We currently live in a world dominated by electronic information. According to ARMA International, more than 90 percent of all records created or received by organizations are in electronic media. Yet many corporate record retention programs are based on an older, paper-centric paradigm. For the most part, paper-based record retention processes do not really work for electronic documents. If you are like many companies that are transitioning your record retention program, you need to be careful to do it the right way.
- Focus on content, not boxes: Move away from a record = paper = “count boxes” mentality. A file folder is not a record—the folder’s contents are the record. Move the organization away from managing physical assets and focus on content, regardless of media.
- Consensus across more stakeholders: Paper-based programs may be more “facilities” oriented—that is, only dealing with storage of physical assets. The move to electronic record/content management requires buy-in from cross-functional teams, including IT, legal, compliance (for data security issues around PCI, PII, PHI, etc.), et al. This wider scope can make electronic record retention programs more challenging, yet at the same time impact more areas of the business and provide a greater value to the organization.
- Invest and save: – Paper-centric programs look primarily at physical storage costs (onsite office space vs. offsite storage). Combination electronic and paper programs need to consider a broader set of factors for electronic documents, including investment in archiving tools, data storage, etc. These programs typically have higher investment costs, but also have greater return on investment.
- Identify the copy of record: Electronic documents tend to have many more copies of the same document throughout the organization than paper records. This problem is exacerbated by emails that are cc’ed to what appears to be most of the English-speaking world. More care needs to be taken to identify which groups or individuals are responsible for saving the official copy of an electronic record (sometimes called the copy of record) and also communicating to everyone else that their copies (considered convenience copies) need not be saved. Don’t have multiple people save the same record.
- Get rid of the paper: It is literally 100 times cheaper to store a document in an electronic medium than in paper. More than 70 percent of paper records are copies of electronic documents. Save it once electronically, and then don’t save it in paper. Good electronic retention programs can reduce ongoing paper storage by 80 percent or more.
- Avoid Fauxpliance: One common approach for upgrading a record retention program is to send an automated email to employees every week or month having them confirm that they are manually following the records retention schedule for their email and other electronic documents. This approach sounds easy, except it doesn’t work. Even well-meaning employees will click yes, intending to do it later and never do it. Our surveys have found that reminder-based programs with no real archiving have very low actual compliance. We call this fauxpliance (faux + compliance). Electronic records require archiving systems that are integrated with employee’s day-to-day work streams.
- Get the right skills: Perhaps the biggest challenge in transitioning may be your own staffing. In the words of Pogo, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.” A generation of records managers grew up believing that effective records management is based on a manual, “let’s manage the boxes” mentality. Adapting to today’s world of electronic information may not only require new skills, but also reexamining old ways of doing things.