Take a look around your office. Your colleagues are likely buzzing about, attempting to slash tasks off their to-do lists. Are most of them spending a portion of their day creating and sharing documents? Are they updating and filing away records? Is retaining records and revisiting information critical to the integrity of your organization?

If you nodded your head to one, or all, of these questions, then records are the fuel that helps your business run. You’re not alone: The Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network found in a survey of 500 business owners, managers, and knowledge workers that 93% are document dependent. Because documents and records play such a central role to your operations, you may be facing a few key challenges, as well.

An astounding 83% of workers say they’re producing, sharing, managing, and distributing more documents than ever, according to BPI Network. And as more data proliferates throughout the business, it is only becoming more challenging for employees to find the information they need.

This is where records and information management (RIM) comes in.

RIM encompasses the management and administration of records throughout their entire lifecycle — from initial creation to destruction or disposal. Of course, organizations and institutions of different industries and sizes approach RIM differently. While some have formalized policies, others merely stack up piles of records on desks and in file cabinets. On both ends of the spectrum, there are myriad risks businesses can fall victim to if they don’t prioritize their programs effectively.

Is Your Business at Risk?

Regardless of where you fall on the maturity curve, there are numerous risks that could impact your business, employees, and customers, especially if employees don’t follow policies consistently; your practices do not adequately cover digital records management; or employees haphazardly file records based on personal preferences or gut instinct.

We recently created an infographic to spotlight the real risks of poor records management. Although each has major implications for businesses, two of the key risks are:

  • “Garbage in, garbage out”: Data accuracy and access form the bedrock of a successful RIM program. If you can’t ensure that all records are being correctly entered, filed (if physical), and tagged with the appropriate metadata (if digital), then your program will quickly unravel. If you put “garbage” or poor data in, your output will be lost files or incomplete records. And without proper classification and tracking of retention dates, you may inadvertently keep data past its retention expiration, leaving it open for legal discovery.
  • Regulatory fines and penalties: Organizations that record, store, and share sensitive information such as financial, medical or proprietary data must have a solid document retention policy in place. If not, they not only risk being fined, but experiencing repercussions including damaged brand perception and damaged customer trust.

Your organization doesn’t have to be a victim of its poor planning. There are a few key best practices you can follow to build a foundation for success.

Build the Foundation for a Sustainable RIM Program

When it comes to records management, most organizations are reactive when they should be proactive. They wait until their business is hit with an audit, is fined for not complying with regulatory requirements, or accidentally loses business-critical information before they take a hard look at their RIM practices.

Your business doesn’t have to have the same fate.

Every day, we partner with organizations to develop sustainable and scalable programs that include secure offsite storage, document conversion, and secure destruction, so they see success (and mitigate risk) at every stage of the document lifecycle. Here are some tips for building your program:

  1.   Think holistically: Records are far more than physical documents. While paper documents and records can easily be filed and then destroyed at the end of their lifecycle, the same cannot be said for digital forms, emails, chat logs, or even tweets. Make sure your RIM practices and lifecycle management processes apply to all record formats.
  2.   Make it easy to comply and collaborate: Poor employee adoption is one of the key reasons why programs fail. Work closely with departments such as HR and finance that create and manage records daily to develop clear and concise policies to ensure there’s no second-guessing among employees.
  3.   Prioritize security: Protect physical records — even hard drives — with secure and compliant offsite storage. When they reach the end of their lifecycle, shred and destroy documents, hard drives, and electronic media to maintain regulatory compliance and safeguard data security.

By following the steps laid out here, your organization can begin to build the foundation of an efficient, defensible RIM program. For tips on future-proofing that program, read “7 Keys to a Successful Records Management Policy.”


Jen Farnham is an industry leader in information governance and data compliance with over 13 years of experience in client success account management for some of the largest companies and government agencies in California.