Document archiving is securely storing information (both digital and paper format) that you no longer use regularly.
It’s important because it:
- stops you losing data
- ensures only the right people can access the right documents
- keeps documents organised and easy to access
- saves valuable storage space in your office and on your server
- helps your business meet legal requirements for auditing
The key reason to archive your documents is to avoid losing data
All documents are vulnerable to being destroyed or corrupted (if digital), either maliciously, by accident, or by a natural disaster, such as a flood or fire.
Electronic documents can be compromised by:
- security threats
- software or hardware failure
- power failure
- computer malfunctions
Paper documents can be lost through:
- human error
- an act of God
Correctly archiving documents prevents all of this, giving you peace of mind and ensuring that, should the worst happen, your data won’t be affected.
5 reasons why document archiving is important
1. Data is well organised so it’s easier to find the right documents when you need them
Properly archiving documents means your employees have quick and secure access to information they need, resulting in less downtime and fewer delays.
Many companies choose to use records management software to store, manage and access their records.
Records management software has several benefits:
- You can securely access digital documents from anywhere with an internet connection
- You can gain real-time updates when staff members access or amend a document or request that one is retrieved
- You can still access hard copies as and when needed. A document archiving company like Russell Richardson will securely deliver hard-copy documents in person in as little as a few hours
You can create a records management policy to outline how and where documents should be stored. This will set out what your business needs to do to comply with records management best practice, so records are handled correctly once they are ready to be archived.
You can find out more about creating a records management policy for your company with our best practice guide to records management.
2. Records can be easily audited and retrieved for legal reasons
An audit involves examining your business’s records to confirm they are accurate. Audits can be done internally by an employee, or externally by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC). If you’re audited externally, HMRC will want to see documents such as:
- expenses forms and receipts
- board meeting minutes
- payroll reports
- records of cash expenditure
If you can’t provide these documents, you:
- risk making the auditing process longer and more expensive—for example, to verify your company finances, you may have to gather oral testimonies or written statements from employees and people you do business with
- could be fined—you can view a full list of potential penalties issued by HMRC on its website
Document archiving makes the process quicker and easier for auditors as they will have instant access to the information they require, saving them (and your business) time and hassle.
Legally, your business has to retain certain documents for a set period of time (known as a retention period). You can read more about document retention periods here.
The document management and archiving software we use at Russell Richardson allows our customers to keep track of their documents’ retention periods and the dates the documents can be destroyed. When documents are ready to be destroyed, you can easily request this via the software portal.
If your business is being sued—either by an employee, customer or another business—you may be asked to provide certain documents to support your case. Having easy-to-access, well-organised records will ensure that you can supply the information needed as part of any legal proceedings.
3. Improves security—only the right people can access the right documents
When you archive digital documents, you can protect them with a password so only certain people can access them. Document management systems create an audit trail so you can see who has accessed, changed or deleted files, and receive real-time updates.
Archived paper files are more secure as your document management company will ensure only employees who have permission can access them. The company will take the files out of storage and hand-deliver them to a named person inside your business.
The online portal and barcode scanning system we use at Russell Richardson creates a full audit trail of when and where files have been moved, retrieved or destroyed.
If the worst should happen and your business is subject to a natural disaster that destroys paper format documents, an electronic document management system will be vital in your disaster recovery process.
4. Saves space in your office
Archiving documents saves valuable storage space in your office by keeping paper documents off-site. Converting paper documents into digital format means you can destroy the paper copies (or store them off-site) and access them via a secure online portal. Alternatively, you can store paper documents off-site without converting them into digital versions and still save space in your office.
5. It prevents you from losing data
Losing important documents could have significant consequences for your business:
- Drop in productivity—it could take hours or days to recover lost files, which means your employees are unable to work. The more documents you lose, the more downtime your business will experience.
- Loss of customers’ trust—if you misplace files related to your customers’ personal information, or the files are stolen, not only will it affect your relationship with those customers but you could be hit with a significant fine.
- Breaking the law—if you lose confidential information, or people without authority gain access to it, your business may be in breach of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). There are several possible consequences to this, including criminal prosecution and significant fines.
- Damage to your reputation—losing data could lead to unwanted media attention and harm to your business’s reputation.
The easiest way to prevent this is to secure your documents by archiving them with a trusted document archiving company.
Records management companies offer archiving services to ensure documents can be easily accessed for business or legal reasons, or for auditing purposes. Russell Richardson offers a highly secure document archiving, storage and records management service—find out more about how we can help your business here.
You can find out more about choosing a trustworthy archiving service here.
Frequently asked questions
How do off-site archives guarantee security and secure access to documents?
In many cases, storing records off-site is more secure than keeping them on your premises. Off-site storage facilities are often purpose-built and have security features such as:
- restricted access
- security vetted staff
- a barcode tracking system that ensures records are never misplaced
If you choose to work with a specialist company which provides digital document management solutions, you can retrieve records through a secure portal. Depending on the service, you may be able to download a digital copy of the document or request that the original record is securely delivered to you.
You can find out more about the different types of off-site archiving and which one is right for your company with our guide to the three main types of document archiving services.
How can I be sure of the security of records and documents?
If you’re keeping records on-site:
- store them in a dedicated room which is secured with strong locks and/or an access system
- don’t permit visitors or unauthorised employees to access the room without permission and supervision
- label all files and boxes clearly and store them in an easy-to-understand system
- fit a security alarm and fire alarm in the room and, if flooding is a risk in the area, consider installing protection against flood water
- destroy any records you no longer need
A document management company can do all of the above for you and store your records off-site to free up valuable space on your premises.
How do I archive hard-copy documents?
Before you decide how to archive hard-copy documents, you’ll need to create a records management policy that outlines what your company needs to do to adhere to records management best practice. You can read more about what records management best practice is and how to create a records management policy here.
Once you have your policy in place, you can destroy records you don’t need to retain and set the retention period for records that need archiving.
You can archive hard-copy documents on your premises or off-site. Storing documents on-site can take up a lot of room and may not be as secure as storing them in purpose-built facilities. Purpose-built facilities usually have security features (including restricted access) and offer protection from flooding and fire.
Digital document management solutions make storing and retrieving documents much easier. Each folder and box of files is given a unique barcode, which is scanned before the documents are put into storage. This not only helps you know which documents are in which box, but means whenever you need a document, the company managing your files can bring it to you via a tracked delivery service.
How should I archive project documents?
Archiving project documents means they are available for employees to refer to when working on similar projects. When you complete a project, you should file project documents and data in your company’s records management system. This includes any documents created by:
- employees working on temporary contracts
- other companies or departments who have taken part in the project
Before archiving a project document, it’s common to create a project review document. When people want to find out what happened in the project, they have the information they need in one document. Depending on the project, you may want to make all the documents available for retrieval, or just a number of them.
How should I archive medical documents?
If you operate a medical business, you’ll have to follow specific archiving procedures and retention policies. You must keep medical records for long periods, so in most cases it’s better to keep these off-site, to free up valuable space on your premises. Medical records contain highly sensitive personal data so they need to be stored securely.
Choosing a records management company to archive medical records means that:
- these highly confidential documents are stored securely
- the company will locate any documents you need and deliver them to you