Documents play a crucial role in business, and their evolution has been significant. In fact, a 2017 study conducted by the International Association for Contract & Commercial Management (IACCM) found that contracts are the main source of revenue and relationship-building for an organization.
From typewriters, Word Processor programs to email and cloud solutions, people now use electronic documents to reach their intended audience without the need to print. Read on to learn more about the distinction between soft and hard copy documents.
Soft Copy: Digital Documents and Files
In the most basic definition, a soft copy document is an electronic file stored in a digital format. It can be accessed using a computer, smartphone, or another electronic device with an internet connection.
Some examples of soft copies include Word Processor files (DOC or DOCX), PDFs, presentations, spreadsheets, emails, and webpages.
Hard Copy: Physical, Printed Documents
On the other hand, hard copy documents refer to physical copies of documents printed or written on a piece of paper, cardboard, or another material.
These include printed contracts, letters, invoices, newspapers, books, and archival records.
Comparing Soft Copy and Hard Copy in Terms of Document Management
When it comes to document management in an organization, both paper copies are widely-used formats. They each have their unique advantages and reasons for usage. In some cases, even one may be preferred over the other.
But what is the difference between a hard copy and a soft copy? Let’s discuss these in the following sections.
Accessibility and storage
In terms of accessibility and storage, digital files provide better options. Since these are electronic files can easily be accessed on just about any electronic device with an internet connection.
You can also store as many documents on a hard drive or a cloud-based storage service without worrying about running out of space. Not only does this help save physical space, and it reduces the risk of damage or loss due to unforeseen circumstances, such as a fire or flooding.
On the other hand, accessibility and storage are where hard copies fall short. To retrieve such documents, you must manually look for them in your file cabinets or shelves. If you have extensive collections of documents, this can be very time-consuming.
They can take up significant physical space, so some large-scale companies have off-site facilities for archiving their documents. It also makes it difficult and costly to transport hard copy documents, especially when you need to send the document to another country.
Collaboration and sharing
Another big difference between hard copy and soft copy is how such documents are shared among users, especially if you’re working on a document with remote team members.
You can easily share and invite others to collaborate with you on a document by sending them an invite via email or other collaboration tools. This gives the other party instant access to the soft copy regardless of location.
On the other hand, hard copies come with logistical challenges. Each team member needs to be physically present in the exact location to access the document.
Another option is to photocopy the document so each has its own copy. But this can be time-consuming and may even lead to version control issues. It can also take time to track the changes made to a document once it has been printed.
Security and data protection considerations
The only hard vs soft copy factor where the former may be preferred is its security and data protection. Since hard copy documents get printed out and stored in a company’s storage facility (on-site or off-site), unauthorized individuals don’t have access to these documents since they are usually locked in a maintained facility.
Meanwhile, there is always a threat to soft copies, especially when using an unsecured computer or internet connection to access such files. Cyber attacks can happen anytime, and when you fall victim to such, attackers may gain access to your private documents.
This is why saving digital copies of your documents on your device or a secured cloud-based server is recommended so you always have a backup.
The Benefits of Soft Copy Document Management
After reviewing the differences between hard and soft copy, let’s discuss the latter’s advantages.
Reduce paper waste and environmental impact
The biggest advantage of soft copy document is that it reduces or completely eradicates the need for printed materials. By opting for this, you get to significantly reduce your paper consumption, directly leading to the preservation of trees for paper production.
Soft copies also reduce wastage. Without the need for physically-printed documents, you don’t need to dispose of and recycle paper materials. In turn, this helps reduce the problem with waste management systems. This also helps alleviate the environmental impact associated with paper recycling.
Enhance document search and organization capabilities
Another advantage of digital files over printed documents is that they can easily be organized into folders and filenames. These days, computers and digital storage services come with search functions that allow users to easily locate a certain file across an entire digital library.
This makes users more productive instead of spending hours looking for a document they need to use.
Streamline workflows and reduce costs
Collaboration is a key that soft copies have over hard copies. Since these electronic files can easily be shared across users, they can access such documents and make changes to them in real time. This reduces delays and the need for circulating a physical copy.
Since everything is done electronically, shipping a document to another location also reduces costs.
Integrate Online Signatures into Soft Copy Document Management
The ability to electronically sign soft copy documents has been the most helpful tool since mobile apps entered the market. Fill allows you to integrate your online signature onto a document easily.
Not to mention, Fill provides an electronic audit trail, which gives you access to the complete history of activities made on the document. This gives you the complete document management tools to make your job easier.
You can get a demo from us to see how you can easily insert an online signature onto a document.
See our platform in action by signing up for a free account today.