To paraphrase a quote by the classic American writer Samuel Clemens, the death of paper has been greatly exaggerated. Studies conducted as recently as 2022 have reported that paper consumption continues to increase.

“Paper is so ingrained culturally,” commented IG expert John Mancini in a conversational webcast recently with Access. “It’s very difficult to change that. Directionally we’re heading [down a digital path], but at scale, there’s always a lag that occurs.”

At the same time, digital records are proliferating across multiple systems of record, making it a considerable challenge to have a holistic information governance program.

This blog is going to outline the best ways to get a handle on the management of both physical and digital records, as well as how you might organize seemingly disparate media into one place.

Understanding Your Information Governance Program

Today’s information governance (IG) programs need to be prepared to deal with managing all records, regardless of medium.

The best way to approach that is to figure out where your program sits today.

A tool like ARMA International’s Information Governance Implementation Model (IGIM) has become a powerful standardized resource to understand not only where your program stands now against your goals but also how it measures up to other organizations.

After you’ve benchmarked your program using this tool or another one like it, it’s time to assess the results.

This assessment might include being able to answer questions such as:

  • What are we doing right? Assess what you are doing correctly, document it, and make sure that those policies, processes, and procedures continue to be followed consistently.
  • Which areas of our program need the most work? Identifying gaps or inefficiencies in your program and determining which parts need the most work will enable you to prioritize during the first phase of your improvement plan.
  • What does success look like for us? Once you know which areas need improvement, it’s important to map out where you’re going and what goals you’re working towards within your designated timeline.
  • What are some quick wins we can secure? – Identify some areas within your program that will deliver high impact but be easier to accomplish in a short time (low-hanging fruit). That will help you build confidence and momentum across your organization.
  • What does our core IG team look like? – A cross-functional, cross-departmental team is key to understanding stakeholder perspectives, earning buy-in, and implementing changes in your information governance program.

Once you’ve answered these questions, it will be time to address physical and digital records separately, depending on the keenest need, and start the process of integrating them together.

Managing Physical Records and Active Files

Not all physical record files are of equal importance or relevant to current work. Access CEO Ken Davis describes files in terms of three tiers of use:

  • First-tier Files: kept close to your person and are actively used in your current daily work (e.g. in a briefcase or home office)
  • Second-tier Files: kept in an onsite records room that are used occasionally
  • Third-tier Files: stored in an onsite/offsite records center and are rarely, if ever, used

Obviously, the lower the tier, the less vital the records are in day-to-day activities. Still, the pandemic and events of the past two years have complicated the question of how to best manage these record tiers, especially in a hybrid, work-from-anywhere world.

There are solutions, however, like Access Unify, that can turn your physical file room into a digital library. If, in the end though, you decide to digitize certain legacy paper files, it’s important to have a plan behind what gets digitized and why.

As IG professional John Mancini put it, “Don’t just digitize [haphazardly] so you have a bunch of difficult-to-find papers in now difficult-to-find digital formats. You can’t just be scanning for the sake of scanning.”

As you’re sorting through which physical records go where, it’s important to consider 4 key steps:

  • Think through your metadata – Make sure that you attach the proper metadata to all vital physical records that might be missing it.
  • Complete a thorough indexing of the data you want to save – While time consuming, auditing your physical records can help you understand what you have. You can’t govern information if you don’t know what you have in which boxes.
  • Destroy physical records that are past their expiry dates – While auditing your records, you’re bound to come across expired records. After confirming they’re no longer required to be retained for compliance, you should destroy them as soon as possible in a secure manner.
  • Digitize your data correctly – Don’t just scan unstructured physical files that happen to be stored together in a box… only to make digital files that are stored in an e-folder elsewhere. Leverage OCR technology and automate the process of applying metadata to these files so you can group records in the same series together.

Now that we’ve sorted through the physical records, it’s time to turn our attention to the digital ones.

Managing Both Physical and Digital Records

A global workforce requires technology to collaborate. Employees need the ability to communicate and share information securely and seamlessly – regardless of their distributed locations. However, if information management isn’t run in a methodical manner, an organization can create information chaos. To avoid this, set protocols that determine which record is the master and which are convenience copies, and control versioning of files living in multiple systems. Taking these steps up front to organize and manage information is important because it empowers your organization to quickly locate the information they need when they need it – for optimal productivity.

As you look toward managing your digital records in conjunction with your physical records, you’ll need a solution that is built to track and manage both mediums. Reducing the number of systems that an employee requires to do their job should be a primary goal, and this might include sunsetting legacy applications and/or practices.

Centralizing management of digital and physical files is not only helpful for streamlining, but also helps your organization maintain compliance because there is less risk of losing or misplacing information. The following are four key capabilities that a reliable solution needs to rescue your stranded legacy records effectively and compliantly:

  1. Efficient ingestion – Regardless of whether your data is in a structured or unstructured format, you need a solution that can ingest it all as well as apply the right metadata and indexing to transform your documents to secure, searchable PDFs. The solution should also provide an auditable trail that shows successful record extraction for each record.
  2. Compliant Repository – Most legacy applications were built for business process improvement, not storing information securely. You need a solution designed not only to store the data securely, but also provide proper privacy and access controls for users.
  3. Retention Management – Global privacy legislation continues to increase. Having a system that can automatically apply the proper retention schedule based on the document type can ensure that you’re not over-retaining.
  4. Automated Disposition – An automated retention schedule application will flag the correct files for disposition when their expiry date arrives, making the process faster and easier to maintain while avoiding the typical legal research fees that accompany it.

Pulling Everything Together

In essence, a total information governance program is a combination of policies and procedures dictated by your company and legal team.

Bringing on the correct technology to support a holistic solution will marry the policies and technology accordingly, resulting in a tangible solution that can be managed in an ongoing fashion.

If you’re curious to learn more about what a solution like this might look like, talk to an Access solution specialist today, or watch the Out of the Box Live webcast featuring information management expert John Mancini: Why do we still have all this paper? The continuing challenges of going paperless in the age of digital transformation.

Watch “Why do we still have all this paper” Webinar Now!