Records management has always been a part of business. You can do it in a million different ways, and everyone has a system for filing, storing, and accessing their documents. With the advent of digital records management systems, deciding which works best for you has become a bit more complicated.
Every business operates differently. As a result, the key to any record management system, digital or otherwise, needs to fit your specific business needs. For some, that might mean keeping an old-fashioned paper-based system. For others, going fully digital makes the most sense. However, if you need a bit of both, a middle ground works best, particularly for law or compliance reasons.
What is Records Management?
Records Management is defined as controlling the most important records of an organization throughout its life cycle—to their disposal. There are a lot of intermediary steps in the cycle, but the main steps include identifying, storing, securing, retrieving, tracking, and destroying records.
The purpose of records management is for governance, risk, and compliance that provides evidence of an organization’s activities and reduction of risk. You can read a formal definition here, but think of it as the path a record takes from inception to destruction, and all the steps it takes to make sure it’s secure and can be found.
There are a variety of different options to help you manage your records. They can include:
- Onsite records management: where you handle your records internally
- Offsite records management: where you hire a professional records management company to help organize and store your documents in a secure facility
- A combination of both: where you might handle your documents internally while storing archival and non-critical files offsite
- A document management system: where you scan records and store them on a cloud storage system that allows access from your office or through a secure internet connection.
Digital vs. Paper Records Management
In the current business environment, digital records provide an impressive suite of benefits. From instant access to ease of collaboration, there’s little wonder why so many companies already made the switch.
Advantages of Digital Records Management
Fast and Easy Retrieval
Digitized records simplify accessing and finding documents. Any authorized employee can access the files they need immediately, whether they’re on-site or on the road. Indexing all of your records ensures you’re just a keyword search away from finding that important document.
An electronic document can track every change, including day/time stamps, who made the change, and more. This eliminates the chance that previous versions that are no longer valid are accidentally distributed.
Digital records give you the ability to easily control clearance levels, and who has access to which documents. It also provides encryption services that protect your data where it’s being stored, and while it’s being transmitted.
If you need access to records based on strict guidelines, laws, and regulations, electronic records help you provide information quickly and efficiently.
Almost all electronic document management systems use cloud-based storage and backup systems. This helps guarantee that your critical business files are backed up to a remote location for disaster recovery. By avoiding storing things on site, this can function as an automatic insurance policy against loss or damage to your files.
Advantages of Off-Site Records Management
Now, that doesn’t mean off-site or on-site paper management systems don’t have their uses. For many industries, paper still plays a crucial role in regulations and compliance. It can also provide convenience and familiarity for employees who prefer working with paper rather than computers. For companies that need to keep their records physical, an off-site storage system provides significant advantages, including:
Better Document Management Practices
There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to find a record. Worse yet, there’s the realization that a record has been lost or accidentally destroyed.
Lost, misfiled, and missing records are some of the major problems that arise from in-house record management. Therefore, records are safe when a professional service maintains them using off-site records storage. Here’s an interesting list of costs for losing just one record.
Savings on Time and Money
When you store your records off-site, you won’t need to search for them yourself. The professionals at the storage site will manage your files for you. The more efficient your workflow and processes are, the more time you have to do productive, profitable things—which saves you money.
No need to employ a records manager to organize, file, find, copy, and re-file your records because the professionals will take care of it at the off-site storage location. Having paper records that are hard to find and unsecured are great reasons to look for an alternative that will make your company more productive.
Savings on Office Space
This particular issue pertains to the physical storage and organization of your files in your office. In general, filing systems (especially unorganized ones) take up way more space in your office than you realize. An average filing cabinet is 21 square feet—how many do you have?
Just think of the extra space you could utilize by moving your records storage offsite or using an electronic document system. Moreover, you might be able to downsize to a more efficient workspace or use that space more productively.
Paper records stored off-site are securely locked and protected from fire or environmental hazards. Ultimately, the decision on whether to go with a digital, physical, or hybrid records management system depends on your company’s needs.
For those who don’t have to deal with significant regulatory concerns, purely digital provides a good solution. For those dealing with laws like HIPAA or FACTA, a hybrid or off-site records management system might be a better choice, providing your office with both flexibility and regulatory compliance.