Document processes in the digital age

Recognizing new potential and using it successfully has to be learned – from rush jobs to digital long-term archives.

Digitization is now a recognized process and is becoming increasingly visible in our everyday lives. The flood of paper is decreasing, hanging files and folders are almost retro, and virtually no-one can imagine a day spent without the internet.

And now, document folders are taking another step towards the digital. Once upon a time, huge air-conditioned rooms with access floors and all kinds of special arrangements were necessary for mainframes to operate seamlessly – mainframes that then gave way to more compact solutions, which themselves are now being replaced by the cloud. Now, the paper archive is also slimming down.

Digital long-term archives are gaining ground: document processes are increasingly being automated and the proportion of digital information is many times higher than that on paper. The growth in information, the regulations regarding it and the technical requirements for the implementation of a digital archive present challenges for everyone, from individuals to organizations, companies, authorities and governments. Digitization projects are springing up everywhere, from e-banking and e-government to e-patient records.

Most of them serve to demystify digitization. Despite high processing power, increased storage capacity and a wide range of software, there are still many factors which can derail the best-laid plans – the digital world isn’t a golden egg-laying goose!

In a world of bits and bytes we shouldn’t forget the human factor, either, whether with regard to user-friendliness or data protection. Technologically brilliant systems can't guarantee user acceptance or transparency regarding legal regulations and guidelines. Traceability isn't just relevant for digital dossiers in an archive; it’s also important for people.

3-Heights™ Scan Server
Capture, process, deliver: with central services such as a scan server or a company-wide document converter, processes within the company can be accelerated and simplified.

Scanning - conversion - storage

A well-designed scanning process digitizes the documents as soon as the mail comes in, enabling a paperless document flow from that point on. This minimizes sources of error, increases document quality and saves time and money. The process involves scanning, indexing and compressing the paper documents to create electronic ones. Text and barcode recognition, which includes adding metadata and a digital signature, confirms the validity of electronic documents and enables an electronic search.

A central scan server is a service that converts locally scanned files and associated index files into the standardized PDF/A file format within a company. It performs all tasks that may be delegated to it by local scanning stations. The solution is particularly suitable for processing stages that do not require any user interaction or impair the efficiency of the local scanning stations with CPU-intensive functions such as OCR and compression.

Typical areas of application for a scan server include:

  • Paper Capture: Electronic archiving of paper documents.
  • Facsimile Capture: Electronic archiving of all fax transactions.
  • Archive Migration: Migration of paper archives to an electronic archive.
  • Web/Mobile Capture: Use of the central service in client/server applications via a web service.
  • Enterprise Application Integration: Use of the central service for PDF/A document creation via a programming interface (API) from specialist applications.

In addition to scanned documents, digital-born documents also flow into a company’s processes in a wide range of formats, from Office documents and e-mails (including attachments), through to HTML webpages and CAD drawings. Furthermore, incoming documents from external sources have to be validated, repaired, optimized and preserved in order to ensure quality and a uniform standard in the company’s archive.

A document converter service makes it easier to capture all incoming and outgoing documents as PDF/A files for the purpose of storing information about business processes. This can also include archiving the e-mail traffic (including attachments) between the company and its business partners. Another efficient option is to use a web service or programming interface (API) to create PDF(/A) documents directly from specialist applications. The document converter also simplifies the migration of archives created in an older or proprietary format.

The following technical aspects are important for both central server services:

  • high quality, ISO compliance and image fidelity when converting documents
  • robust and hands-off operation
  • high through-put capability
  • performance scalability
  • interfaces for application integration
  • extensibility for additional file formats and functions

Rapid technological development means that systems deployed today swiftly become obsolete and need to be replaced. The content of archived documents, however, remains relevant. It should therefore be possible to migrate it to the new systems in an unaltered form. The prerequisite for lossless migration is a stable document format that outlives the life cycle of the systems. Over the years, PDF/A has established itself on the market as a standardized file format for long-term archiving.

Having a central PDF/A conversion solution for both scanned and digital-born documents is worthwhile in order to ensure conversion quality and validation. It also avoids the need for complex roll-outs to workstations and allows everything to be managed and maintained centrally. Intelligent document formats such as the ISO standard for PDF/A make it considerably easier to ensure audit compliance within the company.

The digital signature also proves that a document is authentic, making it possible to identify individuals and legal entities. Neither the electronic signature nor the document format can prevent the appearance or content of digital documents from being changed with appropriate technical aids. With a digital signature, changes can always be identified and traced.

Uses of a digital long-term archive

  • Standardized storage (logic, format)
  • Automated processes, fewer errors
  • Easy search/quicker access
  • Need-based creation of dossiers via extraction and individual summarization of contents
  • Ideally saves resources (space, time, money)
  • Scalable according to requirements
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Summary

A digital long-term archive offers numerous advantages over a paper version. Nonetheless, companies and organizations should invest sufficient time in preparation before implementation. Scanning and capturing documents alone is not enough for legal certainty and a practical digital long-term archive. The greater one's awareness of the variables which may become obstacles, the better one can conserve resources during implementation.

Every industry has different legal requirements and parameters; every organization presents different challenges, risks and opportunities during implementation. And the human factor needs to be kept in mind during the whole digitization process. A brilliant solution doesn't guarantee user-friendliness or user acceptance – or appropriate usage and due diligence.

Attention must be paid to the relevant data protection regulations in each industry; for example, with regard to patient records in the healthcare industry or the administration of tax returns.