Improving document distribution: How to track important reports

inefficient document distribution can lead to unnecessary clutter
“I hate her new haircut.”

“Why does he talk so much?”

“Is that a pimple, mole, or tattoo?”

Can you imagine what it would be like if everyone you met could see or hear every thought that crossed your mind? We’d live in a constant state of embarrassment, and the legal profession would be flush with new lawsuits.

While this may be an extreme example that sounds like a “B” movie script, many businesses are inadvertently doing this very thing. They’re allowing information to be exposed to hordes of people not entitled to have it. It’s risky, unethical, and completely unnecessary.

One of our customers tells the story of the time they had an entire box of explanations of payment lost by a package delivery company. These documents included PHI, diagnoses, and treatments. Had this fallen into the wrong hands, this company could have been fined millions of dollars—before the lawsuits.

Employees of all positions interact with important documents daily. Usually, the person who created a report (if the report isn’t generated by software) isn’t the one who puts it into action.

Examples of these reports include the following:

  • Purchase orders
  • Contracts
  • Invoices
  • Annual reports
  • Earnings reports
  • Vouchers
  • Explanations of payment (EOPs)
  • Explanations of benefits (EOBs)

Often, companies receive reports from third parties. For example, many B2B companies receive reports from a third party and then distribute those reports to their clients. And in franchises, c-suite executives send reports to franchise owners.

Keep reading to find out how you can make sure recipients receive and use the reports you spend money to distribute.

Usually, the person who creates a report isn’t the person who puts it into action. Document distribution has many moving parts.

If you mail documents…

Mailing paper documents might be the worst way to distribute documents.  Still, over 80 percent of businesses print documents and reports for the sole purpose of getting a physical signature.

As a delivery system for sensitive and important reports, mail has a lot of inherent risk. Unless it’s signature-required mail, recipients can easily claim they never received the report in question. It’s also expensive. Paper itself isn’t outrageously expensive, but printing, packaging, delivery, and insurance or tracking are. It’s estimated that for every dollar you spend on paper, you’ll spend 6 on associated costs.

The audit trail for mailed documents is questionable, at best. If you want documentation, you’ll have to set it up yourself. Documentation isn’t something that happens automatically with mailed documents.

You can request delivery notification and pay for tracking, but that is not the same as action confirmation. In some cases, the only way to know that the recipient did what they were supposed to do with the document is if they send it back to you, and you then check that the correct changes were made, which adds to the overhead cost of the report. But that’s simply not feasible. Plus, the document might be part of a workflow, so sending it back and forth would only slow everyone else down. It’d be more feasible to have them tell you they read and approved the report. But the thoroughness of their read-through and solidity of their approval is subjective.

Using mail for document distribution creates a lot of risk—even when you pay for delivery notification and tracking.

If you email documents…

Emailing reports and documents saves paper—if recipients don’t immediately print the document. Even then, at least you’re saving on postage and printing, right?

With emails, it’s too easy to accidentally forward a report to the wrong person. As soon as the email leaves your outbox, you’ll have about the same amount of control of the document as you would if you had mailed a paper copy.

Like mailing, you should be able to request a delivery notification, but you’ll also be able to request a read receipt. This is relatively simple to do in the popular mail client Outlook. Then, you’ll know that the email made it into the right inbox and that the recipient saw and opened the email. Just make sure you don’t overuse these features—or people might get salty.

And remember, you’ll be unable to track the recipient’s actions after opening the document. If they forward it to 5 of their friends (or the press), you won’t know.

Using email for document distribution adds unnecessary steps—like having to request delivery notifications and read receipts each time you send out a report.

If you use a file share…

File shares are another way to become a paperless company. Once you have high enough user adoption, file shares can be very effective in helping you track the paths of important documents.

When you share a document or report from a file share, you can define permissions for each recipient. So, if you’re worried about a recipient forwarding the document, you can restrict their permissions so they can only view the document. That level of restriction will be enough to prevent most users from oversharing sensitive information.

You can also create workflows in a file share—provided you have the expertise and time. Depending on the file share you use, creating custom workflows for regular document distribution may be simple or complicated.

Workflows can help you automate processes. Say your B2B company handles monthly invoices. They’re generated automatically and sent to you by a third party. Once you receive them, you reformat them and then send them to each of your business’s clients. Each client needs to then confirm receipt and pay the designated amount. Both you and your clients retain the invoice for your records and audits.

If you have a file share, you could design a workflow with the following steps:

  1. Receive an alert when the third party sends you the monthly invoices
  2. Be prompted to reformat the invoices
  3. Define permissions for each recipient
  4. Notify each recipient that the invoice is available
  5. Receive an alert when each recipient opens and affirms their invoice
  6. Alert recipients who haven’t opened their invoice within a certain timeframe to do so

The down side to this is that you’ll have to design a new workflow for each report your company handles. And, it can be easy to accidentally ruin an entire workflow if you move documents or folders within the file share.

Using files shares for document distribution is a step in the right direction—if you can get user adoption and keep workflows functioning.

What you should do next

If none of these options sound ideal, it’s because they’re not. File shares are better than email, and email is better than snail mail—but none of them are fantastic.

To find out what we think is the best solution for document distribution, watch for our blog post next week. We’ll be talking about how secure portals help you make sure everyone’s fulfilling their responsibilities when it comes to important documents and reports.


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