- December 13, 2019
United States government agencies have their own unique needs when it comes to archiving documents, tied in with federal regulations. If you’re in charge of managing the archives at such an organization, you’ll have to find the right way to deal with information, encompassing both physical records and born-digital files, from scanned paper to JPEG images and email messages.
Considering the ongoing push to modernize content storage and archiving procedures, it is a critical moment to rethink the way your office deals with its records. If your processes have not caught up to the digital age, or if the solutions you’re using to scan, convert and store files are not up to compliance standards and best practices, you can and should make changes.
Reasons to Archive Government Documents with Foxit
The solutions available from Foxit represent your best bet for archiving government documents. The following reasons will demonstrate how and why these software tools will assist you, getting your office in compliance and delivering efficiency benefits that can have an immediate and positive impact on your budget.
1. You Need to Get into NARA FERMI Compliance
Converting federal records into a digital format is no longer an option agencies may pursue at their own pace. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has stepped in with an overarching policy aimed at all federal departments. As part of NARA’s efforts to enable fully paperless government, it has required all organizations it oversees to store permanent electronic information digitally by the end of 2019 and store all records in this format by December 31, 2022.
These moves toward digitization, collectively part of the Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI), are important for all government organizations to monitor closely – With NARA already performing inspections to check on progress, the clock is ticking. After the 2022 deadline passes, NARA will reject any analog record sent to its record storage centers, to whatever extent is possible. Whether data was “born” in a digital format or on paper, it needs to be logged electronically, with the correct metadata.
Agencies have had access to NARA’s strategy documents for years now. While some may have resisted due to inertia in their processes or a seeming lack of urgency – the deadline was nearly six years away at the initial announcement – and the time to comply is now. Organizations that don’t have plans for ways to convert and store all their information may be trapped in noncompliance while they scramble to procure archiving solutions. It’s best to get an effective system in place immediately.
2. PDF/A Conversion Makes Documents Easier to Store and Search
Once you commit to converting your organization’s records, it’s time to choose one consistent format. The obvious choice is PDF/A. Using Foxit’s solutions to convert your information into this format, a version of the PDF standard designed to preserve data accurately and accessibly, can have multiple advantages for an office. In addition to PDF/A’s status as a NARA-approved format, named directly by the agency as an example for storing textual records effectively, it is also easy to work with.
PDF/A combines the usability of PDF with additional archive-friendly traits. The PDF Association notes that the PDF/A format has been designed by the International Standards Organization (ISO) to maintain the appearance of documents over time, and to store the history of the document as metadata. There is no ambiguity about how these files have changed over time, making them valuable for any archive.
Beyond those specific features, PDF/A delivers the advantages of PDF – notably, files support compression which enables small sizes and therefore reduced resources needed for storage. Agencies can save up to 50% on storage costs, requiring smaller outlays for servers, server rooms and energy. Furthermore, unlike flat image files, PDFs can be internally searched for text after OCR is applied. This makes it much easier and faster for agencies to bring up relevant data from their archives. Internal searching is possible whether the PDF was born digitally or created from a scanned document, with the searchable text detected by an optical character recognition (OCR) system.
3. You Need an Easy Way to Convert Scanned Physical Records
While NARA’s deadline for proper storage of born-digital documents is on the verge of taking effect, the second deadline associated with FERMI – a requirement that all documents be digitized by December 2022 – may be more concerning for your agency. Indeed, apprehensiveness about how to convert a large archive of physical papers may be the issue keeping many organizations from getting into compliance. Adopting Foxit’s conversion solutions now can be your agency’s path through this uncertainty.
When you have a Foxit Rendition Server that can scale up to handle large conversion jobs, either as a one-off action for an existing archive or on an ongoing basis, the proverbial mountain of paper records is no longer so intimidating. The conversion process, handled through an easy-to-use web service platform, can quickly and automatically turn scanned files into the types of documents your agency needs to meet NARA requirements. In the case of long-term, FERMI-compliant archiving, this means text-searchable PDF/A files, with OCR ensuring the printed text is machine readable.
4. Your Archive Strategy Must Include Digital Documents of Many Origins
In addition to your scanned files, your agency’s archive strategy should encompass other types of files, turning all these pieces of born-digital information into the same consistent PDF/A format. HTML web pages and email messages are common forms of digital content within government offices that have active elements which can alter their appearance over time. Foxit’s solutions can render these into stable, secure PDF/A files that will preserve the content in its original form – and in a quick and efficient manner. Emails and attached files can be archived together to create a clear picture of the messages’ provenance.
Other file types that may need conversion into PDF/A include Microsoft Office documents, from Word, Excel, PowerPoint or others, as well as compressed ZIP files and images. Images may be generated on computers or mobile devices, or may represent previously scanned files. When dealing with flat image files that represent text, OCR can make the content searchable. Organizations that use faxes will also have to archive these communications.
