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Digital Document Storage: The Basics

According to Red Orbit, the market for document storage service is expected to increase through 2017, in large part thanks to the conversion of paper-based records to digital versions. Some companies are moving away from paper in response to federal legislation, while others see the benefit of easy access and retrieval. Bottom line? IT leaders need to understand the value of digital document storage: here are the basics.


The first step in moving from paper to digital is conversion. Simply put, companies need to round up all hard-copy documents and either have in-house IT scan each one or contract the work out to a reputable third-party provider. The ideal digital document service is able to convert a large volume of documents regardless of type — meaning they can deal with varying paper sizes, colors and text formats. The goal is to create a database of documents that are uniform, since this makes it easy to retrieve information in the event of a compliance request or audit.

Conversion should also involve the movement of documents to a single server or cloud-based storage device. This removes the problem of “silo” information and enables the application of large-volume index and search tools: digital conversion is useless if you can't easily find the documents you need, and therefore file naming it critical to search and retrieval of files after they are scanned.


Once documents are converted, the next step is developing an effective digital recordkeeping system. A useful example is the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which defines the basic requirements for any federal recordkeeping system. In addition, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) defines guidelines which stipulate that the system must be able to:

  • Collect, organize and categorize records
  • Facilitate the preservation, retrieval and disposition of records

Finally, records should have a defined life cycle that includes a final disposition date.

Effective digital document storage also requires the effective use of metadata. Metadata is identifying information about each record, for example date, classification and any pertinent keywords. This metadata serves two important functions: first, basic metadata allows for easy search and retrieval of records by those with appropriate permissions. Second, advanced metadata permits auditing of these same records, creating an easy-to-follow trail of access and use. This is especially critical in fields such as healthcare, defense contracting or finance.


The Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX) mandates that companies must keep a copy of all records that pertain to their business policies and performance. Given the vast amount of data necessary to meet this expectation, digital document storage is the logical solution. But merely converting records and creating metadata tags isn't enough to meet SOX expectations. In addition, business must adhere to specific retention polices.

These include creating “tamper proof” document storage that are password protected and read-only, in addition to being encrypted. What's more, an authorized third party must be able to search and audit documents upon request. If digitally stored records do not meet SOX specifications, companies may be fined for improper storage or prevented from conducting specific business operations until any deficiencies are rectified. It's also worth noting that companies are responsible for document compliance even if a vendor or partner created the record — ignorance is not a viable excuse.

Digital document storage provides a way to eliminate redundant records, reduce search times and address compliance requirements. To properly manage this transition, there are three basic principles: consistent conversion method, effective records management and compliance with digital document regulations.

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