The Importance of the ‘Paper Trail,’ Even if There is No Paper

Automated workflows

It’s nice to think we can run our lives and our businesses remembering what we need to, trusting others and having them trust us. And while we may be able to do this much of the time, sometimes proof is necessary.

The “paper trail” is as old as the transaction itself, even if it has only been composed of actual paper for a brief segment of that time. In some of the oldest known transactions, notched “tally sticks” were used as proof of a transaction. Eventually, transactions were recorded on paper, and today’s paper trails are just as likely to be electronic as on paper.

But just because we use paper less liberally than we did a generation ago, that doesn’t mean that we don’t need documentation. In fact, electronic documentation offers much more than the literal paper trail, and if you’re not using it in your business, you could be putting your livelihood at risk. Here’s what you should know about the importance of an audit trail (or paper trail), creating one, and how it can keep your business functioning more smoothly.

Examples of Audit Trails in Businesses

You don’t have to work in finance or medicine to need accurate, secure audit trails. In order to preserve data integrity, many businesses in many industries implement security logs for things like databases to ensure that only authorized people gain access. Every business needs an audit trail of financial transactions, such as accounts receivable, accounts payable, invoices, and purchase orders.

Customer service communication benefits tremendously from audit trails, streamlining the customer service process and avoiding misunderstandings. And operational transactions like personnel scheduling and inventory need audit trails as well, to reduce waste and keep everyone on the same page.

Key Components of an Audit Trail

There are three key components of an audit trail. First, it must be complete. An audit trail that gives an incomplete history of a transaction, or of access to data simply cannot be trusted, because who knows what happened before or after documentation took place? Second, an audit trail should be sequential. If a customer has a question about an order they placed last December, yet your information is only sorted by product or customer name, you’ll have a much harder time getting to the bottom of the issue.

Thirdly, an audit trail must be both understandable and searchable. Time codes should be easy for the non-programmer to understand, and you should be able to search audit trails for dates, customer names, and other relevant information. Audit trails can be extensive, so it’s important to have tools for extracting the exact data you need from them.

What Your Automated Workflow Should Accomplish

If your business uses online forms and automated workflows, then you probably have an advantage when it comes to documenting transactions and creating audit trails. Automated workflows should include steps that add time and date stamps, record process user IDs, note incomplete processes, and in some cases, send out notifications at key steps in a process.

Online forms that are submitted by customers or employees should be automatically sent to the right recipient, along with the date and time stamps, and, if necessary, tags, categories, and other contextual information that helps elucidate exactly what is happening in the process.

Your Audit Trail Remembers for You 

Audit trails do what not even the most competent human can do, and that is to “remember” everything. When your online forms and automated workflows automatically create audit trails, you don’t have to remember what date and time a transaction was initiated, or when a software license expires, because the workflow does it for you.

PerfectApps has been used by businesses in every industry to create online forms and automated workflows that not only streamline business processes, but also create electronic audit trails that prevent confusion and offer proof in situations where a process must be audited internally or by an outside agency. Every business benefits from outstanding documentation and PerfectApps is designed to make workflows that do much of that documentation automatically. We encourage you to read through some of our many case studies to see for yourself how PerfectApps makes businesses simply operate better.