Implementing a Records Management Program for Your Business

Implementing a records management program is crucial for businesses of all sizes. Smaller businesses have the same obligations as large corporations to protect sensitive data. Global privacy regulations have achieved some consistency under different names, with regulations like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) carrying most of the same standards as the European Union’s (EU) General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Beyond legal compliance, adopting an ironclad records management policy is an asset to your customers, ensures your office stays organized, and improves productivity.

Create an Inventory of All Records

Which records should you create an inventory of? How do you segregate your records management policy to achieve compliance? How long do you have to keep those records?

Some of the types of records businesses must always maintain for a set period include:

  • Business expenses
  • Accounts receivable
  • Accounts payable
  • Industry secrets
  • Customer records
  • Tax records
  • Employee information
  • Vendor data

These types of records are vital to running every aspect of your business. Each type of record has different storage requirements pertaining to its sensitivity. For example, customer and employee records are among the most vital because everyone has a right to privacy.

Failure to store such records securely can cost your business dearly. In 2022, the average cost of a data breach in the U.S. was $9.44 million, which is a record high.

There are also differences in the cost per stolen or lost record between sectors. For example, stolen public sector records were valued at $78, whereas a stolen record in the health sector cost a whopping $429.

Implementing a records management program is crucial and begins with taking an inventory of every file, folder, and database you have. Moreover, you should also create a complete inventory of any offline records you have.

All inventories should be matched up with the record lifecycle, which includes the following:

  • Creation – When information is received in any form, it becomes a type of record.
  • Distribution – Internal and external distribution, which is a type of record management.
  • Use – The third area of the record lifecycle concerns internal distribution and how it impacts your business.
  • Maintenance – Your records manager ensures that procedures for records management are adhered to, such as cataloging information and managing who can access it and how it can be accessed.
  • Disposition – Most critical records must be obtained for at least seven years before they can be properly destroyed. Industry regulations may define retention periods, but organizations can also set specific retention schedules.

Who to Manage the Process and Records

Everyone in an organization is somewhat responsible for implementing a records management program. No matter how good your records management implementation plan is, failure for everyone to push in the same direction can still compromise your plan.

According to research performed by Stanford University and a top cybersecurity firm, 88% of all data breaches result from human error, making it the primary driving force in failed records management.

Individual positions within companies must take the lead. Both managers and supervisors are integral to the process of launching the push for good record management. Several positions exist for implementing a records management program within companies, including:

  • Record Proprietors– Proprietors determine which records will be created, stored, and maintained. They also produce documents required for audit checks and various compliance procedures.
  • Record Custodians– Custodians are responsible for securing and caring for records according to company guidelines.
  • Local Records Management Coordinators– These professionals create, publish, and maintain record-retention schedules.

Only larger companies will have people in all three of these positions. Sometimes, smaller organizations may select a records manager for implementing records management programs. The person responsible may not even be a niche staff member. It could fall to a member of upper management.

How you structure your staff responsible for caring for your records depends on the size of your business, the industry you operate in, and the internal guidelines you must adhere to.

Alternatively, it might be ideal to choose an outsourcing service like Corodata to take the strain off your shoulders. Avoid expending company time and resources on this crucial function by opting for records management companies instead.

Procedures and Compliance Policy

Procedures must comply with your legal obligations. Some industries, like the medical sector, have additional regulations they need to adhere to. Protecting patient privacy through their medical records is critical, which is why knowing the provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is integral to the running of your business.

The banking and investment sectors also have their own sets of provisions that apply to them. However, most small businesses must comply with general data protection provisions, such as those outlined by CCPA and GDPR.

But what should your procedures and compliance policy actually consist of? Here’s a short rundown of some areas you’ll need to focus on.

  • Records retention schedules.
  • Policies on specific record types include unused files, emails, images, active files, and databases.
  • Setting parameters to define accessibility, such as how to access records and who can access them.
  • Auditing schedules to ensure employee compliance with your enterprise records management implementation plan.
  • Record disposal procedures.

It might seem like a massive headache, but businesses have no choice. How society views data and the rights of the public have transformed the obligations of businesses. Today’s data-driven world means the data you generate has real value, and your internal systems must comply with that.

Records Retention & Destruction Schedule

Records retention schedules define how long you’ll keep various types of records before disposing of them securely. With 2.5 quintillion bytes of data generated daily – and growing – it’s impractical to keep every record you hold permanently. Plus, customers, vendors, and employees have a right to be forgotten.

Creating a records retention schedule outlines how long each record type is kept. Sometimes this is defined by legal requirements, such as a rule on maintaining tax records for seven years. Less sensitive records may give you total freedom to set your retention and destruction schedule.

As part of implementing a records management program, coming up with a records retention schedule offers numerous benefits for your organization, including:

  • Saving you money
  • Supporting decision-making
  • Achieving compliance
  • Preserving access control
  • Protecting data
  • Making data easier to locate
  • Improving productivity

Records retention keeps you lean and agile while ensuring that your organization meets its obligations. It’s one of the central tenants of any records management program.

