Every business generates large quantities of paper and digital records. Because these can amass quickly, businesses need to take the time and effort to make sure that records are stored safely in accordance with legal requirements.
Creating an efficient records management system means thinking about the record from the moment it’s created, all the way through its lifecycle until its eventual disposal. But this can be challenging, especially in a fast-paced, highly-demanding SME environment. Here are four practices for your small business to follow when managing your all-important business records.
1. Control storage and access
To address both safety and privacy concerns, businesses must make sure that files are safely and properly stored. Take into consideration who has access, who grants new access, and whether the records are digital or physical.
In the case of digital records, think about your server space, the type of storage solution, and how paper records will be converted to digital records. Will there be a document scanner at the office or is another service required?
For physical records, the actual space you have available becomes a major factor, particularly as businesses grow. Is it easier to have a records management company to handle the logistics? And how frequently can authorized users retrieve these files? What are the steps for returning files? It's important to keep all these questions in mind as a policy is determined.
2. Be wary of retention and disposal schedules
Consider the individual lifespan of each record. It's likely that there are statutory requirements for the retention of the record and potential requirements for how it should be archived or disposed of once it has reached the end of its lifespan.
In the UK, for example, pension records – and any information that businesses hold in relation to pension schemes – must be kept for six years in order to comply with the Registered Pension Scheme (Provision Of Information) Regulations 2006. Doing so isn’t necessarily going to be easy, because the government’s introduction of auto-enrolment for all employees has significantly increased the volume and complexity of this data.
When creating a records management plan, it’s therefore essential to consider all the types of records the business may have and then chart out the needs from there.
3. Record, track and monitor
Cataloguing records is as important as storing them. If an authorized user cannot find the record, it may as well not be there. As such, there are multiple systems available to track and monitor the movement and creation of records.
Barcoding systems are quite common for physical records – especially in off-site records management facilities. When someone retrieves a box, the barcode is scanned so that, in the event another individual requires the records, they can be easily tracked.
4. Destroy (or delete)
Similar to retention policies, destruction policies must also follow all statutory and internal company policies. Create clear guidelines for when and how files can be destroyed or deleted. This plan should be specific to each type of record. It’s also worth creating a good housekeeping plan for non-critical and non-sensitive files.
For different types of files, remember to include different instructions for destruction. Destroying a USB stick, for example, is not the same as destroying a paper document. Furthermore, ensure that shredding processes don’t accidentally reveal confidential information.
Records management isn’t as simple as it looks, and compliance can be difficult. It's therefore not uncommon for SMEs to struggle with allocating resources to manage records. If this is the case, an efficient choice is often to outsource storage and monitoring to an off-site facility.
This allows employees to focus on other strategic activities and the management team to feel less concerned about compliance. By allowing an external company to implement a comprehensive document storage, retention, and destruction strategy, you can benefit from:
A less cluttered office: The more space that records occupy, the less space you have for desks, servers, equipment, and even leisure. In other words, have your records hosted on a third-party site and you’ll finally be able to get that pool table.
Cost and time savings: Here’s the thing about managing records - it’s expensive, specifically in terms of the cost associated with finding, organising, retrieving, and destroying records. A records management strategy will save you money and save you time, both of which can be put towards more productive ends.
Full compliance: Records retention laws are seldom broken on purpose. They are most likely to be broken due to a lack of awareness. If your records are scattered, disorganized, or otherwise all over the place, it immediately becomes harder to retrieve them, destroy them, or put them in the right place.
About the Author
Paul Ravey is a manager at Access Records Management, which provides secure archiving and records management services in the UK. Their archive facilities span the breadth of the country and are able to accommodate all your records management needs.