Legacy records cleanup: 10 inhibitors to a DIY approach

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Learn more about legacy records cleanup and which obstacles you would need to overcome to be able to perform it in a cost-efficient way.

June 9, 20227 mins
Legacy records cleanup: 10 inhibitors to a DIY approach

Legacy records cleanup is an essential part of any Records and Information Management (RIM) program, and a necessary component of an organization’s digital transformation. Putting off records cleanup projects can lead to over-retention of files, increased costs and risks, and difficulty meeting your program and digital transformation objectives. So it’s no wonder our 2022 research with Economist Impact shows that 93% of leaders are now implementing records cleanup initiatives.*

A crucial first step in any records cleanup project is identifying what you have in your records inventory so that you can make informed and defensible decisions on what to keep, destroy, or digitize. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

What prevents or hinders legacy records cleanup?

Sorting through thousands of boxes of commingled files with complex event-based retention requirements is a time-intensive and costly operation. For years, we’ve seen RIM professionals struggle with a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach. And our April 2022 research confirms what we’ve heard from our own customers. According to our survey of IT, legal, compliance, and records management leaders, lack of staff and financial resources or support from high-level management are the main barriers to paper records cleanup prioritization.**

There’s a lot to consider before you make a plan to take control of your inventory. Here are the top 10 inhibitors that can prevent or stall a legacy records cleanup project:

1. No ownership. Without engaged stakeholders to advocate for the right resources and support throughout the process, a cleanup project may be difficult to start and nearly impossible to complete.

2. Lack of expertise. Legacy records cleanup requires trained staff who have the subject matter expertise to know what to retain, digitize, or defensibly destroy.

3. No budget. It’s costly to hire the professional staff with the expertise to sort and organize the large volumes of records stored without regard to destruction dates or record classification.

4. Limited staff. Our research revealed that 48% of organizations have avoided a records cleanup project due to lack of staff.** Employees need to focus on their day-to-day work, not get mired down in months or even years of cleanup work.

5. Confusion around what to digitize. Not everything needs to be digitized. Our research shows that, on average, organizations report that 42% of boxes containing paper records should be digitized.** But organizations need guidance to define how those records are used and to identify processes that can be made more efficient by converting from paper to digital formats.

6. No authority on what to destroy. When there is no identified decision-maker, organizations end up holding onto records longer than necessary. This results in increased risk of information loss and adds complexity to legal discovery, audit response, and compliance management.

7. Lack of visibility. Events like mergers and acquisitions means inheriting large volumes of information across disparate locations and database repositories, which can make it impossible to tell what’s in your inventory.

8. Lack of inventory integrity. When key metadata is not captured and indexed throughout the information lifecycle, it is difficult to search, manage, and make decisions on records disposition.

9. Commingled records. Commingled records prevent visibility, limit access, and lead to over-retention. If files are mixed by type and destruction date, you can’t confidently and efficiently take action.

10. Complicated event-based retention rules. Tracking records based on event dates can be difficult to forecast, challenging to keep up-to-date, and costly to index. Without a straight-forward set of event-based retention rules, it’s harder to make defensible decisions, which means paying to keep records in storage longer than necessary.

If any of these sound familiar, you’re not alone. These are common challenges that we’ve seen our customers encounter over the years. Whether you’re a startup or a global enterprise, legacy records cleanup is a complicated and difficult process, but it’s a necessary one to help meet program objectives and move your organization forward in the digital era.

Luckily, there’s an alternative approach to overburdening your staff with a DIY approach to legacy records cleanup. Finding a partner with the right expertise and technology is a good start.

If you’ve had trouble starting a records cleanup project or have stalled midway through, see how our Smart Sort solution can help.

*Research by Economist Impact, sponsored by Iron Mountain
**Survey of Records and Information Management Professionals, conducted via a third-party provider, April 2022