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An electronic file cabinet can be either a metaphorical reference to a system of storing documents and other information on an electronic medium such as a computer hard drive, or it can refer to an actual piece of software that assists in creating and maintaining electronic records. Many times, an electronic file cabinet is referred to as a way of digitally storing physical documents to increase the efficiency of finding the documents or to minimize the space needed for the physical records. Using an electronic filing system can allow multiple users to access information simultaneously without crowding in front of a physical file cabinet and also can make the information it contains available remotely through network connections.
There is no one single definition of what an electronic file cabinet actually is; instead, the term refers generally to using electronic storage in a way that approximates a physical file cabinet. At a very basic level, a single directory on a computer hard drive that contains some documents or other files is technically an electronic file cabinet, because the files are separate, indexed, and sometimes searchable through the features of the operating system. A very advanced electronic filing system could employ a relational database management system (RDBMS), essentially allowing the users to categorize each piece of information within a framework that can then search or recall the information in a specific way.
There are many options available when using an electronic file cabinet that a physical cabinet cannot provide. The entire filing cabinet, depending on its size, can be copied onto a digital device or compact disk (CD), allowing it to be backed up, transferred, or carried around easily. It also can be made available through a network so multiple users can access it regardless of location. Information within the electronic filing system can be password protected or encrypted for extra security. In some instances, documents within an electronic system can easily be searched for certain keywords, making some information easier to locate than it would be with a physical cabinet.
Some applications that attempt to provide a complete management system for information and documents can be called electronic file cabinet software. These often include database-like features and options for network access or reports generation. In some instances, entire sets of documents can be indexed by an application so they are easily perused through a graphical user interface (GUI).
Occasionally, some issues can arise around the use of an electronic file cabinet. One is that, if the information is retrieved from online sources, then there might be copyright issues involved in storing the documents without the permission of the authors. Another issue, especially in fields that have strong privacy laws, is that a basic electronic file cabinet system might not provide all the points of security and privacy that are mandated, meaning a more intensive, industry-specific type of electronic records system might need to be used for sensitive data.