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Different problems require different solutions, and that goes as much for fixing your car as it does for cleaning up your legacy records. To clean up your entire records inventory, you need a variety of approaches to address various challenges. Thanks to advances in technology, and innovative thinking, the time has come to finally put order to your paper records inventories.
There are many reasons why it's critical to address your organisation's physical legacy records: reduce the cost of storage, prevent over-retention, ensure compliance, provide timely access, and utilise data locked within for analytics, to name a few. Some of you have made commitments to achieve zero-box goals or adopt entirely paperless ways of working.
To be successful in any of these pursuits, you must start by making defensible decisions about your records, by file or by the box.
But taking action and making defensible decisions is easier said than done. Over the years and even decades, organisations may have used different indexing systems or procedures for categorising boxes. They may have experienced reorganisations or perhaps been through a merger, acquisition, or divestiture. And, most likely, employees have come and gone over time, taking institutional knowledge and ownership of records with them.
All of these situations have compounded the problem and left you with a difficult puzzle that needs solving, and you probably don't have the time, budget, or people to sort out the pieces.
Manually lifting the lid of every box in your inventory to review contents, update metadata, assign classification, or sort files isn't cost-effective or entirely defensible; which is why few organisations have taken action.
So what's different now?
Technology that automates the process and enables you to make objective decisions about your inventory, whatever state it's in. You can determine what to keep in paper format, digitize, securely destroy, or archive with confidence, and you don't need to do it all by yourself.
But as previously mentioned, not all boxes are alike in their contents, descriptive information, or metadata. Here are three common scenarios that require different approaches to enable your defensible decision-making:
Scenario 1: Records stored without classification codes and associated retention rules
Finding what you need and taking defensible action on your records requires an accurate inventory with complete box-level metadata, assigned record classification codes, and retention rules. When boxes are stored with metadata but without classification codes or associated retention rules, it's difficult to initiate legal holds, respond to litigation requirements or audits, and make simple and defensible decisions about what to retain, digitise, or destroy.
A time-intensive approach might be to have staff review each box, refer to your records retention schedule, assign a retention code, and calculate that eligible date. Knowing where to begin is a challenge as deploying a standardised approach to applying box-level record codes aligned to your organisation's records retention schedule can be difficult and overwhelming.
Scenario 2: Commingled record types and event-date complexity
You have boxes with commingled records and event-based retention rules. Different record types have different retention and disposition requirements. If files aren't organised according to record classification, retention requirements, or event date, you can't confidently and defensibly take action on what records to retain, digitise, or destroy.
For example, mortgages executed for May 2007 are in a box along with loans that were terminated in 2009, 2018, and 2023. It's impossible to assign a single destruction date to the box, so the result is over-retaining some files while waiting for others to meet retention requirements.
A manual approach would require knowledgeable staff or contracted professionals to lift the lid of each box, compare the information for each file with a database that logs closure, remove the files that are closed, calculate their destruction eligibility (based on your retention schedule), and then place them in a box based on the destruction year. Or you may opt to digitise some of the loans as requested by the business unit.
But if you lack the resources, staff, process, and time to sort each file by destruction date, a cleanup project like this could be put off, ultimately increasing your storage budget and exposing your organisation to potential legal and compliance risks.
Scenario 3: Boxes stored without sufficient information
You have boxes with not enough usable or credible information with which to make a decision. These could be boxes full of important records that must be addressed or holiday decorations, desk supplies, and personal objects that no one has claimed.
You could opt to lift lids and allow staff or a third party to make a determination, but you need space and the process is time-consuming, expensive, and not foolproof. To properly manage your records inventory and make disposition decisions, you need to know what you have and who is the rightful owner of each box. Without knowing both, you can't take action and will hold on to your inventory for much longer than necessary.
According to a recent legacy records cleanup study sponsored by Iron Mountain, it's estimated that nearly 20% of all boxed records are stored without metadata. As a result, you don't know what you have and therefore can't make even the simplest decision about what to retain, digitise, destroy, or donate.
To remedy this situation, you need to review the contents of each box and manually update the box-level metadata. But you may not have the budget, staff, expertise, time, or space needed to complete such an extensive project.
If any of these scenarios sound familiar, we can help.
Iron Mountain addresses all three (and any combination) of these situations using automated, technology-driven solutions that save you time and cost. So, regardless of the state of your boxes, you can trust us to enable your decision-making using innovative solutions and our qualified records management team.
Now is the time to put order to years of your organisation's valuable work.
Learn more about our legacy records cleanup solutions.