Documents are archived regularly after the associated business transaction has been completed. Archiving documents means storing them securely and unchangeably for the long term. Up to now, this has been done in paper form and in file folders or boxes. With archiving software, this can be done electronically as a digital filing system.
What needs to be considered when archiving documents? Do I still need paper and file folders? Is there a retention period for documents? We answer these and other questions on this page. We also explain the advantages of archiving documents electronically and give you tips on how to make the most of this for your company.
If you are already familiar with document archiving and are looking for archiving software, we will be happy to show you how quickly and easily you can use humbee as your document management software.
When people talk about archiving documents, they think of the paperless office. All documents that are in paper form must be scanned. Others think of Outlook's auto-archiving feature for e-mails.
Digital documents come with many advantages
Wouldn't it be nice if all this information was automatically archived and assigned to each process. Your employees could then access relevant information much faster and work more effectively.
Reduced search times
Electronic documents are often archived in the same system as paper documents. Here, there is a hierarchical filing system, e.g. in the form of customer - year - document type. Access is therefore limited to the structure defined in the filing system. So if I am looking for an invoice no. 4711 of the customer Müller KG, I first search for the customer, then I have to know from which year the invoice originates before I can find the invoice.
The electronic archiving of documents offers extended possibilities here. First, the document types are defined in a file plan. These are, for example, invoices, delivery bills or contracts. Attributes are then assigned to these. For example, the customer, the year, the invoice and order number, the invoice amount or a period of notice in the case of contracts. Documents of different types with the same order number are then combined into an electronic order file.
Employees can now either search for the order record or search for any combination of document type and attribute. For example, you can search for all contracts with the customer Müller KG that expire within the next two years. In this way, you have much broader access to documents than in the old system of filing cabinets, shelves and hanging files.
Electronically archived documents therefore offer the following advantages when searching:
- Access to digital files and transactions
- Fast access to individual documents
- Location-independent access
- Search by many criteria possible
Electronic archiving of documents on the basis of a file plan is now an outdated system, but is still common practice in many DMS systems.
Filing in cases
Modern DMS systems additionally allow document archiving in cases. Transactions correspond to a business case or a business process. The advantage over the pure archiving of documents or digital files is the possibility to store not only documents but also tasks and notes as well as internal and external communication in the case. In addition, processes regularly have a status model.
Transaction-based storage therefore offers considerably extended processing options and provides the user with all process-related information, not just the documents.
Advanced search options
With archiving software, which is an integral part of a document management system, so-called keywords can be stored for each document. In modern systems that are also capable of mapping processes, keywords can also be assigned to processes.
Keywords extend your search possibilities. For example, the keywords 'further education', 'advanced training' and 'qualification' can be assigned to a document. Users use different terms for the same thing when searching. Therefore, the use of keywords significantly increases the chance of finding the relevant document in the archiving software.
With the help of OCR and advanced recognition technologies, modern archiving software automatically retrieves keywords during scanning, in addition to the full text. Learn more about document management with OCR here.
Reduced processing time
With classic archiving software, you can find the document you need quickly and accurately. Metadata and keywords can be automatically assigned to documents. With modern ECM software like humbee, you can save even more time. Because here you not only have fast access to individual documents, but to all information about a process. The time-consuming search for documents is completely eliminated.
In addition, a modern ECM system also offers you extensive processing of your transactions. So you not only reduce search times, but also optimize your processing times and become more efficient.
humbee also offers you many automation options with the help of workflows. You can find more on this topic under Workflows for DMS and under Automation of business processes.
By properly combining all information into one process, a modern ECM system like humbee also makes it easier for you to collaborate with your colleagues. All users who have access to a task have the same level of knowledge.
You can not only create, edit, review and approve documents. You can also create and delegate tasks and even involve external parties in the processing of cases. With the help of automated workflow steps, efficiency and process reliability increases further.
The term audit-proof archiving is frequently encountered in the field of digital archiving of documents. In fact, the term is not found in legal requirements.
Nevertheless, it is significant in that it summarizes elements of legally secure archiving. In the sense of the German GoBD, the principles for the orderly keeping and storage of books, records and documents in electronic form as well as for data access (GoBD), audit-proof archiving stands for the traceability of changes to the digital data stock.
