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Compliant Data

08 June 2011

Ensuring compliance for new and existing data, and tackling the ever-increasing volume of information is a growing issue for FMs. Martyn Christian explains steps to take to be compliant when implementing automated document capture.

Martyn Christian

THE VOLUME OF DIGITAL INFORMATION is overwhelming, with unstructured content volume growing by 200 percent annually. Most businesses don’t know where to begin.
Managing information used to be relatively easy; it was all on paper, for a start, and records managers were deployed to look after it. That meant classifying, storing, securing and eventually destroying documents. Paper isn’t going to go away in a hurry, so FMs need to find a way to think smarter and manage the flow of information more proactively.
The way you handle your information could represent a ticking time bomb for your business. Every document you file carries legal, financial and practical implications. It is no longer feasible to ignore the issue of document management. With FMs storing a vast amount of sensitive, confidential and complex information, the impact of damage or loss can have far reaching implications for the business from poorly prepared and handled cases to substantial fines for non-compliance and the loss of client trust.
BS 10008 is the current British Standard document relating to ‘Legal Admissibility and Evidential Weight of Information Stored Electronically’. It sets a benchmark for procedures that businesses should follow in order to achieve best practice, and therefore, legal admissibility of their electronic documents.  Working with a specialist information capture company, facilities managers can identify the best and most compliant system for their needs.
Common sense
Compliance with the British Standard wherever possible shows a court or official body that an organisation follows best practice in its document management. The procedures outlined below in the British Standard really do hinge around common sense. They also provide a clear framework for companies to use to improve operational systems or to start mapping an approach to managing physical and digital information.
The standard recommends that companies base their electronic filing systems and procedures around a set of core principles. These principles are ‘device independent’ meaning that they remain constant regardless of what technology system is employed:
● Recognise and understand all types of information and implement a matching information management policy]
● Understand the legal issues and execute ‘duty of care’ responsibilities
● Identify and specify business processes and procedures
● Identify enabling technologies to support business process and procedures.
The key points here are policy and audit. Through the creation of a comprehensive policy document, the company identifies the ideal system for their needs, the operational process that staff need to follow and the benchmarks of filing quality required. The audit side answers the legal demands and ensures that procedures are running smoothly throughout the business.
Your company policy should cover a wide range of points, from exactly how files are stored to indexing accuracy, digital signatures, information destruction, backup security, staff access hierarchy and the process to be followed for audit. The audit process is essential to ensuring that businesses follow the procedures needed to make all information legally admissible. Whilst employees are clear on audit trails for financial accounting procedures, the same basic principles should be applied to document management.
The principles of the code are not impossible to implement. Thorough planning from the beginning should ensure that your company follows best practice. An automated information capture platform provides FMs with the ability to capture content from many common sources (paper, fax, email and SMS). Once a piece of communication is captured, it is analysed and then separated into logical groups of data.
The business critical data contained within the captured document is then extracted and placed into the relevant category. All of this can be done automatically without the need for paper intervention.
This presents a great opportunity for FMs to significantly reduce costs, increase operational efficiency, and obtain the necessary information transparency for compliance by treating document capture as a strategic initiative. Documents – paper, fax, email and electronic forms – are the primary medium of exchange for businesses. They are the ‘engine’ that virtually drives all back office business processes such as case files, adjustments, approvals, exception management and payments.
At present the law makes no distinction between electronic and paper records. As a result, Customs and Excise simply refer to ‘records’ in their guidelines whether a business keeps their records on paper or electronically makes little difference. Customs and Excise do however, insist that you inform them of the format you use for your records and then meet all the legal obligations to account for VAT and keep records in the required detail for the required length of time.
In practical terms, a business should therefore advise their local VAT office that they wish to store scanned document copies of all their records in ‘format X’ and that those documents will be held within ‘document management system Y’. By following the British Standard in addition to the requirements of Customs and Excise, a company can take the best precautions to ensure their records are acceptable for VAT inspection.
Many FMs are assessing the benefits of the electronic filing for their operations. Rather than being a un-tried business process, it is now common that bodies such as Customs and Excise are addressing the standards they require.
When deciding to implement a digital capture solution it is important that FMs do not apply a ‘one size fits all’ approach. A solution that is very effective for a large organisation that has greater volumes of documents entering the business may be too costly for a small organisation. Conversely, a small organisation can make changes to processes since fewer people are affected.
Similarly, company’s operating in a single market are not subject to many of the regulatory issues that are relevant to multinational companies. Solutions that work well for some types of documents do not work well for others, so it is important that FMs drive the paper to digital change at a pace proportionate to their specific requirements.
Having this information readily available will benefit FMs in the long run. They will be able to clearly define the constantly rising volume of documents entering the organisation, and alleviate the labour intensive task of reviewing each piece of paper and determining the appropriate place to file it.
The British Standard is the most comprehensive information available to FMs about the best practice to follow to ensure legal admissibility of information. As discussed above, Customs and Excise use the Code as the pinnacle of their requirement. In complying with the Code, FMs can be confident they are satisfying official record-keeping needs.
Taking away the paper aspect of processes altogether is not a viable option. However implementing an automated document capture is a reality, and one which the FMs sector must embrace.
● Martyn Christian is Chief Marketing Officer at Kofax, specialists in helping any industry automate its document driven business processes. www.kofax.com

What is BS10008?

BS 10008, Evidential weight and legal admissibility of electronic information sets out the requirements for the implementation and operation of electronic information management systems, including the storage and transfer of information, and addresses issues relating to authenticity and integrity of information.
Legal admissibility concerns whether or not a piece of evidence would be accepted by a court of law. To ensure admissibility, information must be managed by a secure system throughout its lifetime (which can be for many years). Where doubt can be placed on the information, the evidential weight may be reduced, potentially harming the legal case.
www.bsigroup.com/BS10008


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