A look at the world of records management and how it is evolving for the digital age, by Karen Truebody, International Director, AGS Records Management.
The retention of company records is not a choice, it’s a requirement. Throughout the world, governments require corporations to keep their accounting records for specified periods, in some cases up to 10 years, but that’s only half the story. Whether or not a company is required by law to retain documents, the ability to retrieve a specific piece of paper can have significant financial consequences. For example, if proof is needed that a contract has been signed or you need to clarify its conditions; or maybe there is a historical investigation that requires sight of specific paperwork. Whatever the cause, there is always a financial bonus if a required document can be produced in a timely way.
Looking at it another way, today’s personal information legislation precludes organisations from keeping personal information once it’s no longer needed. In these cases it’s vitally important that companies dispose of information by the specified date as failure to do so could incur a fine. That’s why this industry is called records ‘management’: it’s a process of managing records to make sure a company keeps what it should keep, and no more.
For most companies, storage space on their premises is a problem. Either there is insufficient space or they do not have the skills or labour available to manage archived documents properly. This makes storage off-site the obvious choice.
High-quality records management companies have premises that are specifically designed to keep records secure in a controlled environment. This will include early warning and fire suppression systems that spring into action in the unlikely event of a fire, to snuff it out before it has chance to develop, preventing damage to documents and keeping water damage, that can be just as devastating, to an absolute minimum. Records management warehouses also benefit from round-the-clock security and sophisticated pest control to stop our rodent friends from making their home where they are not wanted.
As part of the service, your records management company will be fully conversant with the relevant regulations for your country and will make sure that customers comply. Should a revenue authority inspection be required, this can be done at the warehouse with no need for inspectors to enter customers’ premises.
Of course, some companies don’t have a space problem; for some, they have plenty of room for document storage. Here the role of the records management company is different. Experienced staff can be provided, either permanently or in a support role, to manage the process in-house and to provide security advice. If staff are available, they will need to be trained, they will need help in setting up an efficient storage and retrieval system, and they will need to have the latest management software to make the job easy. Then, if at some time in the future the space becomes inadequate or the company can use it more profitably, the transition to off-site storage is seamless.
As commerce increasingly moves towards the use of digital documents, document scanning has become popular and cost-effective. But it doesn’t make sense to scan all documents as the process is time-consuming and can be expensive if applied indiscriminately. The first step is to conduct a digital audit of the company to establish the normal flow of documents and which are, or are not, business critical. Critical documents will vary depending on the business: some, for example, may benefit from scanning Proof of Delivery (POD) documents that will allow fast dispute resolution with customers; for others, personnel files would be critical. Whichever documents in a business have a direct effect on profitability and need fast and regular access, should be scanned.
Some customers prefer the document storage facility to scan documents only on demand. For example, documents in store can be retrieved quickly and scanned as they are required meaning scanning costs are kept to a minimum while providing fast access when necessary. It’s even possible now to use high security smartphones to take pictures of documents and upload them to the system straight away, removing the need for scanning and giving customers almost immediate access to any document as required.
The AGS factor
The quality of infrastructure needed to provide sophisticated record management services is expensive. But as an organisation that has grown from a long-established, global moving company, AGS Records Management has a distinct advantage in that the facilities for records management are already available wherever they are needed in around 190 locations worldwide. The transformation of a household goods storage warehouse into a records management facility is much less expensive than starting from scratch so AGS can be flexible and keep rates cost effective. This global reach also allows AGS to provide a comprehensive service for multinational companies to help them implement their records retention policy through a single point of contact and filter those requirements down to branch level in a consistent way. In fact, roughly 70% of the AGS Records Management business is through global contracts in this way.
Karen Truebody is International Director, AGS Records Management, a company with records management warehouses in 48 African countries, 10 Asian countries and in strategic locations worldwide. Karen is also a member of the Board of PRISM (Professional Records and Information Services Management board).