Nine Essential Dos and Don’ts of Records Storage
October 4, 2011
Have you been too busy actually attending to your core business to address records-management best practices? You haven’t committed a crime, but you may be wasting your organization’s time and/or resources. Consider this short list of rules to turn your plan around.
If you ever sat in a doctor’s waiting room as a kid, you know the children’s magazine cartoon with the good child and his “bad kid” counterpart. One did everything wrong—from not helping elderly people cross the street to keeping a messy room. The other was the perfect son and citizen in everything he did, to an almost angelic degree.
When it comes to records storage, which one are you? For most of us, the answer is likely “a little of both.” You or your colleagues would never willingly expose your business’s proprietary systems to hackers or rivals. Still, the day-to-day demands of doing business often cause an organization to neglect this area.
Survey Says: “There’s Room for Improvement”
Improperly stored records can cost your organization time, money and productivity, according to recent Iron Mountain research. The professionals polled in one customer survey say they spend literally half of their work hours searching for mission-critical information. What’s more, 81 percent are concerned about their ability to access vital files.
These findings are simply unacceptable—especially when you consider the needs of various departments. Internal and external audits from the finance department call for complete, accurate financial data; your customer service operation must have a client’s complete history at arm’s reach to be truly responsive; your legal team may make discovery requests that require immediate attention.
Store records correctly, and your business has a much better chance of reaching its most efficient, profitable potential. And while every business has needs specific to its industry, the dos and don’ts here apply to any firm looking to establish “good child” records management standards:
1. Don’t be a pack rat; do identify vital records.
Some companies cling desperately to every scrap of information—at the cost of making the more valuable data that much harder to find. Instead, securely destroy unnecessary, dead or least-used files according to your retention schedule. Move nonessential information from the “active” list. Flag mission-critical information and give it top indexing, storage and access priority.
2. Don’t pay for valuable office space to maintain records; do outsource records storage.
Unless you have an exceptional lease on storage space and don’t mind hiring an in-house records staff, consider teaming up with a trusted offsite storage partner. In this case, you box the files, affix them with bar codes and call the vendor for pick-up. They’re out of your way until the next audit or legal discovery calls for them.
3. Don’t put unneeded records in cold storage; do destroy them.
Go ahead, hit the delete button—but only after creating a sensible retention schedule that conforms to any and all applicable auditing or regulatory rules.
4. Don’t scan everything; do develop a hybrid records management strategy—aka scan with a plan.
Though scanning it all is tempting, it’s about as senseless as saving every sheet of paper, and it still costs time and money. Begin by digitizing only your most-used files—typically those germane to compliance or operational processes. Know that paper will remain a storage medium for some time to come, despite business’s best efforts to convert expediently.
5. Don’t complicate access; do use a simplifying desktop upload tool.
Scanning is only one piece, albeit a very significant one, of a records management strategy. Easy access to records is critical. A smart, simple interface lets authorized users store converted digital documents in a single location, which fosters a sense of control and responsibility. And allow simultaneous access by multiple users—avoid queues as much as possible.
6. Don’t put an administrative assistant in charge of stored records; do hire a records manager.
As alluring as it might be from a budget standpoint, you need more expertise to manage the records room archives. Searches go faster with someone in charge and accountable. A records manager coordinates and oversees the Chain-of-Custody of audit information and legal discovery as well as other requests, and assesses your strategy to recommend future upgrades.
7. Don’t allow everyone equal privileges; do set a policy for storage and access.
Not every employee has the same need for—or right to—every bit of information in your archives. Develop a policy that’s both user-friendly and takes into consideration the way your company operates and uses information.
8. Don’t forget to include storage in your disaster recovery plan; do provide for records protection.
How many companies went out of business or struggled to get going again after Hurricane Katrina? How quickly you can access and activate stored records will make a tremendous difference in whether your business gets up and running after a disaster, be it natural or manmade, major or minor.
9. Don’t ignore advances in imaging, storage and information management; do solicit the aid of a trusted partner.
Changes in technology and information management processes will continue to shape the way companies do business. To simply toss records into storage is to ignore efficiencies and cost savings in the future. Select a partner who will keep on top of technology, compliance and all other best practices so you don’t have to.
Follow these guidelines and you’ll avoid many of the pitfalls of managing stored records while your business thrives from the efficiencies and cost savings that a thoughtful information management system can produce.
Gone But Not Forgotten
The better you manage stored records, the more smoothly your company will run.
Q: How can we meet compliance requirements?
A: Proper information storage fosters compliance with federal and state regulatory mandates—and you’ll have the proof of compliance, in the form of paper and electronic trails, at your fingertips.
Q: How will we become more efficient?
A: Short answer: by separating the wheat from the chaff. When you securely discard unneeded records and better classify what remains, you’ll trim retrieval times and create more efficient processes.
Q: How can we save?
A: Savings accrue when you can speed up the retrieval of hard-to-find or misfiled information and cut the response times to better meet audit deadlines and legal discovery requests.
Do you have more questions about records management options and how to find information faster? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s consulting services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your information management challenges.
The High Stakes Game of Records & Information Management
What are the Benefits of Proactive Information Management?
Nine Reasons to Outsource Records Storage (and how to do it)