How to Store, Archive, and Manage Your Records

Digital archiving is a vital business practice in implementing a records management system. It prevents data loss and other disasters from happening. By ensuring records are properly preserved and may be accessed from anywhere, you can protect your business against any form of natural disaster.

The process involves preserving your digital content for future use. Archiving involves several aspects: data management, storage, migration, digital preservation, and metadata management.

Proper archiving for records is essential for:

  • Improving efficiency
  • Improving access
  • Enhancing security
  • Boosting business resiliency
  • Cost savings
  • Increasing productivity
  • Providing better customer service

The first step to archiving is figuring out what your needs are. Some archive types are better for larger files, whereas others work better with smaller files.

For example, if you’ve got lots of small files you need to access regularly, choosing a cloud-based archive is a great option. But if you don’t have the bandwidth to keep your records online and accessible all the time, you might choose an on-site hard drive.

Some archives include cloud and local storage options, each with pros and cons. For example, an external hard drive with a 1 TB capacity is a good option as a portable or desktop model, but it also leaves your archive vulnerable to theft.

All storage devices are divided into primary and secondary storage. Primary storage is designed for archiving data in its original form. These devices are usually volatile or non-volatile memory, including solid-state drives. Secondary storage devices preserve data post-conversion from its original form. Such devices might include optical discs and magnetic tapes.

It’s wise to include a combination of the two. Digital archives should also be stored in multiple locations on multiple devices. A single point of failure could cripple your business and cause permanent data loss. Adopting multiple layers of archiving ensures security, accessibility, and resilience within your organization.

Implementation Plan

Figuring out how to implement a records management system isn’t always straightforward. You should always consult a professional to take care of the process from start to finish. Implementation plans can be simple or complicated, depending on the size of your business.

Here’s your five-step guide to overcoming challenges in implementing a records management system.

Step One – Setup a Records Management Team

The first step is appointing a team responsible for implementing and maintaining your records management plan. It could be a single person if you’re running a small business or several people.

Your records management team will consist of experts who can design and implement the system across your organization.

Additionally, the leaders of your company will need to oversee the process consistently.

Step Two – Identify Records and Create a Data Retention Schedule

Identify every type of record created by your company. Every record counts, including online and offline documents. Make sure you leave no stone unturned, or you could leave a vulnerability within your records management program.

Every type of record needs to have an attached retention period. The retention period may be defined by legal regulations or by your team. Do your research or get in touch with an expert to learn more about standard data retention periods.

Step Three – Develop Your Storage Strategy

The most crucial step in your implementation plan is deciding how and where to store your records. The correct storage option must defeat everyone from thieves in your office to high-tech cybercriminals operating across the globe.

Partnering with a records storage company can streamline the administration process of keeping your records safe.

Several questions go into determining your storage strategy, such as:

  • How often will you need those records?
  • How quickly does your business need those records?
  • Is it necessary to keep the original?

Ask these questions about both digital and paper files. Most businesses have several storage options to accommodate different types of records.

Naturally, you’ll also need to think about your budget. Storage options cost money, which is why businesses destroy records after a time. Maintaining thousands of terabytes of data will only slow your business down and prevent it from operating efficiently.

Step Four – Destroy Unneeded Records

During your implementation plan, the chances are you’ve identified records that don’t need to be kept any longer. Existing records that have already come to the end of their data retention period must be destroyed securely.

Record destruction and disposal require you to follow legal guidelines, especially when disposing of sensitive information. Tossing old hard drives and documents into the trash could easily lead to a thief digging through your trash and selling the data.

Instead, it’s wise to partner with a professional organization like Corodata to shred and destroy online securely and offline documents. Partnering with a reliable third party demonstrates your commitment to security because you receive a Certificate of Destruction (COD) every time you dispose of unneeded and unwanted records.

Step Five – Create a Written Policy

Everyone has to buy into your records management program, or it will never work. The above steps should be written down and made available. Approve the policy with the leaders and decision-makers within your company.

The next step is to distribute your new policy to everyone who works for your company. Staff should be given training, support, and written rules they can reference anytime. Larger companies may also have a designated individual who will make themselves available for questions and queries.

Step Six – Conduct Regular Audits

Implementing a records management program will always lead to some teething problems. Friction is a natural consequence of change. Implementing your records management plan must also come with an auditing schedule.

Audits can take the form of internal audits or calling in a third-party auditor to run through your program and identify its weaknesses.

You must ensure staff is constantly adhering to your policies for it to work because a single mistake can lay it low. Ideally, you should conduct audits once or twice per year, but larger companies may conduct them more frequently.

Audits will help you find the weaknesses in your plan, ensure you’re compliant with the latest regulations, and guarantee that every employee follows company policies.

Corodata Can Help

Outsource the complexities of implementing a records management program with Corodata. Speak to one of our experts and allow us to implement a solid, robust records management program from start to finish.

Save money, free up resources, and stay compliant with a records management program that stands the test of time.

To initiate your implementation plan, speak to a Corodata expert today