Document archiving means putting information you no longer use regularly into secure storage for extended periods of time.
It’s a complex process to get right, and doing it wrong risks leaving yourself open to security breaches. This is why document archiving companies exist.
On this page we will explain:
- What document archiving is and the different ways you can do it
- How does document archiving work?
- the benefits of using a service
- how documents can be scanned and accessed easily
- how to find a secure document archiving company
What is document archiving?
Document archiving is securely storing information you no longer use on a regular basis.
The two options for how to archive documents are as follows:
- Archiving documents on your own premises—this will take up valuable space and mean that you’ll need to implement a proper archiving system so you can easily locate documents when you need them
- Archiving documents with a document archiving company—a specialist company will collect your documents and store them in dedicated off-site premises. Depending on the service you choose, they will:
- archive your documents and scan them and send them to you when requested
- archive your documents and deliver individual hard copy documents to you when requested
- scan your paper documents before either archiving or destroying them
Archiving documents off-site can save valuable space on your premises and make retrieving documents much easier.
How does document archiving work?
Before you archive any business documents, you’ll need to define how you’ll do this so everyone in your company processes the documents in the same way. By creating a document management and archiving procedure you can ensure your documents are archived correctly, secure and easy to retrieve when you need them.
Whatever type of archiving service you choose, the document archiving company will collect your documents from your premises.
There are three main types of document archiving services:
1. Standard document archiving services
The archiving company stores your documents off-site, in a dedicated warehouse. They give each box or file its own barcode so you know which documents are in which box.
When you need a document, you can ask the company to bring you the original copy via a tracked delivery service.
2. Document archiving scan-on-demand service
A scan-on-demand service works like this:
- The company archives your paper documents.
- When you request a document, the company scans it and emails it over to you.
- Once you receive the digital document, you can ask that the paper document is either re-archived or destroyed.
You’ll still have access to an online portal, through which you’ll be able to view where your documents are stored and the dates they were retrieved or destroyed.
3. Full document archiving scanning service
This service involves scanning your entire archive (or as many documents as you want) then either destroying and recycling the paper documents, or keeping them in storage.
The key benefit of a full archive scanning service is that once documents are scanned, you can access and manage them yourself without having to ask the archiving company to send them to you. Most archiving companies don’t provide this service as standard though, instead they will team up with partner companies to provide a full archiving scanning service. Due to the amount of work involved, this service is often much more expensive than a scan-on-demand service.
Download our PDF to see the difference between the document archiving services at a glance.
How do I access my documents with archiving software?
Document archiving software makes locating, tracking and retrieving archived documents easy and secure, whether they’re in paper or digital format.
- If your documents have been scanned and are stored digitally, you’ll have full access to your entire archive.
- If your documents have been stored in paper format, you can use the software to view where they are stored and basic information such as the dates they were stored, last retrieved or destroyed.
Document archiving software usually has the following features:
- An online portal where you can request copies of your documents to be sent to you, or you can request that documents are destroyed
- Controlled secure access so only authorised personnel can view, amend or retrieve the documents
- An audit trail to see who has accessed, amended, saved or destroyed documents
Barcode systems are often used alongside archiving software to make tracking individual documents and storage boxes quick and simple.
At Russell Richardson, we use the highly secure O'Neil record storage and management software, which enables you to search documents, run reports, request retrievals and more. If you’d like to find out more, call us on 0800 294 6552 or get in touch via our contact form.
How do I retrieve archived documents?
Retrieving digital documents
If you’ve used an archive scanning service
If you’ve used a scan-on-demand service
All of your documents are scanned before being archived.
You’ll have full access to all of your scanned documents, so you can search for and download documents yourself.
Some archiving companies, such as Russell Richardson, use scanning partners to provide the full archive scanning service.
All of your documents are archived without being scanned.
You’ll receive digital copies of just the individual documents you request.
These will be encrypted and password‑protected before they’re sent via email.
Retrieving paper documents
The archiving company will give each box its own unique barcode before putting it into storage. You can use this barcode system to request a document and the archiving company will locate the file and deliver it to you in person.
The delivery will be fully tracked and, for maximum security, only made to a named contact. Once you’ve finished with the document, the archiving company will collect it and re-archive it or destroy it if you decide you no longer need the paper copy.
If you’d like to find out more, call us on 0800 294 6552 or get in touch via our contact form.
What are the benefits of using a document archiving service?
Save space—archiving documents free up valuable space in your office by moving bulky archive boxes off-site
Increased security—documents are held on secure premises and only authorised personnel have access to them
More control—documents are continually tracked, so they can’t be misplaced and can’t be retrieved or changed without this being recorded
Better organisation and productivity—employees can easily find and access the documents they need
Knowledge—if you’re not sure how to archive paper documents, archiving companies can handle this for you
Flexibility—you can archive all of your documents or just certain files, such as invoices or HR records for example.
