Whether your startup business is a solo operation or spanning multiple offices, you\u2019re going to need to save and share data. And in order to do that effectively, you\u2019ll need to design a good storage and management system that will enable you to save your business\u2019s digital files in a way that\u2019s safe, easy to access, and reliable.\n\n\nNew businesses have a lot on their plates, and it might be tempting to put off finding the right file solution \u2014 but building an organized and versatile file management system from the get-go is crucial. Just like with other systems like bookkeeping and accounting, a data file system that is well organized from the beginning will be an asset. But if you don\u2019t tame the beast of unorganized data (lots of data), you\u2019ll end up with a hodge-podge system that doesn\u2019t work well across multiple computers, devices and servers, is overly complicated, and at best will cost your business time and at worst will lead to a catastrophic loss.\n\nKey Goals\n\nIn order to find the right system for you and your team, take some time to outline what you\u2019ll need most. While priorities vary from business to business, there are a few essential goals that any good file management system should meet.\n\n\nThe three core features of any file management system are ease of use, security and reliability. The priority of these will vary from business to business, but each of these aspects must be addressed when making a file management plan.\n\n\nWith ease of use, it\u2019s important to consider who you\u2019d like to be able to access your files and on what devices they might want to access them. Many companies benefit from sharing documents with contractors, vendors and customers, so factoring this into the design can create great value.\n\n\nAlso, think about all the devices on which your electronic documents can be stored and accessed: desktops, laptops, mobile devices, local servers and the cloud. You\u2019ll likely want a solution that allows you to synchronize files among all those devices and makes remote access simple. That way you\u2019re not tethered to one computer or even one office if you need to share, edit or move files.\u00a0\n\n\nA system that is scalable but won\u2019t become overly complicated as you grow should also be a goal. Which employees can open which files (\u201cpermissions\u201d) also needs to be a factor; look for a system that allows you to manage access, and makes it easy to set permission levels for various types of employees to access the appropriate files.\u00a0\n\n\nIf your industry has specific encryption or security requirements (like healthcare, legal or banking), your file management system obviously needs to meet those requirements. Most cloud services offer some encryption, but they don\u2019t typically block their own access to the data. This can be problematic for meeting rules like HIPAA, so be sure to take this into consideration.\n\n\nFinally, losing business files because of a virus, theft, fire or some other natural disaster is the worst-case scenario. By building multiple backups, you can reduce the risk of this to a fraction of a percent. Be sure to include a backup for your backups in your design.\n\nTools to Get the Job Done\n\nNot long ago, most data lived on local servers. While that\u2019s still the case for larger, established companies, it\u2019s no longer a good investment for startups. Local servers are not easily scalable, so as you grow and equipment becomes obsolete, servers become a liability rather than an asset. Local servers also require you to hire an IT expert for maintenance and updates, and they rarely include the features found with cloud services.\n\n\nFile hosting services, on the other hand, are scalable, offer remote access from multiple devices, and automatically back up and sync files. Some of the most popular include Dropbox, Box, Google Drive\u00a0and OneDrive. If your entire business runs on Apple products, iCloud Drive might be an option too, but since the service isn\u2019t available for Android, this isn\u2019t advisable. iCloud Drive locks you out of an ecosystem that you may have a reason to want to incorporate in the future.\n\n\nAll of these services offer a free version, ranging from 2 GB (Dropbox) to 15 GB (Google). Paid plans start as low as $2 per month for some services \u2014 Google Drive (100 GB) and OneDrive (50 GB) \u2014 and range up for larger storage and business and enterprise plans. And all work with a variety of operating systems, including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Dropbox, OneDrive and Box also support BlackBerry and Windows Phone and Dropbox also supports Linux and Kindle Phone.\n\n\nAll have their strengths and weaknesses. OneDrive, Microsoft\u2019s storage solution, is built in to the Windows operating system, so it works well there but reviewers have noted that it sometimes puts files in the wrong folders.\n\n\nDropbox is very easy to set up, works well on a variety of operating systems and has well designed desktop applications. However, it was originally designed for personal use, which leads to some less than ideal tools for businesses, especially with regard to managing access. These tools are available through Dropbox for Business and improving, but they become a little harder to manage as the number of people using Dropbox increases.\n\n\nGoogle Drive offers a lot of storage for a good price, and if you already have a Google account, you\u2019re already in Drive. However, the system is better designed to be used with Google\u2019s products rather than a true file sharing systems. The file syncing system requires extra steps and isn\u2019t as reliable as competitors like Dropbox and Box.\n\n\nBox is a feature-rich service designed for businesses rather than consumers \u2014 to get those features you\u2019ll have to go beyond the free version and pay for a subscription \u2014 but all those features are best for larger groups that really need them to help manage a large number of files and folders.\n\n\nAnother thing to note about file hosting services is that the more files you include, the more RAM you\u2019ll eat up on your computer. While you may only be using a fraction of the storage space you\u2019ve paid for through the service, those files can make a dent on your hard drive\u2019s RAM.\n\n\nIn addition to a file hosting service, you may also want to consider an online backup service like Carbonite or iDrive. Although file hosting services have built in backups, this is a failsafe in case something catastrophic happens.\n\nBest Practices\n\nOnce you have the right file management provider, you\u2019ll want to start off with a well-organized system so that as your files grow, you and your employees will be able to easily find what you\u2019re looking for.\n\n\nAccording to a 2008 survey by Gartner, Inc., 7.5 percent of all document get lost, and 3 percent get misfiled.\n\n\nIn order to avoid that fate, you\u2019ll first want to create a folder structure that\u2019s simple \u2013 and that someone from outside your company could easily understand \u2014 by coming up with a naming strategy that\u2019s both simple and informative. Short names and abbreviations are fine, if the abbreviations are part of a company culture that everyone will understand. But if a name like WR.7.16 only makes sense to one person, it\u2019s not going to do much good.\n\n\nBuilding a good folder structure is also key. Some experts recommend starting with a generally named folder (\u201cservices\u201d) and creating more specific sub-folders (e.g. \u201csecurity,\u201d \u201cnetwork monitoring\u201d) within them. However, you don\u2019t want to go sub-folder crazy and create folders within folders within folders.\n\n\nFor some industries like healthcare and financial services, there are regulations that determine how long certain data is kept. Even for unregulated businesses, it can be useful to clear out old and useless files to help systems run faster and free up space. Coming up with a retention strategy will help streamline decisions around archiving, removing, or editing certain files while they are being stored. One trick to make any system easier is to include dates (year first) at the start of all file names, so you can easily find and manage old files.\n\nSecurity Considerations\n\nSome of the same industries mentioned above also deal with extremely sensitive information. If this is the case for your startup, it may be worth investing in an encrypting tool to add an extra layer of protection against hackers. Tools like Boxcryptor, Sookasa\u00a0and Cloudfogger are compatible with a variety of operating systems and file hosting services, and will encrypt your files on your computer before they\u2019re uploaded to the cloud.\n\n\nPasswords are another consideration when it comes to security. Once you\u2019ve chosen a service to manage your data, you\u2019ll want a strong one. Services like LastPass, Dashlane, and StickyPassword will store passwords for you so that you can use the strongest passwords \u2014 random combinations of letters, numbers, and characters \u2014 without having to remember them.