Records management has always been a part of business. You can do it a million different ways, and everyone has a system for filing, storing, and accessing their documents.
Anyone can take files and organize them, but the trick to an effective records management plan is to understand what your business needs, and what aspects are causing bottlenecks and issues.
Once you have that figured out, you need to make a choice- are you going to optimize your current filing system, convert all your records and use an electronic filing system, or find a happy medium that utilizes both?
This article is designed to help identify some of the bottlenecks in paper filing systems, and some of the advantages of migrating to a document management system that handles all your electronic documents.
What is Records Management?
Records Management is defined as controlling the most important records of an organization throughout their life cycle- all the way to their disposal.
There’s 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 bunch 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 records are scanned internally and stored on a cloud storage system that allows access from your office or through a secure internet connection.
Which way should you go? It depends on what you see in your business. If you have inefficiencies or difficulty finding files, there are ways to correct the issue. Let’s take a look at some of the more common issues that we come across why people consider a new records management system.
Lost and Missing Records
There’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to find a record. Worse yet there’s that time you find out after searching for it a lot longer than you should have that it has been lost or accidentally destroyed.
Lost, misfiled, and missing records are one of the major problems that arise from in-house record management.
Here’s an interesting list of costs for losing just one, but the time and labor spent searching for a record versus actually reading the record makes this system very inefficient and difficult to use.
The more efficient your workflow and processes are, the more time you have to do productive, profitable things. You also save money.
Having paper records that are difficult to share, hard to find, and unsecured are great reasons to look for an alternative that will make your company more productive.
If you consider the labor cost it takes to find one file, you could be spending tens of thousands of dollars every year just to have someone organize, file, find, copy and re-file your records. That’s money spent that’s very difficult to recover.
Difficult to share
One thing that is universal for any business is that important records need to be shared. We’re not saying that everyone needs access to every record, but at one point or another every one of them is touched and read by more than one employee.
When you have hard-copy records, you might only have one version of it. If multiple people need access to it, then you make a copy.
It’s simple enough to do- until the record changes and you have multiple outdated copies of it. To compound the issue, to ensure proper security there’s only so many employees that can (or should) have access to your critical records.
Those folks are probably the only people in the entire office that knows the filing system and can find the file you need. You could find it yourself, but then you run the risk of it getting lost or misfiled. It’s a vicious cycle.
Hard-Copy records take up space
This particular issue pertains more to the physical storage and organization of your files in your office than some of the issues mentioned above.
Simply put, filing systems (especially unorganized ones) take up way more space in your office than you realize.
Take a minute to count how many filing cabinets, storage rooms, and boxes of records you have around your office (if you can see them from your chair, you probably already know what we’re talking about).
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. You might be able to downsize to a more efficient workspace, or use that space in a more productive way.
Although you might be safe from hackers, paper records aren’t necessarily the most secure way to store your critical company information.
The sheer volume of records that most companies store on site make it easy for someone to take information from you- and you might not even realize it.
If you have a lot of employees accessing your files, there’s another inherent risk.
Not only could you develop an issue with version control, you could also accidentally expose critical records or personnel files to employees that should not have access to them.
Hard-copy records management isn’t going away any time soon. The best thing to do if you have a records system to protect your business and increase productivity is to limit access to critical files, and store your documents offsite when they’re no longer necessary, but need to be retained.
Advantages of Electronic Records Management
Even though there’s a good chance you can’t migrate entirely to a digital system, there are some significant advantages to think about that outweigh the disadvantages of paper records management.
With the advances in accessibility and security in recent years, it’s becoming a more reliable, easier to use system.
Here’s some of the main reasons that Electronic Records Management is becoming a mainstay.
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. Since all records are indexed, you’re just a keyword search away from finding that important document.
Every change can be tracked on an electronic document, 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, who has access to which documents, and 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 helps 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 onsite, this can function as an automatic insurance policy against loss or damage to your files.