Master plan for digital corporate memory

Digitalization is still bumbling along clumsily and sluggishly in some areas – while making huge strides in other places. Countless new nodes and connections form in our digital memories each day.

Companies are particularly affected by this because they have to keep pace with the digital transformation - or, ideally, stay ahead of it. In many industries, this is vitally important and not up for discussion. Let’s have a look at the document flow. More specifically, companies send and receive signals from numerous different sources. The “synapses” have to identify, accept, categorize and then save or ignore these signals depending on their relevance. But how can a company be sure that business-relevant information is identified and handled properly? In other words, how are integrity, availability, usability and authenticity guaranteed? What needs to be taken into account to ensure that the digital “memory” doesn’t get tripped up?

P – POLICIES; rules and regulations

In the analog world, there are already numerous business laws and regulations. New ones have been added in the course of digitalization. It is absolutely essential to analyze the requirements with which a company must comply, depending on its legal form or industry. Taking the right measures can promote compliance in the documentation process and in the digital long-term archive.

The goal is to be able to keep track of all laws, regulations and rules that a company must observe. A close analysis provides an overview, reveals potential for optimization and ultimately ensures legal certainty in the event of a dispute.

Analyze the following

  • Applicable laws relevant to you

  • Industry-specific rules and procedures

  • Corporate guidelines and risks

  • Binding contractual clauses

Based on the analysis, prepare:

  • Inventory: Which rules apply to your company and can be observed in the documentation process?

  • Directives: How should documents be handled? (Due diligence)

  • Audit frameworks: How is compliance with directives verified? (Interval and responsibility for audits)


The fictitious software maker PaperLess prepares a contract that has to be signed by OEM partners for the sale and distribution of the software. To ensure the contract is legally compliant, it must be signed by both parties. In accordance with PaperLess’s corporate guidelines, the OEM contract must only be countersigned by a partner manager who is an authorized signatory. This signature must also be in digital form.

O – ORIGIN; sources, formats and channels

Business-relevant information is generated, processed and distributed in a whole range of different environments. Where does this information come from and what type is it? A company can control its document quality and processes. Documents received from external sources may not necessarily comply with the expected quality standards, however.

The objective is to keep track of and control the origin, form and paths documents take. Taking an inventory of all sources, formats and channels helps to consolidate them and then carry out the appropriate cleanup tasks.

Analyze all document sources:

  • Sources:

    • Digital and analog

    • Internal documents

    • Documents from external sources (from suppliers, customers, partners, etc.)

  • Formats:

    • File format and analog documents

    • Structure, quality, legibility, versioning

  • Channels:

    • Post, fax

    • Email, cloud (e.g. Dropbox)

Based on the analysis, prepare:

  • Procedures for cleaning up the variety of documents

  • Guidelines for sources, formats and channels


PaperLess’s motto is “What you use is what you pay.” This means that invoice totals and discounts are determined based on the quarterly reports from their OEM partners.

These are obtained directly via the PaperLess partner portal in a specific format specified by PaperLess. The whole invoicing process is automatic. The figures are imported from the structured reports and used to generate invoices (including discounts), send them electronically and archive them.

C – CAPTURE; content input and processing

External documents are located in the “inbox” and internally in a temporary archive. To ensure incoming documents flow smoothly into the documentation process, they should be checked and approved first.

Setting up a procedure for processing incoming documents ensures that they are validated, classified and repaired. By enriching the documents with metadata and text recognition, the documents are then searchable and can be located.


Defining rules for processing incoming documents, including with respect to:

  • Validation/quality control

  • Optical character recognition (OCR)

  • Conversion into standard formats

  • Document classification and channeling


PaperLess receives a fax of an OEM contract sent from Japan and with a handwritten signature. First, the contract is scanned. It could be archived in this form, but it would be difficult to find it again later, so it is scanned with OCR to create a searchable version of the document. Based on the document’s structure and type of content it contains, the document is classified as a “contract”. Now the document can be located again and used for other purposes.

A – AUTOMATION; workflow and responsibilities

Once a document is recognized, read and classified, there is a predefined process that assigns the documents to the responsible areas.

The aim of an end-to-end workflow is to achieve clearly defined responsibilities, traceability, security and data protection. Smooth automation makes it possible to efficiently pass on documents without any manual intervention, ensuring they do not get lost in the process.


