Digital Storage vs. The Filing Cabinet: Which Is Better?

Jon Fesmire |

Everyone needs to keep records. For individuals, this may be your tax paperwork, birth certificate, and your most recent three months’ worth of bills. For businesses, this means a lot more, including customer records, inventory sheets, incoming and outgoing bills, and product information.

In the past, an individual may have needed a single, small filing cabinet to keep this paperwork, while a business may need an entire room of filing cabinets. The question is, are filing cabinets still necessary?

Old Technology

Let’s start with the simple fact that filing cabinets are old technology. We’re talking really old. The horizontal filing cabinet was invented way back in 1886. The more “modern” vertical filing cabinet, which takes less floor space, was invented by Edwin G. Seibels 12 years later, in 1898.

As recently as the 1990s, it still made a lot of sense to keep a plethora of paper files. Back then, data storage came at a premium. If you bought a hard drive, you’d pay $100 or more per each gigabyte of drive space, and it seemed like a bargain. We were still storing personal files on 3 ½ inch floppy disks, which stored 1.44 megabytes. In other words, you could store a few college papers on one disk. Also, these media weren’t terribly reliable. A hard drive or disk failure could mean you lost all your data. For businesses, it was important to do frequent backups, often on tape. Also, to be extra-safe, you’d want to keep a backup off-site. If you were a student or an individual, you’d want to print copies of all those files on floppy disks, just in case!

Modern Technology

Computers and the Internet had brought us a long way by the mid-90s, but not yet far enough to allow for paperless offices. Things have come a long way in the last 25 years. Now, $100 will get you a 4 terabyte drive, approx 4,000 times more space than 1 gigabyte. Whether on one’s own computer or in the cloud, digital storage space is cheap. Most businesses can easily store all their customer and business data in far less than 4 terabytes of space.

Drive space is so cheap now that even if you host websites, sell images, or run a social media platform, the storage space is incredibly affordable.

The Cloud

These days, there are companies specializing in storing your data for cheap. We refer to this as “the cloud,” and these companies use servers that keep multiple copies of your data, in multiple locations, making it as safe as possible. Using such a service, you won’t need to use much of your own hard drive space, let alone floor space, to store your files.

It used to be that a natural disaster hitting an office could mean the end of that company, particularly if their files were destroyed. Now, most can recover, even from such a terrible event, because their data is secure in the cloud.

Enhanced Security

It’s true that data breaches happen. Because of this, it’s important to use strong passwords, to choose your cloud service wisely, and to have a great information technology (IT) team that stays abreast of the latest security measures. Such details go beyond the scope of an article like this, but rest assured that with the right security, such as strong encryption, your data will be extremely safe.

Rental Space

Let’s get back to the filing cabinet. While the vertical cabinet was invented to save space, it doesn’t do that, not anymore. As mentioned, some companies need entire rooms to store their filing cabinets. That’s space your company is paying for through a mortgage or monthly rent.

Digital space costs much less, and you can either use the room formerly dedicated to filing cabinets to something more productive, or you can move into a smaller, less expensive space, saving your business a lot of money.

Other Advantages to Digital Storage

Digital storage also makes it easier to search for the file you need, to share them with multiple people, to make and track changes, and to view a file’s history. Plus, if you really do need a hardcopy of a file, you can always print it.

It’s true that you should keep the original copy of some files, such as birth certificates and social security cards. This may require a few file folders, perhaps one filing cabinet, not several. Digital storage offers so many advantages over paper files that it’s only a matter of time before the filing cabinet is all but obsolete.