It's 9 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Records Have Been?
If you haven't managed your information since its inception, you can't ensure its chain of custody—and that's key to maintaining your firm's impeccable compliance standards.
Do your records sometimes seem as slippery and incomprehensible as a wily teenager? You know they're out there somewhere and reasonably safe. However, you don't know exactly where they've been.
If this is the case with your firm's records and information, you'd best brace yourself. All it's going to take is a late afternoon request from the legal team or a query from an outside counselor regulator to send your "well-oiled" records program into a free-fall.
Preserving chain of custody is crucial to avoiding this wholly unnecessary drama—and with good reason. Since the past informs the future, where your records have been and being able to prove it is just as important as where they're going or how you're using them next month, next quarter or next year.
In a 2014 survey by consulting firm Ari Kaplan Advisors, nine out of ten in-house legal counsel report that "internal teams handle preservation through collection in-house." That's a lot of information to track and maintain, isn't it?
Four Steps to Better Information Parenting
To ensure the highest level of care for your records and to preserve chain of custody, implement the following four best practices, step by step, so you'll always know the whereabouts of your information offspring.
Step #1: Develop and implement clear policies.
Kick off this detailed self-audit by first surveying your company's operational, legal and regulatory needs. Then take an inventory of your records, identifying what's in your archives, and where it all resides. You may need help at this juncture—consider teaming with a trusted partner with expertise in information management.
From there, set clear policies on records handling, maintenance and security—including access authorization levels for your team. Also be sure to prioritize records, and to develop guidelines for copying them. And don't make the common mistake of forgetting email and social media—they're every bit as discoverable and regulated.
Finally, distribute your new policies to all employees; specify consequences for violations, and enforce them.
Step #2: Create a unified procedure for records storage and management.
Are your records divvied up among a few vendors, or even just among your own locations? Now that you've nailed down your policies, bring your paper and digital information under the same organizational roof. Keep in mind, records consolidation is more difficult than it appears, which is why the assistance of a full-service vendor—one with everything from vetted staff to secure vehicles is a serious plus.
Step #3: Tag, classify and index.
Attach metatags to every piece of information, including content, file type, author, creation date and other descriptors. Use these descriptions to organize, classify and index records. Tags are also essential for establishing who accesses which types of data.
Step #4: Enforce retention and destruction schedules.
Have you been tripping (maybe literally) over useless long-obsolete records in your search for an important piece of information? If so, you're probably not following coherent and exacting retention and destruction schedules. Let regulatory, legal and business requirements guide those timelines. Also be sure to destroy information in accordance with all applicable federal, state and industry regulations covering your business.
Just as parents can use an extra hand or two to track and corral slippery teens, your records and information management can benefit from a trusted partner's able care. When such a partner ensures a solid chain of custody, you're buying valuable peace of mind regarding every step of your RIM program.
Do you have questions about records and information management?Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain's Information Management team. You'll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your specific challenges.