Having an effective document archiving strategy can make your workflows and resource usage much more efficient. 

In this article, we’ll look at options for archiving your business documents and explore the principal factors to take into consideration when you’re deciding how to do it.

Key takeaways

  • Security should be foremost in your mind with document archival.
  • You must use an efficient indexing system so you can retrieve files easily when you need them.
  • Be sure to compare the potential costs of different options before you settle on a decision.
  • Consider using an integrated document management platform to streamline your workflows.

What is document archiving?

The main purpose of a document archive is to provide a long-term storage solution for files that aren’t currently in active use.

The concept of archiving documents has been with us pretty much as long as writing has existed.

As far back as 3,400 BC, Sumerian merchants were using cuneiform etched into clay tablets to record transactions, and quite a few examples of these still survive today.

While there’s no doubt that generating physical records that last over 5,000 years is a considerable achievement, modern document archiving standards require a slightly different approach.

Nevertheless, the basic idea is the same.

How does document archiving work?

Whether you choose physical or digital archiving (or a mixture of the two), many of the core principles are similar.

You need to find a method of storing your files in such a way that:

  • Any individual file can be found quickly if you need to access it
  • All files are safe from accidental deletion or damage
  • Unauthorized personnel can’t get to them

This means placing your files in a secure location and using an intuitive indexing system.

Apart from the question of physical vs. digital, the main choice you’ll have is between curating your own archive space or using a third-party storage service.

Why is document archiving important?

Business document storage is a crucial consideration for many organizations for several reasons.

In the day-to-day running of their operations, most companies generate a vast quantity of documents—contracts, quotes, proposals, client correspondence, invoices: it all adds up.

You’ll often have to comply with legal requirements to keep these documents for a specific period (usually measured in years).

But you can’t simply stick them on a shelf and forget about them.

Having a comprehensive document archiving system means you can store them in a logical way while cutting down on clutter.

What types of companies benefit from document archiving?

The vast majority of businesses benefit from document archiving to a degree, but it’s particularly important for companies that:

  • Need regular access to old files
  • Can expect to be audited
  • Produce large volumes of documents

In other words, it’s good practice for most businesses to archive documents, from the smallest eCommerce store to the largest multinational corporation.

Document archiving use cases

Here are a few examples of businesses that often implement a document archiving policy.

  • Law firms. Being able to access old legal documents is essential for building cases, maintaining client records, and storing contracts.
  • Healthcare providers. The particularly sensitive nature of patient records means healthcare service providers need to be especially careful to store data securely.
  • Financial services. Again, secure storage is important because financial services providers deal with sensitive data. They also tend to be audited often, so keeping impeccable records is crucial.

Three benefits of document archiving for your business

Having an efficient document archiving policy in place is a good idea for several reasons.

Three benefits of document archiving infographic

It saves space

Firstly, archived documents don’t occupy room in your everyday workspace.

While most businesses haven’t achieved the utopian paperless office dream just yet, we’ve also moved on from the days of piles of paper spilling over onto the floor around a fax machine.

Archiving documents removes them from your immediate surroundings, whether they’re kept physically or digitally.

This means you benefit from a tidier and more streamlined work environment.

It keeps important data safe

When you archive documents, you prevent the possibility of them being deleted or altered by mistake.

This is an essential element of good document management.

You’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your business-critical information is at hand and easily accessible. And that you’ve taken steps to keep it as secure as possible.

It ensures compliance

The modern business world is replete with legal responsibilities and compliance requirements.

Any business taking a slapdash approach to storing documents risks suffering a data breach or being fined for non-compliance.

Responsible document management and archiving ensure this won’t happen.

A solid archiving policy helps you remain compliant with any regulations that apply to your sector.

How should documents be archived? Different ways you can do it

So, what are the options available for an organization looking to set up a document archiving system?

Well, the possibilities generally fall into four categories.

Physical storage on-site You designate a physical space that you manage yourself and store original documents there. You’ll need to employ a curation team, so you must account for this in your budget.
(Paper archiving)
Physical storage off-site A third-party service provider handles the above for you.
(Paper archiving)
Digital storage on-site You digitize your documents using scanning software and upload them to a secure server that your technicians are responsible for.
(Digital archiving)
Digital storage off-site A popular option thanks to the advent of the cloud. Your documents are converted into a digital format and uploaded to a secure server to access online.
(Digital archiving)

Some third-party providers also offer hybrid options.

