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One of the most crucial decisions records managers have to make is whether their organization's records center should be centralized or decentralized.
One of the most crucial decisions records managers have to make is whether their organization's records center should be centralized or decentralized; this is by no means an easy choice. Thankfully, this subject is not a new one in the field of records management. There are plenty of resources in the space to help records management professionals make the right choice for their organization.
A centralized records center is one in which all the physical documents are located in one central location. The location is controlled by the records management department staff. Additionally, the number of people in the records department will depend on the size of the organization.
A decentralized records center is one in which the physical documents are located across the entire office. This may mean they can be found in end users' offices, workstations or other workroom space. Unlike a centralized records center, where the files are controlled exclusively by the records department, a decentralized location is controlled by the end user who creates the file.
The following provides a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of each method:
There are many advantages of a centralized records center. First, end users have the comfort of knowing all physical documents relating to a particular case are held in the same location. If end users need to reference a file, they would be required to contact the records department staff through some online portal or email service. The file would then be checked out to the end user. A complete chain of custody of the file is captured, so the location of the file is known at all times.
Second, a centralized records center has a heightened level of security. For instance, the entrance is locked, so only the records department staff have access to the files in the records center. This process yields much more control over physical documents than a decentralized method.
Finally, uniform departmental procedures are documented and circulated to all end users. These procedures address topics such as hours of operation, file requests and delivery times.
While centralized records centers have many advantages, there are also some drawbacks. To begin, physical documents are not at the end users' fingertips, so they may need to wait an extended period before they can review the file. This is certainly the case if the file is stored at another office location. Another disadvantage could be the investment that comes with hiring a full-time records department staff to manage the centralized location.
A centralized records center may also require a large investment in high-density shelving. This type of shelving can be very costly, especially if the floor has to be reinforced to meet weight requirements.
For more than a decade, the idea of a paperless office environment has been frequently discussed. While organizations around the world have striven to eliminate paper entirely, their efforts have been met with many obstacles. This is because it is simply not practical for organizations to have an entirely paperless environment.
Now, let us discuss some advantages of a decentralized records center. First of all, the physical file is stored at the end users' desks, not in a centralized location for all to access. Of course, this method would not require a full-time records department staff. End users would have access to their files at all times and would be responsible for maintaining accuracy.
A decentralized records center has its disadvantages. For example, suppose a group of end users is working on the same case at the same time. Suddenly, the end user who is responsible for maintaining the file is absent. The rest of the group may have trouble locating the file if the organization does not have chain of custody procedures in place.
Along the same lines, a decentralized records center will have little or no security over the files. This can prove problematic, especially if an organization handles highly sensitive cases and must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
After considering both options, organizations can better weigh which method is best for them. This decision should not be made in haste, however. Organizations should take their time and not decide until they completely understand their unique needs.
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.