An enterprise’s digital archive is primarily the digital memory of the enterprise, which is predominantly composed of electronic documents. Consequently, it is essential that organizations digitally preserve documents in an appropriate way in order to preserve the memory of their archive over time.
The time has come for management to become aware of the need to actually build a digital culture in their organizations so that they are able to know and govern the archives throughout its lifecycle.
A company’s computer archive of documents and data represents the exclusive and strategic wealth for the organization, and its value is not limited to the digital objects that constitute it (i.e. the company’s electronic documents), but concerns the processes, the relationships, and the modalities adopted to form, manage, and conserve them over time.
Legislation in Italy pushes for proper formation, management, and preservation
Italian law is pushing companies to adopt and make increasing use of electronic signature solutions, document systems with effective workflow management, and digital preservation capabilities that comply with the law. These systems can be managed internally by the company or used as “software as a service” (SaaS) cloud services through specialized, certified, and qualified service providers such as Doxee.
The provisions of the primary regulatory source in Italy on digitization, represented by the Digital Administration Code (CAD), referred to in Legislative Decree no. 82 of March 7, 2005 and subsequent amendments, and the related AgID Guidelines concerning electronic documents, electronic signatures and trust services, reproduction and preservation of documents, electronic communications, and digital identities also apply to private companies.
The CAD establishes that the books, writings, and documents that must be kept can be formed and preserved on IT supports in compliance with the provisions of this code and according to the AgID Guidelines.
This has also been reiterated by art. 2215-bis of the Civil Code, which confirms that books, records, and documentation whose keeping is mandatory by law or regulation, or which are required by the nature or size of the business, can be formed and kept by computer, constituting primary and original information from which it is possible to make, on different types of support, reproductions and copies for the uses permitted by law.
In addition, pursuant to art. 43, paragraph 3 of the CAD, computer documents, the preservation of which is prescribed by law or regulation, must be preserved by digital means, in compliance with the technical rules established pursuant to art. 71 of the CAD, thus according to the rules identified by the AgID Guidelines on creation management and preservation which entered into force on September 10, 2020 and with mandatory application from January 1, 2022.
The obligations of preservation and exhibition of the documents that make up a company’s digital archives are considered fulfilled for all legal purposes by means of computer documents if the procedures used conform to the AGID Guidelines, as prescribed by articles 20 paragraph 5-bis and 43 paragraph 1.
For companies, the challenge is to guarantee that computer documents that are produced or received today can continue to be read and used in the distant future, ensuring their legal value and their correct placement in company archives.
This goal can only be achieved by adopting document systems and preservation services that guarantee compliance with the technical rules of the AgID Guidelines and ensure the high security and confidentiality requirements.
But what is a digital archive?
The digital archive of a private organization, such as a company, is made up of the organic complex and relations of the documents produced or received by the organization in the course of its activity.
Historian Jacques Le Goff defined a document as “something that remains“, i.e. it is produced precisely to be preserved in time and made available to those who have an interest in knowing the act or fact represented in the document.
The requirements of integrity, immodifiability, authenticity, temporal collocation, availability, and preservation over time that it guarantees are the main objectives that a company must know how to plan in order to correctly manage its computer archives.
This is provided for by the Digital Administration Code itself, which indicates in art. 44, paragraph 1-ter, that “in all cases where the law prescribes preservation obligations, even for private parties, the system of preservation of electronic documents ensures, for what is preserved, characteristics of authenticity, integrity, reliability, readability, retrievability, according to the methods indicated in the AgID Guidelines.
A document system that is reliable over time requires the company to provide for:
- organization and control of responsibilities for producing, maintaining, and preserving company documents;
- adoption of procedures and tools that identify the stored computer documents in a certain way in time and space, ensuring the readability and easy retrieval of documents and identifying information, including metadata associated with the documents;
- selection and reliance on suppliers who are specialized in digital archive management and preservation and who guarantee the highest levels of security, quality, and reliability.
Preservation means organizing a digital archive with legal value, managed by an information system and supported by an organizational model, procedures, roles, tasks, and activities, described in the preservation manual.
Digitization is possible in all business sectors
For some time now, the reference legislation on digitization has not placed time limits on the correct digitization procedure in various company sectors, thus enabling the company’s digital archives to be fed with an ever-increasing quantity of documents and digital data of a transversal nature placed in storage. Below are some sectors and practical examples of types of business documents:
- documents with tax relevance: invoices and active and passive notes, active and passive transport documents, NSO orders, accounting books and registers, auxiliary writings, financial statements, declarations, CU certifications, F24, tax communications, company books, expense notes and receipts, stamped invoices for tax breaks, etc.
