Electronic Records Transition: Whats Your Status?

Topics: Information management: Best Practice Guides | Store and Protect Information

E-records can boost efficiency and productivity while reducing data errors. But how close are you to seizing that brass ring? Use this six-step checklist to gauge your progress, and to help revise your approach, if necessary.

DID YOU KNOW? The world’s data volume is growing faster than you can imagine. The latest Cisco Visual Networking Index forecasts that by 2016, the gigabyte equivalent of all movies ever made will be crossing Internet networks every three minutes.

FAST FACT: A recent AIIM report found that a shift to electronic-only filing could halve the storage space needed for paper in five years. With that, the report estimates, would also come an approximate 8% savings in overall office costs.

Someone from the legal department hands you a box holding a year’s worth of expense records for a former marketing employee. He’s filed suit, claiming he wasn’t reimbursed for half his authorized trips.

“No way,” you think, thumbing through the records. The box holds thousands of documents, and pulling the pertinent ones might take hours, and more likely days, given what else you have on your agenda. A computer could do the same job on electronic records in a few seconds.

Converting paper-based records into electronic ones promises a quantum leap in effectiveness, no matter the size of your company or the nature of your industry. As a records manager, you’re likely aware that electronic records can help your company:

  • Reduce costs and the amount of physical space you need for records storage systems
  • Improve records organization—e-records deliver faster search and retrieval, plus 24/7 access
  • Enhance information security and boost compliance

The benefits are real—but so are the challenges. If you haven’t organized your current paper records well, your conversion process may suffer. Consider these suggestions to ensure that you’ll start from a solid foundation.

Check It Out: Your Conversion To-Do List

Whether your company is a leader in moving from paper to electronic records or is a bit of a late bloomer, you can turbocharge the transition. These tips incorporate six key record and information management best practices.

Step #1: Get your people organized. You can’t count on a successful electronic records transition without some help. Designate coordinators and champions for electronic records management in the areas of oversight, implementation and administration, and entrench them in the day-to-day aspects of your records management workflow.

Step #2: Occupy and assess your inventory at all locations. Conduct a thorough records inventory across all locations, formats and systems to get a complete and accurate listing of the contents of your company’s critical paper and electronic records. This inventory will help you plan the transition—and define how and where to store your electronic records, how to back them up, and which retention/destruction protocols to apply.

Before beginning the shift away from physical records, make certain to unify all documents, as per the 2012 Iron Mountain Compliance Benchmark Report. Unifying physical records helps in establishing a single, definitive system of best practices for storage and retention.

Step #3: Develop your policies. Formal company-wide policies and retention schedules are critical to the success of a consistent and compliant electronic records management program. During the transition, these formal policies will guide your team to your ultimate goals.

Step #4: Implement your transition. A methodical, phased transition to electronic records ensures success. You can choose one of three ways to implement your plan: Day-Forward Conversion, Image on Demand™, or Backfile Conversion. (Each is explained in the accompanying article, “Choose Your Path to E-records.”) Communicating the plan throughout your company also lets employees know what’s coming. A practical training program can also improve employee buy-in.

Step #5: Manage the fruits of your labors. After you've implemented your electronic records program, you can budget the resources needed for its ongoing maintenance, enhancement and enforcement. Make sure everyone in the company understands and follows the standardized procedures. A comprehensive approach lets your firm:

  • Track key metrics and explain the financial benefits to company stakeholders
  • Keep pace with changing business, legal and regulatory requirements
  • Organize a team to provide oversight, enforce polices and coordinate with employees in all locations

Step #6: Audit. Accountability helps keep your records program compliant—and auditing boosts accountability. By auditing the program regularly, you can pinpoint lapses and make needed improvements. You should be able to gain the ability to:

  • Understand the program as it functions and identify opportunities for improvement
  • Develop an audit process to track and improve performance across key areas
  • Monitor your program to ensure continued compliance, efficiency and cost-effectiveness

Choose Your Path to E-records

As you make a transition to electronic records, establish priorities, defining which paper records to convert and when. You can approach this in one of three ways:

1. Day-Forward Conversion. Select a date after which any new paper document is digitized immediately. Doing so helps you set up a convenient, cost-effective way forward, and ensures that the process will stay on track. A day-forward conversion approach ensures that even after you begin the transition, you can confidently handle any paper records your firm generates.

2. Image on Demand. Digitizing only what you need, when you need it, is a cost-effective way to bridge the gap between paper and digital records. It allows you to incorporate critical company information into your electronic records program on an as-needed basis while avoiding the costs of a large-scale conversion initiative.

3. Backfile Conversion. Take care of the bulk conversion of your existing records quickly and cost-effectively by adopting a project-based approach: You focus on converting a subset of your existing records, such as those generated within the last year. This approach lets you continue the transition to electronic records while holding down costs.

If, after going through the checklist, you think your company's transition to electronic records could be going more smoothly, consider enlisting the help of an expert in document management, someone who understands the process, the regulations, and the consequences of not following them.

Do you have questions about information management? Read additional Knowledge Center Small Business resources, or contact Iron Mountain’s Small Business team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services Small Business specialist who can address your specific challenges.

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