What You Should Know About Document Archival
Arguably, the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration may hold one of the largest collections of archived documents, including everything from historical documents to art work, veterans’ records to genealogy records, and much more. Often times, when we think about archival documents, we think about the type of sweeping historical preservation for which the United States National Archives is known.
But the truth is, that nearly every organization – from major corporations to small businesses -- has some type of archival documents that must be preserved: (1) Incorporation papers, (2) Tax records, (3) Accounting files, (4) Customer information, (5) Personnel files, to name a few. In this respect, then, most of us have our own version of document archival, which is nothing more than the storage and preservation of information.
Ah! Information! We live in the information age, with more and more information available and more and more information required by businesses, government agencies, healthcare facilities, legal and financial organizations. The storage and preservation of information has reached historical proportions, and, coupled with the immense amount of data being generated by computers today, this means that archiving documents has grown in importance for any business that wants to succeed.
Records are the foundation of business and government, supporting requirements for accountability, transparency, participation and collaboration. Well-managed records can be used to assess the impact of programs, to improve business processes, and to share knowledge across the globe. Records protect the rights and interests of people, and hold officials accountable for their actions.
Permanent records in the National Archives document our nation's history; permanent records in a business’s archive document the organization’s history. But for many corporate executives, discussing their archiving system is, well, boring. What corporate executive really wants to know the ins and outs of the corporate filing system? But, we’d wager that when he or she can’t find the document needed to complete a deal, prove that taxes were paid, or outline the partnership provisions, that corporate executive wants to know WHY it’s not available.
In this light, document archival takes on a whole new importance. Today, archiving is more important and more complex than ever before, because:
- there has never been more information produced and stored than now – and the amount is increasing
- information is being stored in more formats and more media than ever
- for most new formats and media we don’t have sufficient data about their reliability over time
- there may be compatibility issues with various formats and data
- most critical data needs to be archived using a full-proof, secure and redundant system, that nonetheless can be easily accessed when required
Determining what where and how to archive your documents can require some tedious internal organizational and structuring work in data analysis. This is also a good time to look at internal workflows, because with today’s electronic document management systems and cloud technologies, archival is no longer about removing boxes of old paper documents to off-site storage. Today’s document management systems incorporate workflows that move electronic documents through your organization’s workflow parameters, and into electronic archives automatically.
When you’ve had enough with paper-overload and lost documents, it’s time to define requirements for an electronic document management system that will meet your organization’s archival needs. A good starting point is by reviewing the system and procedures you currently have in place:
- How much of your information is paper based? Digital?
- How do you classify and organize your data?
- How do you back up and archive files now?
- Are there legal or functional requirements for your organization’s data archiving?
- What workflow infrastructure do you have in place now?
This information will help you to define the features you will need in a document management system. It will also help you to assess whether, and how much paper scanning will be required. Don’t underestimate the importance of reviewing the current state of data management and archiving in your organization. Knowing what works and what doesn’t will give you a head start on narrowing down choices, and choosing the right system. Download our Document Management Work Book to get started.
Editorial Note: This post was previously published in April, 2015. It has been edited and updated.