- civil law documentation: forms, payment notices, letters, invitations, communications, reminders, purchase orders, contracts, bank statements, correspondence, receipts, email and PEC messages, computer logs or records, technical documentation, certificates of conformity, quality process documentation, privacy consents, production documentation, etc.
- labor documentation: payrolls (in Italy, Libro Unico del Lavoro – LUL), contracts of employment and management of the working relationship, letters of assignment, communications, and social security and tax declarations, etc.
- banking documentation: accounts (deposit and withdrawal slips), contracts, guaranteed credit documents, trading and investment management documents, cash register, local computer orders, dematerialized checks, proper verification documents, etc.
- insurance documentation: insurance policies and other supporting documents, life and miscellaneous damage insurance records, etc.
- customs documentation: documentation relating to import, export, transit of goods, customs bills, e-DAS, etc.
- clinical documentation: laboratory analysis reports, reports and images of radiological diagnostics and nuclear medicine, outpatient reports, discharge letters, electronic medical records, FSE, electronic prescriptions, health records, etc.
- documentation from other areas.
Benefits throughout the lifecycle of an IT archive
The management of a digital archive offers truly relevant benefits in the medium-long term if it is based on the principles of automation and simplification of the organization’s document flows throughout their life cycle, according to a path that is aimed at reaching levels of greater efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, and compliance.
In terms of digital processes, the ability to optimize the phases of document reception, production and signing, data and document sharing, archiving, storage, and destruction of documents at the end of their lifecycle requires significant optimization in a company’s internal and external relations processes.
Having an integrated approach to the adoption of software and services that communicate with the document archiving system and the digital preservation service and giving value to the data exchanged and processed allows the company to realize many benefits: to reduce the time and therefore the costs of operational management of document flows so that they are simpler; to achieve a drastic reduction in human errors; to eliminate the dispersion of documents; to improve the processes of approval, monitoring, and control; to increase security and transparency; and to contribute to a model of environmental sustainability.
Therefore, the digitization of various business processes makes it possible to produce and/or hold many different kinds of electronic documents that feed the company’s digital archive.
Formats and document metadata in a digital archive
Therefore, in order to preserve the digital memory of a company it’s necessary to pay attention not only to digital objects (e.g. computer documents), understood as sequences of bits and their legal validity requirements, but also to adopt suitable electronic formats that are compliant with Annex 2 of the AgID Guidelines. It’s also necessary to guarantee the valorization of the set of metadata necessary for indexing the documents to be enhanced. This is done in order to highlight the documental characteristics and the archival constraint represented by the set of logical and formal relations that exist among the documents of an archive, which must be in line with Annex 5 of the AgID Guidelines.
Metadata is nothing more than a set of data (information) associated with a digital object, such as a computer document to identify and describe its context, content, and structure, as well as to allow its management over time in the preservation system.
For archival preservation, metadata has various functions. These range from the permanent identification of objects and their relationships, to the storage of the technical and procedural mechanisms of formation, maintenance, and preservation, to access privileges, to selection logics, to the description of the context of production and subsequent custody and preservation.
The documentation to be retained, therefore, should be described in terms of the:
- nature of the documentation (e.g., type, class);
- format used;
- list and description of metadata;
- period of retention;
- any information deemed useful for preservation.
In the era of the digital society, the volume of IT documents held by Italian companies is growing exponentially. This requires a state-of-the-art preservation system that makes information assets available over time through appropriate metadata, which also means eliminating the risk of encountering critical issues in the retrieval, access, and exhibition of documents over time, despite the fact that they have been dematerialized and digitally archived.
The importance of relying on an Agid certified and qualified provider
The management of the archives’ preservation can be outsourced by the company to specialized subjects, the so-called Preservation Providers, through contracts that entrust the activities of preservation of computer documents and the appointment of a Data Processing Manager.
Specifically, the rules and procedures that are applied, the professionalism of the people in charge, and the quality, particularly in terms of robustness, security, and reliability of the technologies applied, are of great importance. Therefore, the choice of entrusting the digital storage of a company’s archives to a certified and qualified supplier is essential.
AgID qualified Preservation Providers have the highest quality, security, and organizational requirements, identified in accordance with European regulations by the Guidelines for the formation, management, and storage of electronic documents. Private companies are not obliged to outsource to Qualified Preservation Providers, but it is strongly recommended to rely on suppliers who are qualified by the Agency for Digital Italy, such as Doxee, in order to reduce the responsibility of culpa in eligendo and culpa in vigilando in the hands of the company preservation manager itself.
In this regard, with Determination No. 455 of June 25, 2021, AgID issued the new Regulation that defines the criteria for the provision of the service of preservation of computerized documents, setting out the general requirements as well as the quality, security, and organizational requirements for the provision of the preservation service in specific annexes, with the establishment of a specific Marketplace for qualified preservation services.