What’s This Whole Records Lifecycle Thing?

Editor’s Note: Second in a three-part series, What is Records Management?, where we outline significant RIM features: Protection, Records Lifecycle and Business Strength. This post, originally published on May 27, 2013, has been modified for relevancy and fresher examples, links and stats.

The practice of records management can be likened to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs—the best-known theory of motivation that lists Safety, Belonging and Self-Actualization as terms to describe the pattern through which human motivations usually move. Similarly, once your sensitive documents are secure, the motivation for Records Managers to use and manage their archival records in a safe, orderly, offsite environment is the next step.

The question then becomes, how does a company keep up with the various stages of its records’ lives?

A Quick Look at the Records Lifecycle

1.

Creation

When information is received internally or externally in any form, including digital, print and video, it becomes a record.

2.

Distribution

This phase is concerned with managing the record. It includes both internal and external distribution.

3.

Use

This area is concerned with how the record is distributed internally and its effect on all or a segment of a business.

4.

Maintenance

This focuses on procedures every records manager should follow after an important document has been created and distributed. It’s critical that a plan be put into place defining how the information will be cataloged. Only then can data be accessed for requests or retrieval by authorized members of a company. Critical to this step is having a process in place that ensures the record is returned and available to others.

5.

Disposition

Most records are retained—and must be available—for approximately seven years before they are destroyed. There is a small percentage of records that never lose their value. Retention periods are defined by an organization’s specific retention schedule.

Helen Streck, CEO of Kaizen InfoSource describes a retention schedule as a document that tells you what kind of information the company has and how long to keep it. She goes on to say that a document is the foundation if you want to tie records management back to security.

How to Manage the Records Lifecycle

In short, the days of keeping critical records filed in boxes strewn about the office are a thing of the past—it’s time to organize your files library-style. It’s easy to see that of foremost concern is a company’s ability to quickly access a record when the need arises, always feeling in control of all of the business’s valuable information. When necessary, records can be retrieved without wasting time sorting and shuffling through countless boxes. Entrepreneur reports that the average company loses more than 20 percent of its productive capacity to “organizational drag,” otherwise known as red tape or unnecessary complexity.

First, secure offsite records storage with proper indexing of files in place dramatically reduces costs related to managing files, misallocated office storage space, and organizational drag.

Lastly having a chain of custody is a big deal. The chain of custody keeps tabs of every document over its entire lifecycle. In short, it’s a log that tracks every file’s whereabouts, including a description of the document, who created the document, where and when it’s been distributed, who has the document now.

Helen Streck of Kaizen InfoSource on Retention Schedules [Podcast]

In episode 1 of the File Tips by Corodata podcast, Helen goes deep into explaining how a retention schedule can protect your company if legal action is taken; more details on managing files during legal action, and the difference between a back-up and a record.