Murphy's Law – from capturing to archiving

Companies have to strike a balance between profitability, feasibility and meeting legal requirements. A long-term digital archive, in which all information about the company and its activities is recorded, can form part of the solution. An archive with reliable tools and structures makes it possible to create case-specific files automatically.

Five years after concluding a contract with you, a partner is disputing some invoices, meaning that you have to look back through various records and trace the events over a certain period. Your accounts department has processed and stored all invoices from the previous five years. The partner manager kept all emails containing details of additional agreements and specific cases – but he left the company months ago. The prototypes and their acceptance certificates are kept in the production department, as are test reports and delivery notes. The quotations and orders were processed by the sales department. How well-prepared are you for such a scenario?

Despite digital transformation, industry 4.0 and similar buzzwords currently doing the rounds through the company’s process zone, paper is still common. More and more communication and document exchange processes are being digitized and visible boundaries are disappearing. Information from different sources has to be collected, qualified, processed and stored. As a result, it is becoming increasingly important for all departments of the company to have clearly defined and efficient document processes in place. When it comes to creating a digital archive, there is no perfect formula. The right one will depend on the circumstances within the company, industry-specific regulations, certifications such as ISO, technical and financial feasibility, and a range of other factors.

Experience has shown that central services such as a scan server or a company-wide document converter can accelerate and simplify processes. Automation allows sources of errors to be minimized and document quality to be improved, both of which save time and money.

Central scan server

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 station with CPU-intensive functions such as OCR and compression.

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 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. Typical areas of application for a scan server include:

  • Paper Capture: Electronic archiving of paper documents.

  • Facsimile Capture: Electronic archiving of all fax transactions.

  • Archiv 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.

Centralized conversion

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 emails (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 add all incoming and outgoing documents to the system as PDF/A files for the purpose of storing information about business processes. This can also include archiving the email 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 makes it possible to migrate archives created in an older or proprietary format. The following technical aspects are important for both central server services: high quality, ISO conformance and image fidelity when converting documents, robust and hands-off operation, high through-put capability, performance scalability, interfaces for application integration, and extensibility for additional file formats and functions.

Archive in standard format

When designing archiving solutions, it is important to bear in mind that existing systems become outdated and have to be replaced due to rapid technological progress. The content of the archived documents, however, remains relevant. It should therefore be possible to migrate it fully to the new systems in 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 conformance within the company.

Signed, sealed, delivered

Electronic signatures play an important role in archiving, as they protect the integrity of a document by ensuring that any changes can be traced. This increases the document’s probative value in legal proceedings. The digital signature also proves that a document is authentic, making it possible to identify individuals and legal entities. If the statutory form requirements are adhered to, then an electronic signature is also a valid substitute for a handwritten signature. Neither the electronic signature nor the document format can prevent the appearance or content of digital documents from being changed with appropriate technical aids. However, with a digital signature, changes can always be identified and traced. For any company, having the right information available at the right time and in the right place is both a challenge and a competitive factor. However, scanning and capturing documents is not enough alone for legal certainty and a practical digital long-term archive. Careful handling of business-related information requires serious preparation in order to strike an optimum balance between costs and risks. Central scan servers and document converters can support the document process. With the corresponding rules, processes, structures and tools in place, being able to create a case-specific file from the digital long-term archive is not just wishful thinking – and Murphy no longer needs to be feared.

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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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