It’s not uncommon for people within the records management profession to be undervalued. The fact is, most people think little of it but a new politically correct term for a filing clerk. As someone who’s been involved in the profession since 1990, the truth is a little more complex.
Though it can involve circulating files, the emphasis is very much more on setting up procedures so that people can manage their own records easily, minimise their risk, and reduce their costs.
Currently most people manage their records in a rather haphazard manner, finding folders for documents as they come in, or putting them into separate folder according to format. For instance, all images about Breakneck Bicycle Couriers might go into one ‘image’ folder, or a sub-folder beneath it. All emails might go into a similar, but separate folder structure in the email application, and other miscellaneous formats – such as .pdf’s, word processing documents and spreadsheets about Breakneck Bicycle Couriers – into another separate folder structure.
The problem here is that when we’re working on a particular activity, we find that information relating to it is spread out through our folder structure and takes an age to find. Rather than having all the relevant files in one folder, we’re constantly flicking from one folder to another to bring up the relevant document. For instance, the couriers logo might be buried away in a Word file, but we only manage to find it after going through all the images and email attachments in their respective folders. It’s a laborious and costly task that could have easily been solved had we applied records management techniques.
Courts take a very poor view of companies that are unable to supply documents with sufficient haste and some have been fined millions for the inefficient management of records. Don’t let it be you!
Another problem that rears its head if we don’t have an appropriate records management structure is that of security. If we’re working in a shared folder structure, we have to assign access privileges to each folder. This can get very complicated if documents relating to the same activity, only able to be seen by Mr Chainguard for example, are spread across multiple shared folders.
Business critical information is valuable and providing it to people through inappropriate security can be disastrous for a company’s reputation and you could wind up getting sued for supplying another company with trade secrets. Fines in this area can be stupefying, so ensuring security is entrenched and simply applied is a must.
Finally, management of the disposition of documents can get rather unwieldy if they are separated by format, or date, or subject or what have you. If our ties to Breakneck Bicycle Couriers get broken we’ll want to delete all the documents relating to maintaining our business with them perhaps three years later. If all the documents relating to this activity are spread out into various folders by date, or format, we’ll find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. People will just tend to leave the information there.
This can be a liability for many companies. Holding personal data for longer than the purpose for which it was created is considered unethical and is actually illegal in many western countries. Holding obsolete information that is nevertheless relevant in a court case can similarly wind up being damaging. For instance, if Breakneck Bicycle Couriers were to gain an order to access your files, and within them was out of date, but proof enough, evidence of a misdemeanour on your part then you would be forced to the penalties imposed by the court. If however it was disposed of according to a reasoned records management disposition policy based on that activity, the court would welcome that.
Solving this, and many other information dilemmas can be easily solved with the application of some basic records management solutions.