Does storage of files and records leave your organisation bulging at the seams? Richard Thompson guides you through implementing a streamlined document archive
24 February 2006
No industry is free from the rod of regulation. With this burden comes the paper mountain, gradually forming over the years. Complying with regulation often means storing data for longer periods and because of its inherent business critical nature, the need to access documents as rapidly as possible is vital to fulfilling the compliance procedure.
The trend towards customer relationship management has also seen a proliferation in sophisticated customer communications to maintain and enhance relationships with customers. Consumers now expect to be given the option to receive communications via a medium of their choice, placing yet further strain on firms to have the infrastructure in place to ensure that data from each touchpoint is retrieved, analysed and used.
If all that is not enough for FMs to contend with, over time their documents are lost or misfiled. So it is becoming increasingly important for organisations to implement an efficient and effective document archive.
In order to streamline the flow of documents and gauge the level of technology investment and storage options, a company policy needs to be drawn up and implemented across the business. Consulting each department and business function is essential in determining the varying formats of data, the different time periods that data needs to be stored for and a projection of total volume of data that will eventually need to be archived.
The policy should be a clear and accessible document which outlines the type of information that is to be saved, for how long, and just as importantly, what not to save. Whether this function is managed in-house or outsourced, an archive policy is crucial for ensuring that the outlined strategy is consistently applied through the business.
It can also work as a benchmark document which measures the success of the archive.
Technology and storage
The next stage is to set up the infrastructure that can cope with the volume of data, as well as the various formats they may be presented in, such as an expense receipt or large architect drawings in either black and white or full colour. Businesses will need to accommodate the storage of physical documents and invest in electronic imaging and storage.
It is in this area that outsourcing of the archive facility is an advantage, as technology provision is normally part and parcel of the service. Documents that are scanned and converted into an electronic image will need to be enhanced so the document is reproduced as clearly as possible while minimising costs. The enabling hardware and software should capture, index and manage the full process, ensuring that a comprehensive document management system is provided.
Data capture can be improved by using character recognition technology which reduces the laborious task of manually entering in information from documents such as invoices or forms. The cost of keying in this information can also be reduced by up to 50 per cent.
By classifying each document, organisations can prioritise incoming documents and direct them to the appropriate member of staff, cutting administration time and storage space.
Integration of electronic documents directly into workflow processes is vital in providing seamless access to information across the business. The electronic archive can act as a central information hub which is hosted on a secure website or internal system. The capability of searching and retrieving data rapidly is important in complying with statutory regulation and reducing lead times.
Customer service is increasingly becoming the key differentiator between a business and its competitors. Rapid retrieval of customer information is critical to ensure that customer-facing staff have immediate access to exact information that has been sent to the customer in order to answer enquiries.
For example, a call centre employee dealing with a query from a customer who received a special offer in the post, will be able to resolve the call satisfactorily and faster if they have rapid access and can view the special offer as rendered or in the same format that it was sent to the customer.
Regular audits of the archive are imperative in ensuring that any mismanagement of document storage and destruction is minimised. Bear in mind that the data selected to be archived has been chosen for a reason and most likely is business critical. Barcode technology for physical documents will help users to track and trace the record throughout its entire lifecycle, allowing archive managers to trace the last user.
Knowing where you have privacy information and managing it securely is another key factor to consider. With electronic documents hosted on the central hub, different access levels can be established where only approved members of staff can retrieve sensitive information.
Additionally, the task of converting physical documents into electronic format in itself is a risk mitigator as it can be backed-up remotely and reduces the reliance on the physical document. Storage in a secure off-site facility can ensure the long-term preservation of hard copy records in the case of fire or flooding.
Important, incoming mail can also be x-rayed offsite to avoid incidents, whether genuine or hoax, of substances being found in the mail piece, quarantining the threat and avoiding the down-time that would inevitably be experienced at the main business premises.
Richard Thompson is managing director of Pitney Bowes Management Services