The Challenge of Records Management

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” – Anton Chekhov

The first link that comes up when you google “records retention” is IRS.gov. Sounds kind of important, right? But how often throughout your day do you think about records retention? While most of us probably have some kind of method for keeping papers from piling up on our desks, most of us do not think about how our actions fit into the bigger picture of the enterprise records management. 

The reality is – there are many laws and regulations (privacy laws being one example) that dictate the way records and information a company creates and/or collects as part of its business routine should be handled. That means that compliance with Records Management Policy is NOT optional. It is a mandatory enterprise-wide policy applicable to all employees. There are compliance reviews and audits that assess adherence to this policy. At some companies violation of this policy could be subject to corrective action, possibly even termination.

Another reality is to most people records management feels a little squishy – more of a nebulous idea, than the exact science. As a former records management professional, I would like to bring some clarity to the concept.

Although the following information is not likely to drastically alter the way you already handle your records, these are some basic records management concepts that everyone should be familiar with.

A record vs a business record

While anything can be considered a record (a word, a number, a sound, etc.), only business records are subject to the Records Management Policy. A business record is defined as “any official recording of actions, decisions, transactions, procedures, or any other fact that evidence business activities”. Some examples of a business records are an email message approving funding for a project or a recorded training webinar.

Some examples of non-business records are a potluck sign up list or an unsolicited promotional flyer. All non-business as well as copies and/or drafts should be destroy as soon as they are no longer needed.

A record owner

The record owner (may or not be the same as record custodian) creates and/or maintains the master copy (usually, the original final version) of a business record.

Records Management

Records management is a practice of governance and control of all company records – current as well as no longer actively used (archived). It applies on all stages of record life cycle – from record creation to its circulation to its destruction. Records compliance ensures that all parties responsible for proper records management (which is every single one of us) are handling their records in accordance with the Records Management Policy and the Records Retention Schedule.

Records Retention Schedule (RRS)

The Record Retention Schedule (RRS) is a classification schema pertaining to enterprise business records. It also indicates the length of time records must be retained.

The most important thing to remember about the RRS is that it applies to all business records regardless of format. In addition, in order to be defensible, the RRS should be applied consistently to all business records without discrimination.

Litigation Holds

Another key aspect of records compliance that we should be cognizant about is litigation holds. A litigation hold is placed on a record when there is reasonable notice of actual or threatened litigation. Records that are under legal hold must be preserved until further notice.

Consequences of Poor Records Management
  • Increase in regulatory fines
  • Tarnished relationships with insureds and vendors
  • Increase in litigation costs
  • Increased risk of data breach
  • Increased cost of storage space (physical and digital)
  • Increased operating cost to maintain and protect records
  • Lost time and productivity searching for the right record
  • Heightened stress when you are unable to find the necessary information quickly
  • Lost information

CALL TO ACTION:

Applying the principles of records management could be as easy as clearing the clutter from the top of your desk or desktop or dropping un-needed papers into the shredder on your way to the elevator.

Finally, it is important to remember that Records Management Policy does not exist in a vacuum. Most companies also have separate policies that govern data classification, electronic communications, social media conduct, etc. What have you done today to prevent the “seven deadly sins of records retention”?

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