Digital archive for paper business documents: Paperless office and the tax authorities
Not only large organizations, but also SMEs are thinking about having a digital archive for their business documents. Although there are promising solutions on the web, the paperless office can only be realized, in case a defined and supervised workflow has been set in place.
In general, paper business documents can be archived in a digital archive. Nevertheless, two problem domains need to be considered when thinking about a digital archive: “place of storage”, “process of scanning, archiving and reproduction”.
Place of storage
Business documents can—from an Austrian tax point of view—be stored abroad; nevertheless, in case of an audit, they need to be available in Austria.
Process of scanning, archiving and reproduction
From an Austrian tax point of view, a digital archive for business documents has to follow certain rules. According to article 132 paragraph 2 Austrian fiscal code, the business documents need to be stored complete (vollständig), ordered (strukturiert), content-identical (inhaltsgleich) and document-identical (urschriftgetreu). Furthermore, it needs to be guaranteed that the archived documents on the electronic medium cannot be changed for the period of archiving. In case the business document is originally digital, the requirement for document-identical storage is not applicable.
The whole scan process needs to be documented and it needs to be guaranteed that the above-mentioned requirements are fulfilled. Therefore, a part of the whole process is process documentation with at least the following content:
- Technical documentation: It needs to be described how it is guaranteed by hardware and software that the documents cannot be changed for the archiving period.
- Organizational documentation: The following needs to be documented:
- Who is allowed to scan
- Which document has been scanned at what time
- What the requirements for each business document type are
- How the quality of document-identical archiving is guaranteed
- How the requirement of “complete archiving” is fulfilled
- How errors are documented.
To sum it up, paper business documents can be digitally archived for the required amount of time (at least 7 years; depending on the kind of business document) but organizational and technical requirements need to be fulfilled.
In practice, a digital archive for business documents has a high potential for organizations, but it should be implemented in close cooperation not only with a technical consulting company, but also with one’s tax consultant. As we see it in reality, it might be more challenging to change the digital archive afterwards to fulfill the requirements.