In essence, a good records management policy and effort helps companies continuously downsize and de-clutter. That is not to say that the company moves to a smaller space or reduces headcount. In this context it is the systematic process of eliminating information that is no longer legally required or relevant to the business. This sounds fantastic for every company and every employee doesn’t it?
It sounds great to have less irrelevant information to sift through and maybe clearer lines of site to people in cubicles around you, unless you like to work in a bunker. New office space configurations and the wave of digitization have reduced the chances of boxes piling up. But even those pesky digital files need to be purged every once in a while. So why is it so hard to do?
To programmatically or systematically delete files that are no longer legally required or relevant to the business (“Records”) means there must be a few things in place first. The company will need a records management policy that describes the document classifications (legal record, business record, junk), specifies generally what files fall under each classification and then states the legal or business retention period. The retention period is the duration (months/years) the file must be retained before it should be destroyed. For instance, retain the customer contract for 3 years after the term expires.
So instantly this highlights some basic challenges. All files will need to be classified when the file is created or received, including the date of the file. Secondly, there must be a way to search through all of the company files, where-ever those files reside, to find the ones that meet the criteria for deletion. Then, and here is the most difficult part – someone needs to actually delete the files!
The benefits of having a records management program in place, as previously mentioned, include less clutter so good information is easier to find and less space, in this case, less gigabytes of storage, which might save some money. There is also better security over sensitive data and lower exposure to litigation. Even if it is an ethical, well run business, frivolous lawsuits still cost money and therefore, the ability to quickly prove that no smoking gun exists, is a benefit.
Many document management systems provide the ability to classify documents when they are added to the system. Many also have the ability to programmatically find and list documents that meet the retention periods and are ready for deletion. But users still don’t always delete those files, despite wanting the benefits of de-cluttering.
We have added the ability to hide “retired” information from standard searches into our document management solution. We have also added the ability to highlight information that is old, but maybe not at the point where it has met the retention period. So while we understand the benefits of decluttering, we also understand the fear of wiping out information that could, just maybe, once in a blue moon, possibly, come in handy.