Establishing a solid records management program is a challenge for any organization. Just like the planning of a new college campus or the revitalization of an existing city center, it has to be planned carefully from start to finish. All organizations benefit from consistent, thorough, and well-maintained records, but records management is rarely given priority status. Most organizations focus on “the next thing” that will take their business forward, without spending enough time on creating, completing, updating, maintaining, protecting, and even purging or destroying their records at the appropriate times.
Humans are notorious for being motivated when there is a sense of urgency to act. Many of us can identify with the need to diet or eat properly, but we first take action when we realize in a panic that our clothes no longer fit. We study like we should when there is a fear we might not get into the college of our choice, or might have to repeat a class. Unfortunately, few people do what they should do without an external motivation. Regulatory compliance, and the fear of litigation that accompanies it, have provided the necessity for records management to move up the organizational priority list for many businesses. Factors for establishing a successful policy are outlined below, along with software considerations to make implementation easier.
Communicating the Need for A Records Management Policy
The key to a successful records management program is a well thought-out records management policy that is accompanied by consistent records management processes. A clear policy establishes rules that inform staff what to create, manage, purge, and destroy, and helps record managers, as well as the agencies with whose rules they must comply, to know when infringements have occurred.
It is imperative to keep in mind, however, that automation is not a substitute for a policy. If you are still working from paper records, automation will not solve your problems, nor will it improve upon the inherent weaknesses in the policy. The need for compliance is true whether records are stored electronically or are still on paper. A sound policy sets clear expectations for records management, and helps staff to follow procedural expectations consistently.
As stated by Steve Weissman, Senior Analyst and Director of Marketing from Art Plus Technology, “Simply automating your records management program often results in automating the existing chaos. By failing to set up a plan for the creation, management, and purging of data, companies are at risk of simply getting into trouble more quickly. Although managers may aim to prove compliance, their lack of a policy may actually demonstrate expediently that they have not complied. This spells unwanted trouble for those organizations that could have been avoided if they had established a solid policy from the start.” records management
Even the act of creating a policy can help with legislation, in particular Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, because it demonstrates that an organization has made sincere efforts to ensure compliance and implement internal controls. If your organization has not felt the urgency to create and communicate a clear records management policy, the records manager should elevate the importance of compliance and the undesirable consequences of compliance failure. This can serve as a motivating tool to implement a plan from which your company will benefit on multiple levels. The policy will give management the tools they need to effectively oversee one of the most critical assets a company owns: its collective corporate records.
Review: Defining a Record and its Lifecycle
The ISO (International Organization of Standardization) defines records as “information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business”. The form of a record can vary from a paper document to an email, voicemail, fax, image, or notes about the documents. Each record should have important information, or metadata, about the record that accompanies it. Who created the record? Where will it be stored? Who is allowed to access it? How long must it be stored? When should the record be purged from the files? When should it be disposed of or destroyed?
During the first and shortest part of the record cycle, an organization is typically concerned with managing an active document and its contents, including who has accessed, viewed, annotated, or otherwise taken action on the material. The remainder of the lifecycle is focused on record storage (records that are temporarily or permanently inactive), controlled access, maintenance, purging, and disposal.
Record Storage: Establishing A Clear Path for Easy Retrieval
The first step in records management is the effective classification of records and a storage system that enables quick, easy, and secure retrieval of information when it is needed. Regardless of whether you employ OCR, ICR, barcodes, or another method of capturing your information, electronic storage of your documents, images, and historical records can make records management easier. However, it only works to its maximum potential if information is classified thoroughly and intelligentl