19.04.2022 | Reading time: 6 minutes

Digital filing – how to keep your document management securely under control

Instead of stacking file folders on shelves, more and more companies today are moving towards using systems for digital archiving. Today, people spend around two thirds of their working time processing documents. Creating, checking, sending, filing - all this costs them a lot of time and often also nerves. In the following article, you will learn about the advantages of electronic archiving and what to look for when choosing digital archiving software.

You know how it is – you empty your mailbox, scan documents, file them in the corresponding folders on your drive and also keep a physical filing system. But every now and then you also receive documents, invoices or correspondence by e-mail. Do you print them out? Or what happens to all the paperwork? How long do you have to keep it all? Which regulations do you have to follow exactly? Somehow, two parallel worlds of filing suddenly exist. The progressive digitalisation of our working world is a strong driver in the change from analogue to digital archives. After all, the location-independent availability of digital documents and information serves as a lubricant both in internal work processes and in relationships with all business partners – now more than ever in times of home office and new work. Automatic archiving processes and the quick availability of information save us a lot of time and money.

With our article, we want to support you and give you tips on how you can file your documents and records in a legally secure and compliant manner. We know this topic well from our own experience and have been able to achieve a good workflow in addition to legal certainty. After all, the goal is always not only to be on the safe side legally, but also to establish efficient working methods in the company and to become more and more agile. Your digital archive forms the basis for the automation of business processes – the automatic invoice verification is the best example of this.

Legal requirements for digital filing at a glance

If a company decides to introduce a digital archiving solution, the legal requirements must be met in addition to organisational and technical challenges. On the one hand, an archiving solution must be able to fulfil the legal requirements on the software side, and on the other hand, the archiving solution must be used correctly on site according to the legal requirements. Commercial law and tax law form the basis here. According to § 257 of the German Commercial Code (HGB), merchants are obliged to keep business-relevant documents in accordance with the principles of proper accounting (GoB). Here you will also find some very basic requirements for the digital storage of documents. In addition, the German Fiscal Code (Abgabenordnung) in § 147 AO, which primarily describes the deadlines for all tax-relevant books and records, also explicitly allows the possibility of digital storage. By far the most important source for legally compliant digital archiving are the GoBD (Principles for the Proper Keeping and Retention of Books, Records and Documents in Electronic Form and for Data Access). These were published in a letter dated 28 November 2019 and apply from 1 January 2020. The principles and the requirements for your practice are:

  • Principle of immutability – i.e. a record may not be changed in such a way that the original content can no longer be determined. You can ensure this with systems that do not allow this or only allow it partially, but also by defining access authorisations. It is important that changes are always traceable and that the original can be viewed.
  • Principle of traceability and verifiability- an auditor must have software access. Optimally, you can create an archive export in read-only mode.
  • Principles of accuracy, completeness and order- your documents must all be individually retrievable and sensibly filed and named in terms of content.
  • Internal control system – keyword: procedural documentation, i.e. organisational measures for compliance with the principles.
  • Data protection principle – your legally compliant archive must contain a secure user management with access regulations, as well as a data backup concept, which you should also carry out regularly.

All these requirements are supplemented by the General Data Protection Regulation (DSGVO) and the Act on the Protection of Business Secrets (GeschGehG). Since 2018, the EU has regulated the handling of electronically processed personal data and documents, and also the protection of confidential business information from unlawful acquisition or use.

Paper is patient – the path to digitising your documents

Due to the high degree of digitalisation, a large part of correspondence is now already done digitally. This trend started with e-mail. In the meantime, invoices and other documents are also sent in digital form. Nevertheless, classic correspondence still exists in paper form. In many companies, there are therefore two separate systems, as merging them seems problematic at first glance. This mixed form of digital filing and paper archive creates its own problems. A comprehensive search, for example, is not possible because both systems always have to be searched separately. The remedy is the complete digitalisation of all processes in the company. However, this requires certain preconditions – first of all, a strategy is necessary to ensure that all relevant information is captured in the digital system. You need to identify all channels through which documents and correspondence are received in the company. Furthermore, this concerns not only correspondence in paper form, but also digital documents. The goal is to capture all this data in a central system. The second step on the way to a paperless office is the selection of suitable software for digital document management (DMS). Such a programme must meet certain requirements to be suitable for this task (principles of the GoBD). The software solution you choose must cover all channels through which documents and receipts arrive. For easy integration of digital document management, it is important that the software is compatible with normal scanners. This prevents the need for further investment in hardware.

Another important feature is scan-to-email. With this feature, a forwarding of the digital document is directly initiated via the DMS. This allows the digital document just created to be sent to relevant persons or directly to the digital document repository. In this way, time-consuming steps in the creation of the digital filing system are eliminated, because the DMS takes care of this automatically. In the meantime, these systems also have artificial intelligence that takes over parts of necessary post-processing independently. This includes, for example, automatically rotating documents that are upside down.

Archiving in your customs clearance – what works and what doesn’t?

In the area of export/transfer there are the following documents:

  • Export declaration (ABD, AGV)
  • Message exchange with customs administration (ATLAS logbook) (system-related)
  • Licences (AzG, Nullbescheid, EAG, SAG)
  • Invoices or documents proving the value of the goods
  • other documents, e.g. according to EA authorisations,
  • Export control-relevant inspections (recipient or product-related)
  • Calculations for issuing preferential certificates

Not all of the documents listed must be archived in accordance with legal requirements, but they must be archived to enable the case to be examined by the authorities for traceability purposes.

Customs documents that must be archived include all required documents that must accompany a customs declaration (Art. 163 UCC). The required documents differ depending on the structure of the business case.

The export declaration and related documents such as the export accompanying document and the exit note (ABD and AGV) are created by System Export. However, these must also be filed as PDFs with the transaction, although they are also archived again in the system.

Authorisations by the authorities (e.g. BAFA) as documents with a stamp must be archived in paper form.

Your advantages of digital document management

You might be thinking: that’s a lot of time and money to switch everything to digital. In fact, it is a very simple task that will make your work easier. This is where you will be able to save time and money. For example, you will be able to search in your digital filing system much more centrally and directly – no matter where you are sitting. In other words, all processes are location-independent. Simply determine in advance who can see or edit what. This also increases data security. You can also control compliance or legal requirements more easily by setting automatic time periods for saving or deleting.

When choosing a digital filing system, simply make sure that the software is GoBD-compliant and that you introduce organisational and technical measures to ensure that all legal requirements are actually met. If you have any questions or need advice on this, we will be happy to help you. With the right software and the right partner, switching to a fully digital filing system is an easy task.

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