also be able to give users a login and see who's logging in and where they have access to certain areas on the document management side. Coastal wouldn't have to make the investment in somebody to manage it; they just have to have somebody managing permissions.
The 5,000-plus files is not an overly large amount, so the back-scanning effort would not be all that traumatic. There are tools out there that link right into SharePoint Online, so you can basically scan and it would push the documents right into a designated folder or library.
Kodak Alaris has some tools that link into Office 365, which is the SharePoint Online environment. That would allow them to scan from their office directly to their online document management storage. It's a fairly simple process.
They probably already have pretty good organization of their content; it's just identifying what those content types are and how you're going to do it from a digital perspective. But they could get there pretty quick given their size, without a significant upfront investment.
Jamie Garratt, president of the (paperless) digital marketing agency Idea Rebel, Vancouver
If I were them, I would probably move over to Google Apps, which handles e-mail and everything. It's a simple transition for six people, but then there's all the strategy on how they're going to manage the thousands of documents that they have through that system. If they don't want to use Google Apps, there are tons of other cloud solutions that are relatively similar.
Because there's a lot of legal-based content, they want to make sure that it would never get lost. Another way to do it is to set up a cloud system through Amazon that does backups. You might want to hire a system administrator to figure that out so it does backups in different regions all around the world just in case a catastrophic event happens.
If you want a clean, all-encompassing solution where clients go to your website and don't see anything Google – it's your brand – probably the easiest way to do that would be through the Amazon cloud. The documents are stored on the cloud service, and then you just tie in Web services that connect to a certain one based on a permission structure.
You probably need a system administrator to set it up and maintain it. If you wanted to go the easier way with Google, anybody could run it.
The Google Apps enterprise edition is extremely secure. They serve governments, they serve the banks, so they have to be about as secure as anybody else. Where you do have to worry about security is if you're looking to go with some other software that's not as well recognized.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW
Consider a cloud-based solution
Going paperless via the cloud will give clients access to documents in a secure environment.
Go with SharePoint
Online tools from Kodak Alaris scan files directly into SharePoint's online document management system.
Switch to Google Apps or Amazon
The former is easy to run in-house, but the latter is a better option for backups.
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Interviews have been edited and condensed.