Paul Ravey, Manager at Access Records Management discusses why employers should be cautious on how they store physical and electronic records
Any business – no matter its size – tends to generate a significant quantity of physical and electronic records. As these accumulate, each business must give time and attention to managing all this data from the moment each record is created until the moment it is destroyed or archived. In addition to keeping the record lifecycle in mind, businesses must also follow specific retention laws, which often vary depending on the type of document and its contents.
Of course, managing this process requires significant time and energy, and can be difficult to balance alongside daily business operations.
Here are our top five recommended practices to follow when managing, storing and disposing of your vital business records.
Regulate access and storage
Safety and privacy are paramount when it comes to document storage. A great place to start is to implement a system to determine who has access to different types of records, who can give new parties access, and whether the records are to be stored digitally, physically, or both. Access may, of course, vary between the two types.
For digital records, you will also need to consider server space, the type of storage solution, and the process for converting physical records to a digital format. Is there a document scanner at the office? Do you photograph physical objects? Do you need an outside vendor to assist in either task?
In the case of physical records, the storage space – and the security of this space – is the top priority to address. As your business grows, you will likely need more and more physical space. Can storage happen onsite or offsite? Should a records management company be used to handle the logistics? How and when can authorised employees access the files? Can those files leave the storage space? How do those employees return the files?
As you develop your records management system, keep these questions in mind – and make sure you have answers to them.
Keep track of retention and disposal schedules
Each record has an individual lifespan. Although some records, particularly those created at the same time, can be grouped, it is best to treat records individually and to comply with statutory requirements per record. Check in with your legal team or with local, national, and international statutes for information on how records should be archived or disposed of at the end of their lifespan.
Let’s look at an example: the Registered Pension Scheme (Provision of Information) Regulations 2006 outlines the legal requirements for maintaining pension records in the UK. All pension records, which includes any information businesses hold in relation to their pension schemes, must be kept for a minimum of six years. Because the UK government requires auto-enrolment for all employees, there is usually a massive amount of pension-related data. It can be difficult to store this, but failure to comply can result in fines or other penalties.
Because different records have different legal requirements, make sure your records management policy addresses each type. And be thorough – or else you risk facing some severe and costly consequences.
Monitor your record management
Storage is only the first step to records management. Cataloguing is also key. Authorised users need to be able to find the record quickly when needed. There are multiple systems you can use to track and monitor the creation, movement, and use of your records.
Often with physical records, businesses use barcoding to either track boxes or individual records. Offsite facilities typically use this barcode scanning method to track the movement of physical records. .. For electronic records, a logical file management or tagging system is best.
Properly dispose of records
Destruction polices are also often regulated by statutory requirements as well as internal company policy. To comply, your organisation should create clear guidelines for deletion and destruction. Like your retention plan, make sure to be specific about how each type of record, including non-critical and non-sensitive ones, should be destroyed.
Specific instructions are useful particularly because destruction processes will vary wildly for physical objects. After all, how a paper document is destroyed will likely differ from how a CD or even USB stick is destroyed. Remember, your destruction process must also maintain the confidentiality of the data – this can be particularly important when shredding paper records.
Outsource your records management
Creating a records management policy is not easy and juggling compliance for retention and destruction can be difficult. Many businesses find it easer to outsource the storage and monitoring part of the process to an offsite facility.
Freeing up employees to focus on other business needs lightens the load for managers and removes the concern about compliance.
Make your life easier
There are many benefits to a thoughtful and comprehensive records management strategy.
As your business grows, office space will become more and more valuable. The accumulation of records can take up physical space that could be used for other essential business operations, or, for that matter, inessential operations. You could use the space for people, desks, servers, equipment, or perks for your employees like a pool table.
Managing records on your own can also be a time-consuming task and a costly effort. After all, finding, organising, retrieving, and destroying records requires the time and energy of many dedicated employees. Putting together a policy that is user-friendly and efficient means you can reallocate hours and funds to other goals.
Often companies are punished for a simple lack of awareness around statutory requirements. One of the biggest benefits of better records management is that it helps companies stay on the right side of the law. That alone makes records management an important part of any business strategy.