6 Best Practices for Archiving and Storing Files

by DP Taylor | Published on May 18, 2022

Many or all of the products here are from our partners that pay us a commission. It’s how we make money. But our editorial integrity ensures our experts’ opinions aren’t influenced by compensation. Terms may apply to offers listed on this page.
A smiling bartender shaking a cocktail shaker while standing behind a bar.

Image source: Getty Images

Archiving and storing files is an underappreciated part of running a business. This guide will help you understand what is involved and how to set up an archive for your business.

We store a lot of data on this planet. One firm predicts that the "global datasphere" will reach 175 zettabytes by 2025.

Doesn't sound like much? Consider this: A zettabyte is equivalent to 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. Still doesn't compute? If each gigabyte in a zettabyte were a meter, it would span the distance of the Amazon River -- the longest river in the world -- more than 150,000 times, according to Cisco.

File archiving has become a must for modern companies. It’s a fundamental part of document control, enabling a company to monitor and manage the creation, distribution, and accessibility of important documentation.

So how do you implement file archiving in your organization? This guide will break down the essential elements and how to ensure you have the proper procedures in place.

Overview: What is an archive file?

An archive file is a collection of data for the purposes of storing it for later access. Archived files are computer files that typically contain multiple other computer files, including metadata. Essentially, it is many computer files compressed into one, making it easier to store information with less space required.

Archiving files is key to good records management for any organization since it prevents essential data that may need to be recalled later from being lost over time.

How to manage archived files

The process of document archiving is straightforward, but a manager must be careful that the process is done right to avoid corrupting or losing critical data and information.

1. Get a document management system

Computer archiving begins with a document management system, so if you don’t have one, you must get one. Electronic filing system software is available from many different vendors. Some of the top solutions reviewed by The Ascent include DocSend, M-Files, and Box.

With a good software solution in place, you won't have to do most of the archiving tasks manually, and this will end up being a time-saver for your organization. These systems also secure your files so they don't fall into the wrong hands, either internally or from external threats from hackers.

2. Create an archiving process

To create an archive filing system, you must create a process for your organization. Draft a manual stating which documents should be archived and the process for achieving it based on the type of software you use. You may have separate filing systems for contracts, product data, customer information, and other types of data. Get feedback from your team before implementing this new process to be sure you cover all your bases.

3. Standardize the process

You must standardize the process within your document management system across the content lifecycle in order to guarantee that everyone can access the archived files. For example, if the archive file extension differs by department, you’ll run into unnecessary obstacles. Make sure there aren’t substantive differences in the archiving process across departments.

4. Make sure the system is accessible to all

The ability to archive information should not be limited to a few stakeholders. Everyone who creates and disseminates information should have the ability to archive files and data to be sure nothing is lost.

The configuration of your archiving system should be user-friendly and intuitive to your team. It should be organized so anyone can archive a file properly and retrieve a file easily. Your software should take care of much of this, but you may need to take some special steps depending on your organization’s needs.

5. Audit activity

Any document management software platform you choose should automatically track activity, whether it’s determining which users uploaded what files and when, or which users accessed archived files and made changes. Track this activity to see that your team is using the system properly and files are accessed and uploaded by the appropriate individuals.

6. Review and adjust

On a regular basis -- perhaps quarterly -- review the archiving process in your electronic filing system and determine how it’s serving your organization. Is it taking up a lot of time to archive files? Can people easily access these files? Are unauthorized users being allowed to access files that should be limited to certain individuals?

Determine if any changes need to be made to your process and then make them. Continue to review the process periodically.

Tips for using archive files

When you create an archive, you’re creating a massive repository of information that can be difficult to manage. These business document management tips will help you avoid pitfalls.

Designate ownership

If no one is responsible, no one can be held accountable if a file isn’t archived properly, or if a document is accessed by an unauthorized user. You must designate ownership of certain files and data and delegate responsibilities to that individual laying out exactly what they must do with the file.

If people understand the expectations and you provide clear directions, you’ll find that your team will have an easier time complying with the new process.

Control access

Generally, it’s not a good idea to give everyone in your organization access to all archived files. For example, you may not want low-level employees having access to sensitive company financial data. Place necessary restrictions on who has access to archived data to be sure it’s protected.

Keep the data in a secure location, and upgrade security measures consistently. Your software platform should allow you to set permissions for certain files.

Create timeframes

Should you hold onto a file forever, or should it have an expiration date? Decide how long files are stored based on what information is in them, and write that into your processes. Give someone the responsibility to monitor those dates and eliminate the file when necessary if your software doesn’t do this automatically.

For example, you may keep raw data indefinitely, but analysis of that data for only a few years before it becomes obsolete and no longer useful.

If you don’t have an archiving system, there’s no time to waste

If you're like many small businesses, archiving files is probably the last thing on your mind. After all, you've got clients to please and revenue targets to hit. Who cares if some random file you haven't looked at in months goes missing or accidentally gets deleted?

The truth is that you never know how important information is until it's gone. Take San Francisco-based computer programmer Stefan Thomas, who was in the news for having nearly $240 million in bitcoin locked away in a digital wallet. He got the bitcoins years ago as a reward for a cryptocurrency project when they weren't worth that much, and he apparently misplaced the password. Now, after eight wrong guesses, he has two guesses left before the hard drive encrypts itself and destroys his fortune forever. Ouch!

Your company is constantly producing data, even when you don't realize it. Someday you may need to refer back to it, perhaps for tax purposes, or maybe there's some data from a past email marketing campaign that could give you a competitive advantage.

Either way, your data is much more valuable than you realize, so you must store it and protect it. Every day you delay, you put your company at risk, so implement an archiving system sooner rather than later.

About the Author