The German GoBD go far beyond this. In the corresponding letter from the German Federal Ministry of Finance dated 28.11.2019, the requirements of the tax authorities for operational procedures in the context of digitized document processing are described in detail in 19 chapters.
Basically, it is clarified here that the keeping of digitized books and the digitization of receipts is permissible. To do this, in Germany you must comply with the regulations of the GoBD and make document archiving audit-proof.
Particularly noteworthy is the observance of legal retention requirements and the obligation to store e-mails digitally for the long term. It is not right to print out mails relevant to commercial law and to continue processing them in analog form.
It is also worth noting that certificates regarding the GoBD compliance of software do not have any legal effect in Germany vis-a-vis the tax office. This means, besides a certificate of the software vendor you are still responsible for complying with the legal requirements.
Significance for companies
Companies should take a closer look at the letter from the German Ministry of Finance, BMF. Here, the requirements of the German GoBD for the legally compliant storage of documents are presented in detail. They go beyond the mere obligation to store documents for the tax office. Meeting the requirements is important, but in most cases it is also uncomplicated. Providers of electronic archiving solutions offer sufficient functionality in this regard.
In addition to the legal requirements, companies should focus on the business potential of digital archiving solutions. In this respect, modern procedures are preferable to the archiving software of classic DMS providers, which is now 30 years old. These solutions, such as humbee, provide holistic support for operational processes. This enables companies to tap into high savings potential.
Which documents must be archived?
Basically, all commercial letters are subject to archiving. For example, offers, order confirmations and invoices must be archived in accordance with the German GoBD. It is often forgotten that e-mails are also commercial letters and must therefore be archived in exactly the same way as documents.
For this reason, every incoming email that contains an invoice, for example, is automatically archived in the humbee system. Emails sent from transactions are also automatically stored there. This means that they can be retrieved in the context of the business transaction at any time. They do not get lost in the digital deserts of personal email inboxes.
How long do these documents have to be kept?
There are legal requirements for the retention period of documents. In Germany the retention obligations are regulated in HGB § 257 and in AO § 147. Accordingly, commercial letters must be kept for 6 years and commercial books, inventories, opening balances, annual financial statements must be kept for 10 years. This also includes incoming and outgoing invoices. There are similar rules in other countries.
The periods begin at the end of the business year in which the documents were created. An incoming invoice received on 3.4.2022 must be kept until 31.12.2032 at the end of the business year on 31.12.
Conversion from paper files to digital archiving
There is no way around the electronic archiving of paper documents. This is done by scanning. You can scan the documents with scanners procured specifically for this purpose, or you can simply use the multifunction devices already available.
On the other hand, we already receive most documents in digital form. E-mails, PDFs, Word and Excel files are just a few examples. The effort to search in all the different places digitally and analogue is high. Companies that do not switch to electronic archiving thus lose their competitiveness. All documents must be available quickly in one place from any location in a few seconds.
Those who only use digital archiving because of legal requirements are giving away potential. In particular, the productivity benefits through reduced search times and improved processes are high. Customer service in particular benefits from an enormously increased ability to provide information to customers.
This can only be realized in a future-proof manner with a modern ECM system that supports transaction processing in particular. Archiving software or a classic DMS alone are no longer up to date.
Which documents are particularly suitable for digital archiving?
Documents that are still in paper form today are particularly suitable for digital archiving. These documents are scanned and ideally indexed using automatic procedures and imported into the DMS system.
Many documents are already available in electronic form. Ideally, these are imported and indexed using the same procedures as the paper documents. Scanning is not necessary here, of course. The following records and documents are suitable for electronic archiving.
- Incoming invoices and outgoing invoices
- General accounting documents in bookkeeping
- Delivery notes and shipping documents
- Transport documents
- Project documents
- Contracts and purchase orders
- Commercial letters and correspondence
- Reports and balance sheets
- Bank records
- Expense claims and travel expenses
- Deeds and certifications
Can paper documents be destroyed after digital archiving?
Most commercial documents can be destroyed after scanning and legally compliant archiving. Provided that the GoBD are observed, you do not have to store incoming and outgoing invoices in paper form, for example.
However, you should refrain from destroying certain types of documents. This applies, for example, to employment contracts and documents that only have evidential value in the original and with a handwritten signature.