Memo: please post me that scan so that I can fax it back to you
They say that the adoption of new technology in state sector bodies is like an oil tanker turning around. So while organisations such as the Revenue have moved forward with things like online filing processes, some simple concepts continue to befuddle established protocols, especially for document transactions.
Recently, I have participated in a few exchanges that act as a reminder of the enduring power of paper ledgers and filing cabinets over digital documents in Irish officialdom.
In particular, I have run into two phenomena that seem to leave clerks mesmerised: the 'original copy' and the 'scanned document'.
Below is the substance of a couple of phone conversations I have had with officials about these inscrutable processes. Does any of it sound familiar?
ACT 1, SCENE 1: 'The original copy'
- [Clerk] I'm afraid we need an original copy of that cert.
- [Me] I just sent you an original.
- No, that was an email. We need an original copy.
- But that is an original copy.
- No, we need an original copy to be posted to us.
- But can't you just print out that original copy that I emailed to you?
- Unfortunately not. We need an original copy.
- But the document only exists in digital form. It has to be printed out somewhere.
- Yes. If you could post an original copy to us, that would be great.
- Okay. But that just means I'm going to print out the document I just sent to you and then put it in the post to you.
- Instead of you printing it out.
- What I mean is that the only difference is that it's my printer and not your printer. I'm not trying to be smart, but what's the difference? I mean, is it the type of printer or something?
- No, it's just that we need an original copy sent to us.
- So it's chiefly that it's posted?
- No, if you're passing by the office, you can also drop it in.
- Okay. My printer isn't a very good one. It needs toner, for one. Is it okay if it's a little faded?
- As long as we get an original copy, which is what we need.
- Just to know for future reference, and not that I have access to one, but could it be faxed over?
- No, we need an original copy sent to us.
ACT 1, SCENE TWO:
- [Clerk] We'll need a scan of the letter.
- [Me] Is it okay if I send you a jpeg?
- No, we need a scan.
- Okay. It's just that I don't really know where to go to get access to a scanner.
- Well, once you get a scan, you can email it to us.
- Okay. I have an app on my phone that says it produces scans. Could I do that and email it to you?
- That should be fine.
- And just to be complete, it does use the phone's camera.
- No we can't accept photos. It has to be a scan.
- Yes, but it turns the photo into a scan.
- It can't be a photo.
- No it's a scan from a photo. I think a scan basically is a photo, isn't it? Or that's what scanners used to do. I'm not trying to be funny, but I think that's what scanning apps on phones now do.
- Unfortunately, we can only accept scans, not photos.
- Okay, but can I send you over the scans from the phone's camera so you can see whether they're acceptable?
- If it's a photo, we can't accept it. So if you could send a scan, that would be great.
To be fair, it is not just public sector bodies that operate in this kind of sovereign paper logic. Banks, lawyers and just about anyone in the construction sector appear to find it difficult to part with their A4 binders and registered post.
And even tech companies get muddled over things like non-disclosure agreements. Some companies I deal with still require a product review acceptance email to be printed out, signed, rescanned (I don't get into the camera debate with them) and emailed back.
On the positive side, the tanker is half-turned. Those little email barges guiding it to safe harbour are increasingly taking on their own importance. After all, it has only been 16 years since we enacted the eCommerce Act into Irish law. In Irish legal terms, that's probably not that long.
Nevertheless, if you want to avoid confusing a clerk, print whatever it is you need to that's outside the designated website PDF process and just post it. It's still the only way you're sure to have your affairs moved forward without consternation.