The Definitive Guide to Document Archiving

The Definitive Guide to Document Archiving

Document archiving is essential for the long-term storage of essential documents. Fortunately, you don’t need to keep every document for years, which means you don’t need to archive everything. Given that the average office worker handles 10,000 sheets of paper every year, archiving all documents would be an unmanageable task. 

However, there are certain documents that you should store for longer periods. You may need to archive documents to meet specific legal, regulatory, and security requirements. 

You may also need to keep certain records that you may need for potential future audits. It’s not a matter of wanting to keep these documents but rather needing to keep them. 

There’s a lot to know about document archiving, including whether it’s something that your business or organization needs to do. Read on to learn more in this definitive guide.

Key Takeaways:

  • Document archiving involves the long-term storage of inactive documents.
  • A document archive can be either physical for paper documents or digital for electronic files.
  • You should archive documents that you need to retain for legal, regulatory, or auditing purposes.
  • The document archiving process involves planning, purging, and scanning paper documents.

10 Best Document Management Software for Small Businesses in 2024
10 Best Document Scanning Software for Windows 10 Users in 2024

What is Document Archiving?

Document archiving deals with the long-term storage of inactive documents. These are static documents – documents that cannot or should not be edited or changed – that are not used or accessed regularly. 

Archiving of inactive documents is often necessary for legal or compliance reasons, or in case they’re needed for an audit. As such, archived documents need to be easily retrievable, even if they’re not placed in regular usage. 

Only inactive documents are candidates for archiving. Dynamic documents utilized in the day-to-day operations of a business are not suitable for archiving – they need to remain in active use. (As for all those documents that you don’t need to archive? Throw them away when you’re done with them!)

You can archive both physical and digital documents. In fact, digitizing physical documents into a digital archive is the preferred approach for many organizations, as it is easier and more cost effective to store digital documents long-term. That said, some organizations have hybrid archives that include both physical and digital documents. 

What Types of Companies Benefit from Document Archiving?

Not every business or organization needs to create a document archive – but a lot do. Your business needs a document archive if:

  • You produce a lot of paperwork
  • You need to be able to access historical data
  • You’re required by law or industry regulations to retain certain documents for a specified period (or, in the case of financial documents, for the life of your business)
  • Your business is likely to be audited at some point in time

These characteristics describe a lot of businesses and organizations. If this sounds like your firm, then you need to employ document archiving. 

How Does Document Archiving Differ from File Backups?

Document archiving is not the same thing as backing up files. Archiving is for inactive documents only, whereas backups are designed for active files used in day-to-day operations. 

The purpose of an archive is to maintain the original documents in case they’re needed for various reasons. The purpose of a file backup is to have a copy of active files in case the original files are lost or damaged, so that operational continuity is assured. You can store both archives and backups either on-premises or in the cloud.

Differences between archive and backup

How Does Document Archiving Work?

Document archiving is a multi-step process. It requires both advanced planning and ongoing attention to keep an archive up to date and secure.

Document archiving process

1. Assess Needs

The first step in document archiving is to determine why you need archiving and what you hope to accomplish by doing so. This step includes:

  • Identifying the types of documents to archive
  • Determining why you need to archive these documents
  • Determining how often you think the archived documents may need to be accessed and by whom

2. Purge Unnecessary Files

You don’t need to retain every document in your possession long-term. You don’t want to waste time, money, and storage space archiving documents that you’ll never need. Identify those documents that require archiving because of legal, regulatory, or auditing reasons and get rid of the rest. This includes securely shredding unused paper documents.

3. Create a Retention Schedule

You must know how long you need to retain different types of archived documents so that you keep those documents as long as necessary and purge them when they’re no longer needed. Identify the legal and regulatory retention requirements and set up a retention schedule for when (or if) you can delete archived documents. 

4. Identify Appropriate Storage Space

Where should you keep your document archive? When it comes to physical archives, you can store them on-site, off-site in a secure storage facility, or off-site with a professional records management facility. For digital archives, you can store them on-site on your own servers or off-site in the cloud. Cloud storage is particularly popular as it allows access from any remote location and doesn’t require regular maintenance and management from your IT department. 

(The following video discusses the benefits of cloud storage.)

5. Import and Process Documents

If you’re creating a digital document archive, you’ll need to import and process existing physical documents into electronic format. This means scanning those documents, typically into PDF files, and then using optical character recognition (OCR) technology to convert the scanned images into indexable text. 

6. Send Documents to the Archive 

Once you’ve scanned and processed all the physical documents, you can combine them with existing digital documents and send them to the document archive. If you’re maintaining a separate physical archive, send your physical documents there. 

Why is Digital Document Archiving a Better Approach?

Maintaining a physical document archive costs both time and money and takes up valuable physical space, either in your office or at a third-party storage service. (It costs $20 to file a single paper document.) Archiving documents digitally is both time- and cost-efficient and takes up virtually no physical space.

Differences between digital and physical document archiving

You can gain numerous benefits from converting physical documents for storage in a digital document archive. These include:

  • Archive is stored digitally, so it takes up no physical space (no more filing cabinets and bankers’ boxes!)
  • Enables quick keyword searching for specific documents
  • Reduces storage and administrative costs
  • Easily secured against unauthorized access

Turn to FileCenter for Your Document Archiving Needs

If your company needs to archive its inactive documents, turn to the experts at FileCenter. Our document management system is a one-stop solution for creating digital document archives. We can help you digitize, store, and manage all your important files and documents – both current and historical. Even better, FileCenter is easy to install and works with all major cloud services for off-site archiving. 

Contact FileCenter today to learn more about document archiving!