4 Reasons to unify management of physical and electronic records


How many systems does your organization have to manage your physical and electronic records?

November 3, 202312 mins
4 Reasons to unify  management of physical  and electronic records


How many systems does your organization have to manage your physical and electronic records? If your company is like most, you probably have different tracking tools, and your paper records might not be tracked at all.

Creating a unified repository for digital and physical records can result in significant benefits, such as reduced risk, better compliance, improved efficiency, and increased agility.

An unmanageable situation

Imagine what it would be like if your organization kept its financial assets in a variety of institutions all over the world, without a centralized way to keep track of them. Think about the hassle if you had dozens of accounts in different countries that you could monitor and access, but didn’t have a centralized accounting system that let you see a unified balance sheet. Each time your organization wanted to know its financial situation, you would have to log in to each separate system, record the current balance for each, and then add them up.

Now imagine that your company invested in physical assets such as art, classic cars, and other collectibles spread across the globe. You might have digital inventory lists, but what if none of those inventory lists were in the same software? Some other physical assets can be tracked with pen and paper, and some have no records at all. That would be completely unmanageable.

But that’s exactly the position that many organizations are in when it comes to their paper records and information management (RIM) processes.

In today’s economy, data is one of your organization’s most valuable assets. However, many companies have their paper and digital records and information spread across multiple repositories with multiple independent tracking systems for each.

This situation might be common, but it’s risky — and potentially costly. Fortunately, there is a better way.

It’s a hybrid world

Our lives today take place in a hybrid world — partially physical and partially virtual. Many of us have hybrid jobs where we spend part of our time working at a physical location and the rest of the time working from home (or wherever we choose to work). We have hybrid meetings where some of the attendees are in person while others are online. We have augmented reality video games that combine elements of the physical world with an imaginary one. We have mixed-reality headsets that can superimpose digital content on the things we are viewing with our eyes.

Similarly, business records live in a hybrid world. While many organizations have made great strides in digitizing their paper files, most still have some paper around the office. And some may never be able to get rid of paper entirely.

To cope with this hybrid world, organizations need a way to unify the management of their digital and physical records.

What is a record?

The ISO 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.” According to Iron Mountain, records might include “Confidential employee data. Customer contacts and work files. Work email and voicemail. Social media posts.” It adds, “These and other forms of information can be structured into different record categories.”

Reasons to adopt unified records management

Unified records management solutions give organizations a centralized way to track and manage records — whether they exist on paper or digitally. They bring together documents that might otherwise have lived in multiple repositories spread across multiple locations. They often incorporate automation capabilities for applying corporate policies. These solutions have a number of other benefits, including the following:

1. Increase compliance

Some organizations, primarily government agencies, are striving to adopt unified records management. In the U.S, for example, the National Archives requires that federal agencies meet its universal electronic records management standards.

But even if you don’t work in government, unified records management may help you meet your other compliance requirements. For instance, in the healthcare and financial services industries, firms are required to retain some types of documents for a set period of time. And all types of organizations need to keep tax records for several years.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, some laws require that organizations delete certain data. One well-known example is the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). It requires organizations, including many that are not located in the European Union, to delete personal data as soon as it’s no longer necessary, or whenever the person who owns the data requests deletion. Organizations that do not comply face steep fines and other penalties.

To comply with these regulations and others, most organizations have already created data retention policies and procedures. However, in practice, some find it difficult to enforce these policies, particularly if they have a lot of different record repositories and/or a mix of both paper and digital documents.

A unified records management system simplifies the process of complying with requirements like these. It automates data retention and deletion when possible and provides alerts when automation isn’t possible.

Organizations face similar challenges around the issue of eDiscovery. When they are involved in lawsuits, organizations are often required to hand over large troves of digital data related to the case. If they don’t have a unified records management system, organizations may find it very difficult to locate necessary records in a timely manner.

Failing to quickly find and hand over records as required by the court can put them in legal jeopardy. If they go to the opposite extreme and hand over everything, they may expose corporate secrets, or put themselves at risk in other ways.

A unified records management solution can help organizations identify, locate, and turn over any paper or digital documents as required by a lawsuit without putting the organization at any additional risk.

2. Reduce risk

Of course, legal risk isn’t the only risk organizations face. And unifying management of physical and digital records can also help reduce other kinds of risk. Chief among them is the risk of data breach and theft.

Cybersecurity is top of mind for most corporate executives. In fact, a recent KPMG survey found that 73% of CEOs are worried about a corporate cyberattack, up from 61% two years previously.

In addition, 24% said that they believed their companies were unprepared for a cyberattack.

Unified records management can help improve cybersecurity in different ways. First, because this approach helps organizations enforce their data retention policies, it reduces the volume of data available for thieves to steal. If an organization has less personally identifiable information on hand, it can reduce the damage that can be inflicted by a breach.

Second, securing a single tool is much easier than securing dozens of separate tools. If a global organization is using multiple record information management (RIM) tools, it has more tools to keep up to date. A large number of tools makes it more likely the team will fail to apply a critical patch, potentially leaving it vulnerable to attack.

In addition, unified records management can also help with mitigation in the event that a breach does occur. If the organization knows exactly where all its records are, it will be able to tell more quickly which data might have been compromised. That allows it to notify the affected individuals promptly, reducing the potential impact on them, as well as potentially reducing the damage to the organization’s reputation.

Sometimes people forget, however, that digital records aren’t the only records vulnerable to theft. Loss or compromise of paper documents can be equally — if not more — damaging than a cyber breach.

These situations can be even more problematic if an organization doesn’t have accurate records of what was stored in a particular area. In the worst-case scenario, management might never even know that a paper file went missing.

Unified records management makes it easier to assess the potential damage if an internal or external person gains unauthorized access to sensitive paper files. It also makes it easier to conduct audits and to determine what types of physical security are necessary to protect different files.

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