For instance, they might take your paper documents and store them physically.

Then, if you need to access a particular file, they’ll scan it and send it to you digitally for convenience.

Paper vs digital document archiving: the pros and cons

Whether you use a physical or digital archiving system will largely depend on your precise business needs.

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.

Paper archiving

Pros Cons
Can be sent to storage immediately without conversion to a digital format first Vulnerable to environmental hazards, such as fire, mold, and pests
Offline storage is impossible to hack from a distance Vulnerable to environmental hazards, such as fire, mold, and pests
Original documents are always available Document retrieval is relatively slow
Subject to wear and tear
Can be wiped out in the event of a natural disaster

Digital archiving

Pros Cons
Minimal physical storage space needed The initial process of converting existing files to a digital format can take a long time
Quick document retrieval time It needs a functioning power supply and Internet connection (for cloud-based archives)
Much less vulnerable to physical damage
Can be backed up easily in alternative locations to avoid natural disaster risks
Uses top-tier security protocols for straightforward access control

How to archive documents: a step-by-step guide

The document archiving process should incorporate certain best practices for document management.

Ensure your archive is well-organized and efficient

1) Assess your needs

When setting up an archive, the first thing to do is decide what needs to go into it and what doesn’t.

You may find you don’t have to archive absolutely everything.

Storing only those documents you might want to access in the future saves time and keeps your workflow efficient.

2) Create a protocol

How long will documents remain active before archiving? How will you decide which documents to store and which to dispose of?

Will you conduct regular archive policy reviews? Will archived files remain in the archive forever or be deleted after a certain period?

Nail down the answers to these questions at the beginning and ensure everyone in the company is on the same page.

3) Establish an indexing system

You need a way of searching your archive to retrieve files when needed. With electronic archiving, you can do this using a search function.

If some or all of your documents are stored in paper format, on the other hand, you should create a full indexing system and clear guidelines on how to use it.

4) Detail the uploading/storing procedure

Make sure everyone who places items into the archive follows the same steps.

For instance, what should an archiver do if they come across a document with a post-it note stuck to the front?

Should they scan it along with the document, remove it, or store two copies (one with the note and one without)?

Drill down into the details to make sure you don’t miss anything.

5) Retrieving archived documents easily

If you follow the steps above, you can retrieve your archived documents without problems whenever you need to access them.

In fact, with digital archiving, you just need to ensure you have an adequate search function, and file retrieval should be near-instantaneous.

It will always be a slower process with physical archiving since somebody will have to walk to the archive and fish the required files out.

Even so, an efficient indexing system should make this task relatively straightforward.

How to automate document archiving

When it comes to digital archiving, specialist software can help you automate this process. 

It also makes it easier to set up your archiving procedure in the first place, because you simply select the settings you want for parameters such as what types of file to archive and when.

Document archiving best practices: our advice

Here are the most important things to remember when it comes to archiving documents.

  • Security first. Be sure to implement reliable access control procedures.
  • Be selective. Archive only the documents you think you may need later.
  • Don’t forget training. Make sure everyone follows the same procedure.
  • Review your system regularly. As your business changes, your archive will need to adapt in line with it.

What to consider when picking a trustworthy document archiving service

Want a list of boxes to tick when choosing a document archiving service?

Then your wish is our command.

1) Location. This is particularly relevant for physical archiving but also applies to digital to an extent.

Do you need to be geographically close to your archive to access files? And does your cloud archive system have adequate server backup in various locations?

2) Security. A cloud archive must use high-end encryption, while physical storage must have anti-theft measures.

3) Other features. if you’re using a digital archiving platform, would it be helpful to have other tools as well?

For instance, an integrated document management solution like PandaDoc will give you features such as improved document control, file sharing, and automated archiving.

PandaDoc software helps you save time and minimize risk when archiving documents

With PandaDoc, you can create, manage, and archive files from a single dashboard to optimize your workflow.

You can track the progress of each document in real time, too, so you know instantly when a proposal is ready for sending or a contract has been signed.

Frequently asked questions

  • Digital document archiving isn’t as vulnerable to physical risks, like fire or water damage. It also makes it easier to retrieve files when needed, as all you require is a good keyword search feature to find what you want immediately.

  • File backup is a safety measure that lets you restore active files if lost or accidentally deleted. By contrast, document archiving is for files that you’re not currently using but need to store safely for compliance purposes or later retrieval.

Disclaimer

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