Safety—archiving documents ensures they’re protected from fire and flood damage
Obey the law—ensure you’re always complying with your industry’s regulations on record-keeping
To find out more, read our FAQs on how to prepare your paper documents for archiving.
How to pick a trustworthy document archiving service
There are a number of questions you may want to ask when looking for a trustworthy archiving service:
- What security measures do they have in place?
Ask the archiving company what security measures they use to protect the documents they have on-site. Standard security features for storage facilities include:
- CCTV and alarm systems
- staff who are fully security-checked
- tracked delivery vans
- secure disposal of confidential waste
Document archiving software should have multi-factor access and be able to fully track when documents have been moved or changed.
- Can they provide references from previous or existing clients?
Ask to see references from companies that currently use their archiving services. You can read testimonials from some of our customers here.
- Are they easy to contact and have responsive customer service and support?
If you have a problem or need help, it’s important to know that you can easily get in touch with the archiving services company. Russell Richardson has a dedicated account manager for each client, so our clients know who to contact if they need help.
- Do they charge exit fees?
It’s standard practice for document archiving companies to ask new clients to sign a contract. Many archiving companies charge exit fees for customers to get their documents out of storage or to move them to another supplier.
At Russell Richardson we don’t have exit fees as we don’t agree with charging customers to get their documents back. We trust that the standard of our service will keep customers from moving.
- Are they members of recognised industry groups and do they meet industry standards for scanning and archiving?
Although there are no official standards that scanning and archiving companies must meet, there are a number of things you can look for to ensure the company you choose can be trusted. These demonstrate that the archiving company meets certain standards.
Russell Richardson is a member of PRISM International (Professional Records and Information Services Management). We maintain and are certified in the following ISO standards:
- ISO 9001:2008—Quality Management Systems
- ISO 14001:2004—Environmental Management Systems
- ISO 27001:2013—Information Security Management Systems
We also hold the British Standard BS OHSAS 18001 2007—Occupational Health and Safety Management System.
- What added extras do they provide?
Before you agree to use a document archiving service, find out exactly what’s included. Some companies just provide a place to store archived documents—similar to self-storage facilities—without offering any security features.
As well as storing documents, a good archiving company should also offer secure indexing, retrieval, scanning, and collection and delivery services, plus useful extras such as providing storage boxes.
FAQs on archiving services
What do off-site document archiving and scanning services provide?
Document archiving services are provided by specialist document collection companies, and the scope of what they offer varies. A standard document archiving service will:
- collect documents from, and deliver them to, your premises
- use information management software to record all documents on a system, meaning nothing can go missing
- properly dispose of and recycle documents—some companies choose to have their paper documents destroyed or recycled after converting them to a digital format
- store documents, usually in archive boxes on secure premises
- allow you to retrieve digital copies of your documents
- provide a service to retrieve and deliver paper documents
What can document archiving services archive?
As well as paper documents, you can archive many other items, such as:
- photographs, negatives and slides
- newspapers and magazines
With Russell Richardson's archiving services, you can store any of the items outlined above securely in the same place.
How do archiving companies store photographs?
Despite the prevalence of digital photography, many people still have printed photos, negatives and slides they want to keep. Archiving companies can scan photos into digital format and/or store existing photos, negatives and slides to preserve them for future generations to enjoy.
It isn’t just personal photographs you can put into storage. Businesses such as media companies and professional photographers can also benefit from freeing up space by archiving print copies of their images.
How long do I have to retain documents for?
Certain business documents have retention periods, meaning you must keep them for a set period of time before destroying them.
- It’s recommended you keep PAYE and payroll records for three years from the end of the tax year they relate to
- By law, you should keep VAT records for six years
- You should keep trade documents for four years, although 10 years is recommended in case they’re needed for a criminal investigation
In the medical and legal fields, you must keep documents for even longer—GP records, for example, should be retained for 10 years after a patient has died. Some legal documents you must keep for 50 years after the date the case is closed.
You should outline in your company’s records management policy your retention periods for documents other than those you must keep for legal and auditing reasons.
You can read more about the legal requirements for document archiving here.
How long can I archive my documents with Russell Richardson?
You can archive your documents with Russell Richardson for whatever periods your retention periods or the data-protection laws require.
As outlined above, some documents you need to store for many years, but we also store records that are close to the date they are free to be destroyed.
When you no longer need records, the team at Russell Richardson can securely shred paper documents.
If you’re looking for a document collection company which specialises in archiving services, call Russell Richardson today on 0800 294 6552 or make an online enquiry here.
You can find out more about records management by reading our best practice guide to records management here.
Our guide to paper shredding services covers everything you need to know if you’re planning on having any documents securely destroyed after they’ve been scanned and archived.
If you’re not sure what type of box you need to store your documents, read our guide on how to choose a quality archiving box.