Paper Data: What You Need To Know

'If it's not digital, it's probably not worth my time'


Developing an effective big data strategy for your organization is hardly a simple task. Considering how many different aspects of your company you have to weigh, along with the vast amounts of data at your disposal both now and in the future, deploying big data solutions can feel overwhelming. However, there are certain parts of your business that you may be overlooking. For obvious reasons, so much emphasis has been placed on digital files and data that many incorrectly assume that’s all they need to work with. The usual thinking goes along these lines -- if it’s not digital, it’s probably not worth my time. But that’s more of a shortsighted view of using big data. Though it may not be the cutting edge technology businesses love to employ, paper data can be just as important.

Unfortunately, paper data is too often overlooked and under appreciated. As HK Bain, the CEO, President, and Director of Digitech Systems puts it, the data taken from paper documents and files is the 'forgotten element' of most big data strategies. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that many organizations adopt this mindset. After all, paper is the past. We don’t have as much of a need to print out physical documents and store them in filing cabinets. Digital is the here and now. Those filing cabinets have been replaced with hard drives and cloud servers. That’s all there is to it. At least that’s what many businesses say, and for big data to be truly useful, what would paper data actually bring to the table? Quite a lot, in fact, and organizations that fail to account for paper data may be missing out on some valuable insights.

While it may seem impressive to say that an organization is moving out of the paper realm to the digital realm, paper is still where a lot of data is kept. For example, according to the Institute for Finance and Management, roughly 70 to 80% of invoices are still processed and distributed with paper. Invoices contain a large amount of information, so imagine a big data strategy that doesn’t take into account around four-fifths of invoice data. And that’s just one area where paper still dominates. HR records, medical records, and even tax information is kept on paper files, often in much larger amounts than expected. The simple fact remains that paper is still what most businesses use most of the time. That’s why companies make such a big deal of finally transitioning from paper to digital.

Failure to use data taken from paper documents essentially means enacting a big data strategy that only uses a fraction of an organization’s available data. As anyone with even a passing interest in big data can tell you, that’s a recipe for big data failure. But even if you decide to start using your paper data, being able to extract it and plug it into a big data platform like Qubole is its own formidable challenge. Luckily, technological advances are turning that task into a much more manageable one. A particular area to pay closer attention to is the use of artificial intelligence for capture applications. Capture applications have been used for years to effectively transfer data from paper and to digital, but that required a lot of manual work that could consume time and resources. With the integration of artificial intelligence algorithms, much of that process has become automated. This means that not only is document capture much quicker, it’s also more accurate. In this manner, organizations can be sure they’re using all the data at their disposal.

Don’t overlook the data contained in your paper files if you’re looking to develop your own big data strategy. There’s too much important information there, to the point where you risk falling flat without it. While many look at turning paper data into digital data as a major pain, the advances made in artificial intelligence and capture applications has made the process a smarter move than ever before. While companies may look at paper data as the past, fully ignoring the past is rarely a good move for any business looking to grow.

University lecture small

Read next:

How Are Higher Education Institutions Using Analytics?