Surf’s Up, But Are You Ready for a Tidal Wave of E-Records?

Never mind paper records management: Your organization’s electronic records will likely grow at an alarming pace. Here’s how to manage them safely.

If you’re finding it difficult to properly maintain and safeguard electronic records, you’re in good company. A 2011 National Archives and Records Administration report found that most government agencies weren’t properly caring for their archives. And the biggest challenge they reported was electronic records. If government agencies—with all their regulations—can’t master the proper care and feeding of e-records, what hope does your busy office have?

The challenge is not just to store e-records, but to store them in a way that protects your business from an overwhelming crush of stored data.

Archiving (and the Gentle Art of Letting Go)

Those moving from paper-based records management to the digital realm are often seduced by the notion of storing much more information in a smaller space. However, your intrigue may wane when you discover the inefficiency of simply saving everything. Too many electronic files can bog you down. You need to know exactly what you have on file—and be able to retrieve it on demand. This will come in particularly handy if you ever need to participate in an audit or legal discovery process.

You’ll also need to develop a means of determining which records are critical to retain and which have a clear expiration date. Having such a retention policy isn’t just a smart idea; it could well be the law for your industry or location. Some federal and local statutes set rules about storing and retrieving material archived electronically. Check which ones apply to your particular business category before building your retention plan.

Storage, with an Eye to the Future

Proper records storage includes a long-term plan that will accommodate evolving technologies. If you already have an e-records system, be sure to keep up with new media formats; in fact, you’ll likely need to convert your data to newer storage media once or twice during its lifetime. And it’s not just the hardware that can be an issue: You’ll probably also need to update the software managing your archived files.

Properly archived material has no value if you can’t find it when you need it. That’s why you’ll need to preserve associated metadata with your files. Doing so helps your indexing program determine the contents and location of your stored records.

When possible, keep electronic records in their original form. That way, you maintain the context of the material and preserve file links, too. For long-term use, you’ll also want to consider electronic records management systems that can prevent records from being modified once they’re saved, stop someone from deleting a saved document, and include customizable retention controls. Also, be sure the system you choose fits into the workflow of your peer departments.

Rein in Those E-Records

Excess electronic information storage is not only costly, but it can also reduce your company’s responsiveness to litigation. The inability to pull records quickly leaves you vulnerable to noncompliance issues.

As you work toward making your growing e-records system more efficient and cost-effective, keep in mind the importance of getting your colleagues on board with the effort. Plan to offer training and user support programs so that all departments needing access to the system know how to use it effectively. At the same time, consider implementing policies that limit electronic records access based on well-defined criteria. Make sure that your system grants access only to employees who are authorized to create, retrieve or—especially—delete backup files. Once your fellow employees understand and appreciate the benefits of e-records, they’ll contribute to the greater success of your program.

The More Things Change…

Just when you reached the point when your paper records management system was working smoothly, a manager several pay grades above you mandated the “e”-move. Could you handle the tailspin? Moving to an electronic system creates some hurdles. Here’s how to address them:

  • Create provisions for your organization’s long-term e-file storage and archiving.
  • Build a discovery system for electronic files that’s adaptable for both audits and legal challenges.
  • Ensure the safe, easy backup of mobile and smartphone data at regular times.

Iron Mountain Suggests: A Change for the Better

Moving to an electronic records system takes planning, certainly, but there’s really no need for pain. To that end, be sure that whatever solution you ultimately adopt covers these areas:

  • Retention schedules. One benefit of an e-records system is the potential for built-in retention schedules, which automates the process of expired-data destruction. Be sure the solution you choose lets you customize the retention schedule.
  • Information mapping. When you receive a litigation notice or audit event, you’ll need fast access to your critical information. A strong solution maps your data.
  • Email management. To reduce the risk of litigation and to curtail storage requirements, look for a plan that helps you control email volume and user behavior.

Do you have more questions about your firm’s records management options? 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.

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