How to Implement Effective Electronic Archiving

Companies face a range of issues regarding information production and retention due to the growing volume of electronic information, greater regulatory constraints and storage issues. Companies are confronted with technical, financial and educational challenges when trying to implement an electronic archiving solution. Here, Knowledge Center contributors Jean-Luc Chatelain and Daniel B. Garrie explain the challenges involved, and how companies can overcome these challenges to ensure an effective implementation of an enterprise electronic archiving infrastructure.


A perfect storm is brewing in the ocean of corporate enterprise. Increasing volumes of information and greater regulatory constraints have stirred the waters. Ineffective management of electronic information has fed the surge, and ease of storage has unleashed a torrent of problems. IT departments have attempted to implement electronic archiving as a solution. However, when deploying such solutions, enterprises have confronted almost overwhelming challenges-technically, financially and educationally.

Before embarking on an electronic archiving project and addressing which solutions to deploy, an enterprise must ensure that all employees understand the fundamental differences between paper documents and electronic documents ("e-documents"). E-documents differ from paper documents in scale, mutability and readability. Let's explore these in detail:


An employee in a traditional business may send and receive one to ten letters or memoranda a day. The same worker in an IT-enabled business may send or receive fifty or more electronic letters or e-mails in a day. It is quite common for a global enterprise to produce upwards of one million e-mails a day. This creates challenges for storage and retrieval of information, making scale the leading factor in electronic archiving cost and complexity.


Albeit subject to forgery, intentional physical obfuscation or destruction, written or printed information is for all intents and purposes more or less immutable. The same is not true of information content stored within an e-document. E-documents can be easily modified without leaving an immediately visible trace, which may change the document's meaning completely. In addition, e-documents can be destroyed without leaving any visible record of the document's existence behind. Mutability is the second most significant challenge in implementing electronic archiving solutions because demonstrating the authenticity of a document, and ensuring that it has not been altered after retrieval, are of prime importance in any litigation or regulatory setting.


Due to changing technology and evolving computer systems and applications, e-documents may vary in format and physical media across heterogeneous computing platforms, as well as within variations on a given platform.

For example, few can retrieve information stored only a few years ago on floppy disks. An enterprise is hardpressed to guarantee that certain forms of e-documents will be able to be decoded, and that their content and format will remain understandable or readable in the future. This disparate and intangible nature of e-documents, combined with the unproven durability of associated support mediums, forms a third significant challenge surrounding electronic archiving.