One of the key features of Foxit Rendition Server is that it can detect when OCR is needed – namely, when a file does not have an existing text layer. When a born-digital document already includes searchable text, the server simply bypasses the OCR phase, ensuring the new PDF/A is 100% accurate while avoiding unnecessary processing time in your conversion flow.
5. Integration, Automation and Ease of Use Are Paramount for Archiving Solutions
Committing to converting documents into approved archive formats shouldn’t represent a massive investment of time and energy from your staff. If you create a suboptimal document management workflow, however, this productivity-sapping outcome may come to pass. Foxit’s solutions are effective in part because they enable your personnel to convert large amounts of files without spending excessive time on hands-on oversight.
Connecting with your other digital systems through APIs, the web services-based Foxit tools enable your team to automatically process large amounts of documents easily, with minimal action on employees’ parts. Furthermore, with automatic failover and load-balancing capabilities in Rendition Server, your document conversion processes are not disrupted in the case of a single server failure within your IT environment.
When there are large amounts of conversion to be done, as in the case of digitizing a large archive of files and applying advanced compression or OCR, the Rendition Server can scale up or down the number of servers used in processing automatically. This ensures your conversion process can work efficiently without overtaxing your IT architecture, regardless of peaks and valleys in your organization’s processing demand. In addition, with multi-threading or simultaneous multi-core processing , your department can efficiently create large amounts of PDF/A files on an exponentially shorter time frame. In terms of committing resources, time and effort paramount among them, there is a major difference between a scalable, heavily automated and well-integrated solution and a more manually demanding alternative.
6. Budget Savings and Greater Efficiency Come from High-Quality Archiving
When your agency is able to store its documents in the PDF/A format, it can enable massive savings on cloud and server storage costs. When the files are compressed beyond typical G4 or TIFF compression method standards, they can become significantly smaller than the original flat images. Departments can therefore store more compressed PDFs on fewer servers than if they had used an alternative format, saving on hardware, energy consumption and server room real estate. For organizations with cloud storage environments, compression can help cut hidden data egress fees and overall cloud storage TCO by half of what is being spent today.
The ability to search through the text in PDF/A files also enables massive potential time savings. When executing a search through the department’s archives, such as during a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, personnel may have to read through hundreds or even thousands of pages of documents if those pages are saved as flat image files. Using OCR to create searchable text layers can give your employees hours back in their days by replacing manual search with simple, instant keyword search, enabling them to perform more valuable work.
While focusing on compliance deadlines may be the motivating factor that finally encourages federal agencies to convert their documents, it’s worth considering that these organizations will likely gain effectiveness and efficiency from making the digital push. This improvement can cast the investment in conversion in a new light. Rather than simply being something of a necessity, the switch to digital archiving is poised to deliver tangible return on investment.
7. You Should Begin Improving Your Archiving As Soon As Possible
With NARA already inspecting agencies’ readiness for digital archiving, and some organizations notably behind on their ability to deal with these requirements, the right time to think about compliance is right now. No matter the size of your agency’s existing records stores, in either born-digital or analog formats, you need a plan to archive those files in appropriately standardized, cost-effective, and interoperable electronic formats.
Through API-based integration with your existing systems, Foxit’s Rendition Server can become a seamless part of your information infrastructure. The on-premise web service model enables the security you need alongside organization-wide access and simplicity of use. This is a user-friendly solution, which can help your team members get used to integrating it into their workflows.
Operating on an agile product development cycle, the Foxit team is always rolling out new features and updates (every 3 weeks!) to ensure our cutting-edge compression and conversion capabilities are effectively helping client organizations reach their targets. When your agency becomes part of this group, it gains all the effectiveness benefits that come with a consistent and curated PDF/A archive, along with the overall goal of compliance with NARA’s evolving regulations.
Excel at Archiving
The main question your agency should be asking internally is how satisfied your personnel are with the current state of archiving. In NARA’s 2018 report on the state of data storage, 98% of federal respondents said they intend to be able to manage their permanent electronic records in a compliant manner by the end of 2019. Some elements of NARA compliance are questionable, however, with numerous agencies returning low scores on self-administered readiness questionnaires.
NARA noted challenges stopping organizations from successfully managing their records, including the fact that technology is evolving quickly, alongside ballooning information volumes and high expectations. While these are explanations for struggles, they are not excuses. Your agency will be required to make its data available for FOIA requests and other searches in approved formats and effectively managed systems. Considering that the compliance-based upgrades come with potential operational benefits, there’s no reason to hesitate on upgrades to your archiving solutions.
Becoming one of the leading federal agencies from an archiving perspective is a reachable goal, provided you make the right investments – reach out to Foxit to learn how to accomplish this transformation.