Electronic Document Storage

The technical steps required to ensure full compliance with regulatory requirements for document storage and destruction can be manifold.

Establishing intelligent document housekeeping is one of these steps. It must be able to recognise professionally finished documents and consider changes to archiving deadlines made between the time the documents were archived and eventually destroyed.

In addition, such a system must allow regular coordination between the customer management system and the archive, because changes in a customer relationship, such as termination, can initiate mandatory document destruction. Some industries require documents to be destroyed once a contract has ended. Integration with an existing system is a secure way to fulfil these requirements.

But it does not all need to happen automatically. In companies with minimal document volume, manual comparison of CMS, contract information and DMS is definitely possible and a valid approach. Modern DMS front-ends can, however, autonomously handle required functionalities through the document life cycle.

These functions are also useful if synchronisation is fully automatic. Users can use their professional judgement to decide whether documents are still relevant.

It is important to know the steps involved in archiving and mapping the technical requirements. When the contract ends, the associated documents are closed; when the customer relationship ends, then all documents related to the customer are deleted. The retention of client files directly depends on the longest required retention period among the documents.

In this regard, the electronic storage of documents is only half the battle. It is a mistake to believe that introducing electronic document management will completely eliminate storage of paper documents. The only certain thing about a DMS is that less paper will have to be archived or temporarily stored. Paper copies of documents signed by the customer should be retained, if only for the company's own interest. Documents related to taxes are also kept in paper copies as well as documents with official seals of lawyers and notaries. A document management system must be able to meet this challenge as well.

But by the time your document storage is bursting at the seams, you can no longer put off a plan of action. Outsourcing the digitisation and archiving of documents is a big step that is inevitable after you reach certain volumes, but it also has potential for cost savings. But at this point a solution in the product area is no longer applicable because the issues to be resolved are now too complex.

It depends on the efficiency of the DMS and how it is able to break down the process. Importing documents such as TIFF or PDF/A files is actually one of the easier tasks. It becomes more difficult when the digitised documents have to be recovered from the external archive later. When matters get to this point, a functional workflow is needed.

Large document management systems are characterised by seamless integration into the existing workflow. The answer to the question as to where a DMS Workflow starts is like asking what came first, the chicken or the egg. Our answer. In the DMS.

As an example, we will show how this played out in one of our client projects. Users were asked to print a cover sheet for each document being prepared for submission. The DMS can handle filling out the forms so all the user has to do is to enter new customer data. For digitisation and subsequent filing, the customer and contract numbers were key. Depending on the digitising method, this can be provided as plain text or as a bar code. The advantage of bar codes is that they are machine-readable and transposed digits can be avoided. The mail room sends the documents directly to the scanning service which digitises the documents with large industrial scanners and reads meta-data using OCR processes. This meta-data originates from the bar codes as well as the forms themselves; even handwritten account numbers can be read. The documents are also categorised in the first step and defined as correspondence, contracts or credentials. Documents no longer needed, such as the cover sheets, are discarded at this stage. Once the data has been extracted, the document then moves back into the DMS via the file or service interfaces. A new process is also added to the workflow to which the new documents are assigned. The paper documents that must be kept are then sent to the archive.

The DMS receives the documents and pre-archives them. The documents added via scanning are not directly revision-proof and still have to be finalised in the in-box. This is necessary to correct recognition errors when scanning or creating the cover sheets. Further steps have to be performed before archiving, such as entering customers into the existing system. Once all the requirements are met in the workflow, all documents can now be archived in a revision-proof process and the process can be finalised.

Further checks for consistency and the categorisation used are made when they are saved in the DMS. Depending on the category, the retention periods are set and, if necessary, the business relevance of documents already in the archive is marked. The DMS also decides whether documents need to be archived or should they even be left to stay in the temporary in-box. This two-step process allows the workflow system not to have to worry about archiving requirements. Instead, the responsibility is solely placed on the DMS. Then the documents are completely archived and can be displayed as needed. After this, the completely correct data is passed on to the paper archive, where the scanned documents are correlated to the electronic data.

Two paths are available for research: The first way is to access the archive system using the tools provided by the manufacturer. Since these are typically rather technical, the use of a customized front-end makes sense. A web-based research tool is a cost-effective solution to give all users access to the data and is based on state-of-the-art technology that can meet flexible business requirements.

The basic functionality of the front-end allows the electronic document collection to be searched with the documents displayed. In addition, there are other useful functions, such as the already mentioned ability to create cover sheets to route the scanning of new documents relating to existing customers. If users want to archive new documents, they can also use the import function in the front-end to import them directly into the document file. For some processes, paper-based documents are required and thus a process for importing the physical files into the archive is a practical feature.

The archive is thus a central part of business infrastructure and can add value by connecting more and more internal applications. It is important that suitable interfaces are made available so users can store documents directly; research documents and work flows are supported. The introduction of "filing rules" to manage the categories and for archiving policies will promote uniform practices to fulfil regulatory requirements and provide structure across divisions.

S&N is your leading partner in this field and offers many years of project expertise in DMS and OMS. We understand the needs of both business areas and IT and have worked closely with both in several recent customer projects.

An essential aspect of electronic storage of documents is managing storage and destruction times. Compliance with storage periods required by law and banking regulators is just as important as destroying electronic and physical documents when required by law. Many of the most well-known DMS providers do not address this sensitive issue in their product brochures.

Our experiences in the DMS environment have shown that a simple system for locating the documents is the first step in the timely storage of documents. To make categorisation of documents as clear and practical as possible for users, archiving policies can be set even as you import the documents in the system. Directly connecting categories with archiving policies will greatly simplify the decisions a user will have to make about how long a document should be stored. This storage method also helps users find documents.

Implementing such a system requires a few steps, but it lays the foundation to meet regulatory requirements.

Contact: Stephan Watermeyer; Turn on Javascript!