While record retention polices and requirements have been in place for decades, the enforcement of such polices has increased exponentially in recent years. Failing to properly retain and preserve relevant records and documents can result in considerable financial and legal consequences, such as fines, penalties, and attorneys’ fees. Be sure to protect your organization with these records management best practices.
Formalize records declaration and classification standards
Based on your organization’s industry and business needs, decide what constitutes a record, and subsequently, how long to keep it. Key elements to consider when determining records definition and retention include: federal, state, and local requirements, recommendations from professional organizations, and the likelihood of future relevance.
Also, assessing a record’s fiscal, legal, historical, or administrative value can help organizations determine the potential impact should the record become missing, damaged or otherwise unavailable.
Address all records, regardless of media type
Organizations should have policies in place that address both electronic and physical records, as both can be equally important to maintain information compliance with federal, state, and local requirements.
One of the most effective ways to achieve this is to implement software solutions that allow organizations to associate physical records with electronic records, providing federated search capability from a single application.
Design a storage plan for both physical and electronic records, including metadata
It’s important to have a storage and file plan that allows for efficient and accurate retrieval of records, regardless of medium or file type. A storage plan should also include an effective file plan that establishes naming conventions and classifies file types, storage location, and how files should be indexed for retrieval.
Be sure to consider both the physical security of hard copy records and the network security of electronically stored information. Network security is especially important to prevent electronically stored information from accidental or premature deletion.
Prevent premature destruction of records pending audit or litigation holds
Another key records management best practice is the ability to protect records and documents that are pending legal or audit review. This process suspends the destruction of particular records or even entire record series for a period of time until the relevant issues are resolved.
Establish a process for timely and accurate retrieval, transfer, and destruction of records
A successful records management program must have a process that allows for timely retrieval, transfer, and destruction of records. If records cannot be produced when requested, essential business functions may be delayed, or worse, penalties or fines may be issued. This process should also include the ability to track approvals, requests, and destruction reports, and to provide a comprehensive audit trail for all user activity.
While there are many options for records management programs, many key issues that arise can be linked to the best practices mentioned above. Whether your organization’s records management program is newly forming, in transition, or mature, it’s important to audit the records and information management processes to ensure your organization is aligned with business objectives and compliant with all applicable rules and regulations.