Define the following:

  • Workflow

  • Access and editing privileges

  • Organizational system and record creation


The previously mentioned contract is automatically forwarded to the partner manager for their information. Once they have received it in the internal system, an invoice for the annual partner dues is automatically generated in the Accounts Department and sent electronically. The signed contract and invoice are automatically added to the partner’s master file in the archive.

R – REVISION / REVIEW; review, monitoring and revision

To ensure smooth operations, there should be regular checks to ensure that the documentation process is being adhered to and leading to the desired outcome. This makes it possible to discover security gaps, leaks and errors. This can bring about a fix or even the development of new requirements and processes.


Define the following:

  • Error log

  • Error handling

You should address the following questions:

  • Where do errors occur? How are errors handled?

  • What information is absolutely mandatory? What happens when there are omissions? How much is allowed to be omitted? Which items are absolutely essential?

  • Are there exceptions? If yes, how are they handled?

  • Do new requirements need to be incorporated into the system? For example, system and process audits (interval, responsibility, audit processes)


In the past at PaperLess, OEM contracts were not always signed by the persons designated to do so. Automatically verified digital signatures were introduced to prevent this. If a person now attempts to archive a contract without a valid signature, it will be refused, and the partner manager will be notified accordingly.

A – ARCHIVE; retention, archiving

Compliance, legal certainty, searchability and legibility are very important for documents, particularly if all business-relevant documents have been stored in a long-term digital archive. This ensures that solid evidence is available to resolve any disputes.


Define the following:

  • Validation/checking of the documents being added to the archive

  • File management (structure/access permissions)

  • Archiving guidelines (retention planning/periods and final disposal)

  • Archive audits (checking whether the archive guidelines are being observed)


There is some commotion in the Accounts Department at PaperLess – an attentive employee has noticed that an OEM partner is not complying with the latest terms and conditions, although they have signed them. With just a few quick clicks, the contract is located in the archive and the suspicion is confirmed. The employee sends the partner a warning requiring a delivery receipt. After receipt of the signed warning, it is saved in the archive. A retention period of two years is stipulated for warnings in the archive, i.e. it will be deleted automatically after this period.

C – COMMUNICATION; user experience, acceptance

The acceptance of new technologies and processes determines how quickly they will be integrated into a company’s daily business routine. Users must recognize that the new system makes their work easier. The user interface and experience as well as transparent processes are important here. The processes can only be introduced successfully if they are easy to implement.


Measures are taken to address:

  • Provision of resources/tools (portals, devices)

  • Operation, documentation (user manual, guidelines)

  • Internal/external communications

  • Help desk/support, training


In order for the OEM partner to use the new partner portal, they will be notified ahead of time about the new features and added benefits. PaperLess also puts a quick reference up on its portal so that partners know how to complete the new reports correctly.


To successfully organize a company’s digital memory, it is important to assess the ACTUAL and TARGET state before embarking on this adventure. The procedure outlined in the POCARAC plan just described makes it possible to focus on the individual stages, without losing sight of the big picture. Individual requirements can be added if needed.

Shortcuts are best avoided – careful preparation is the key to any successful project. Errors may help identify what is not working – but they can also be costly. Support from the right experts is therefore valuable, particularly with respect to the legal aspects. The risk should be analyzed ahead of time. How many precautions make sense? Where would the potential damage be less expensive than the costs for implementing a solution?

Once the facts have been collected and a procedure has been laid out, the next step is to select the technical means to support you. What can be integrated into the existing structure? How scalable and reliable is the system? Will it meet today’s requirements as well as any new requirements that may emerge in the future?

It takes more than just sophisticated processes and systems; success is highly dependent on the human factor. Proactive communication and the sharing of knowledge are important if everyone involved in the project is to do their part and to promote an innovative feedback culture. Activating the synapses between employees and external partners helps promote acceptance, enabling a company to move one step closer to achieving its goal of a well-functioning digital memory.

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Nadine Schuppisser

Written by Nadine Schuppisser

Nadine Schuppisser is Head of Marketing and Communication of PDF Tools AG. Pdftools offers PDF & PDF/A components and solutions for digitization, the document process and legally compliant long-term archiving. PDF Tools AG is the Swiss representative on the ISO committee for PDF/A and PDF and a founding member of the PDF Association.

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