Records Management Best Practices

The most important thing you can do before implementing a records management program is to learn from those who have already taken this journey and follow proven records management best practices.

In particular, the following best practices will help your organization establish an effective records management program as a part of your large information management strategy.

Automate Records Management Processes as Much as Possible

People don’t want to manage records; they want to do the jobs they were hired to do. When work piles up or deadlines loom, they are going to focus on the priorities of their position, not complying with records policies. Therefore, you need to build effective records management capabilities into the tools that staff members use every day. For example, after you scan in content to digitize it, automate the declaration of electronic records in that content to ensure the process is completed accurately and reliably.

To help, vendors developed enterprise content management (ECM) tools. However, most of them handled only one type of task, so organizations had to make multiple investments and users had to juggle multiple systems. The tools were also rigid, which made keeping up with the needs of the business difficult. Therefore, people often tried to work around the ECM systems and the records policies they were intended to enforce.

The lesson to be learned is that you need to capture records during people’s normal work processes. They embrace a records management solution only if it is easy to use and benefits them, for example, by helping them find documents or streamline business processes. Many organizations find that the best and most reliable way to declare records is to invest in a data discovery and classification tool that can review content as it is ingested and automatically revise records declarations when business needs change.

Don’t Get Too Granular

A lot of organizations start with records management plans written by lawyers or people focused on identifying and mitigating risk. This often results in policies with a large number of categories, and staff members are confused about which category to pick when declaring records, leading to inconsistent results.

A better practice is to define fewer big buckets. This increases the reliability of the records declaration process. Just be careful to combine related records with the same retention period together to ensure you meet retention schedule constraints. For example, using a standard records category for financial documents with a few easy-to-understand exceptions can quickly improve the accuracy of your records management program and help you ensure files are destroyed in a timely manner and in accordance with the appropriate regulations to help ensure you pass audits.

Even with automated records declaration, a big-bucket approach helps. Each additional layer in your records schedule adds another layer of complexity to your automated tools and processes. Big-bucket categories reduce the number of scenarios to develop and test the auto-classification tools against.

Simply put, a big-bucket approach improves reliability, since there are fewer options for people and systems to choose between. It is a win for records managers, developers and staff alike.

Educate Your Organization

A final best practice is one that has been proven time and time again to have a positive impact on the success of any records management program: Train your people.

You need to teach your staff about the importance of records management. Explain how it helps with security and compliance, providing hard data about the consequences of improper disposal, access or destruction of records. This is not an hour-long presentation where you force employees to learn every detail about your records program. These are five to ten-minute stories about why it is important for the organization to capture and maintain records. You can share these stories at all-hands meetings or as short notes in a weekly company email. The key is to convey both the benefits of a successful records program and the risks of not properly managing records.

Be sure to teach people about their roles in the records program. These lessons should be short and tailored to different job roles. They should clearly demonstrate how using the systems will make their jobs easier. It should also highlight what has been automated so staff members clearly understand that you are not adding unnecessary work to their daily tasks.

Conclusion

In the end, a successful records management program focuses on keeping things simple for those delivering on the organization’s goals. You don’t want people to have to think too hard about what they need to do or they will make errors and take ill-advised shortcuts. Automating where you can and educating people about how the program will benefit them will go a long way towards building success.

Through the entire process, keep things iterative. There is no one correct way to implement a successful records management program. Every organization is different. Start your program, collect feedback, iterate and expand. Eventually you’ll hit the right approach for your organization.