Records storage, information governance, and retention and disposition tactics – on their own they all can be considered important initiatives that protect critical information. But when they are all united under the umbrella of a holistic information management program, they can do more than just preserve the bottom line: they can drive value.
Why Manage and Govern Information?
An information management program provides a lot to companies that implement effectively. The core, commonly discussed benefits include cost savings from reducing administrative workloads and better use of office space, better security for your data and information, and improved efficiency through being able to find and use critical information to drive better business decisions. Beyond that, good records management processes help create a more professional and uncluttered working environment and reduce your risk of compliance failures and fines. If you had to sum it up, and putting legal compliance requirements aside, having a good records management program is simply good business practice just like having insurance.
Those are the benefits of storing information effectively. But when you institute a holistic information management program, you are doing much more than storing it effectively. You are also categorizing it effectively. You are making sure it is available to the right people, at the right time, to enable the right processes. In short, you are activating your information. Those better business decisions mentioned above, if fully realized, represent a core strategic component to discussions at the highest levels that can mean the difference between growth and failure to compete.
The Keys to an Effective Information Management Strategy
A series of RIM best practices, developed by professionals to ensure that the best methods and processes are used, will contribute to the success of a records information management program. Following these standards and guidelines is especially important today as the multitude of different types of available information, as well as the expanding regulatory environment, have made RIM increasingly complicated.
A good program covers everything from physical and digital files to emails and social media posts, while a RIM partner can help organizations manage all their physical and digital records more efficiently.
1. Information Governance enables a managed information lifecycle.
Information governance as it refers to the information collected, created and utilized by a business is the complete management of the data in all its forms—this includes the availability, integrity and security of the data. Boiled down – it is the act of providing a structure for unstructured data such as documents, images, and other “content” that doesn’t natively exist in databases and spreadsheets.
Only by implementing a program that remains consistent throughout the entire organization can a information management program truly be successful. All levels of management and staff must adhere to the same guidelines and protocols for information retention to effectively reduce or eliminate any loss of files and data. By using tools and technology that simplify both enforcement of these rules and adherence to them, your organization can create a governance plan that in essence enforces itself and prepares active documents for easy declaration at the point of recordation.
2. Retention schedules require support.
Retention strategies must be developed and implemented to accommodate all types of files and data. The conversion of records, as well as the migration of data from one computer platform, storage device or medium to another, must also be considered when developing your retention strategy.
A retention schedule is proportionally effective to the level of the records team’s visibility into new information as it is created. The proliferation of “dark data” – information created outside of an organization’s official channels – means that in many cases, corporate records managers cannot know if they are aware of all the content they are obliged to manage as a record. With good governance systems that encourage compliance through ease of use, records managers can be more confident that all of the important information developed by knowledge workers is properly categorized with the right metadata and storage requirements, and includes all the relevant information to surface it as a business record.
An outside consultant can help facilitate this process and help you create a customized retention strategy specific to the needs of your business and its critical data.
3. Policies and processes should work together to prevent data breaches.
Strong data security must also be a major component of your RIM strategy. A data breach doesn’t just compromise your business, but also potentially the personal and sensitive information of customers and clients. A business that is the victim of a data breach where customer information has become vulnerable can be subject to large fines and lawsuits.
Establishing policies and procedures that keep your organization compliant with regulations governing the security and privacy of sensitive information protects both your business and those whose data you’ve collected. Limiting the existence of critical information to managed systems will go a long way towards reducing the risk of a data breach.
4. Documents should be findable to the people who need them.
When you need to locate data and files for audits, litigation purposes or simply just to review, ensuring that you can do so easily and securely should be a part of your RIM strategy. Today’s technology offers the means to establish security parameters allowing authorized access to files and data with ease. These systems should be managed intentionally and with care to ensure they remain the source of truth for the information they contain, and they should be integrated as fully as possible with other systems to allow easy retention management.
5. Disposition is more than just saying “time to throw this away!”
The purging of physical records and documents that you are no longer required to keep, whether it be that the data has expired or that the information has been securely backed up, is also a critical part of a RIM strategy, as it is the endpoint for most retention strategies.
Though it is often overlooked or delayed because it can be time-consuming to define and operationalize, a disposition and destruction process that is directly linked with your retention strategies can reduce unnecessary legal exposure and help you keep a handle on optimizing storage and real estate costs. Partnering with a RIM provider that offers secure offsite storage, scanning and shredding and document destruction can greatly enhance your RIM strategy and ensure consistent, long-term and secure document disposal.
In the end, that’s what makes the information lifecycle a lifecycle – each element, standing on its own, represents a single tactic or series of tactics that are component of a wider strategy of value creation, risk reduction, and business intelligence.
For more on how information can be harnessed to enable better business decisions, read our ebook: Risks and Opportunities of Managing Information Chaos