November 13, 2015

Addressing the Top 5 Challenges of Unified Records Management

3 minute read

Often when we talk about records management, it is mainly around electronic documents. However, even in today's highly digital environment, governance of your physical and electronic records together or "unified records management" is critical to ensure you are getting a complete picture of your organization's information governance strategy. Unified records management does present several challenges that need to be addressed.

  1. Identifying records

    When identifying records of different types such as HR or accounts payable, it is important that whether or not the document is paper or electronic it is seen simply as a record. Avoiding an "either-or" approach is a good first step. For example, we know that not all HR documents will be paper nor will all accounts payable documents be electronic.

  2. The records lifecycle
    Regardless of whether the record is electronic or physical, it still needs to be properly managed through its lifecycle. A common mistake is to handle the lifecycles of a physical document differently from an electronic one. The record should be managed based on its type (category) and retention schedule rather than its format. This ensures consistency across all departments and helps to eliminate confusion.
  3. Declaring the record
    Because we are dealing with multiple formats it is likely there are multiple copies of documents. The challenge is defining which one to declare the official record. This should be clearly spelled out in your organization's records management strategy and communicated to all those involved. Deciding in which format to declare as the official record depends on the industry as well as local, state and federal regulations.
  4. Increased records
    As digital storage space becomes less expensive, there is a tendency to simply hold on to everything. This can be a very costly mistake in the long run as we spelled out in a previous blog post regarding eDiscovery. Therefore, the key is using the established retention schedule to dispose of records (both physical and electronic) appropriately. This not only protects your organization from risk, it allows more efficient access to important records and as previously mentioned, less overall storage space, especially for physical records which can be quite expensive to store safely (whether on or off site).
  5. User acceptance
    The final challenge ties everything together. After designing a detailed and robust unified records management program, it is now imperative that your users all understand this program and are willing to follow the protocols. Unfortunately, many of your users will not be very educated about records management and its importance. As we discussed earlier, the first step is making it clear that anything declared as a record needs to be treated as such, regardless of format. This user education from the beginning will make the entire process easier and allow your unified records management program to run smoothly even as new documents are created and declared as records.

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