Your organization needs to manage information, even if it’s not your core business model. There are numerous internal, financial, and legal documents that you need to create, store, access, and one day dispose of that keep your organization running. You need to manage hiring, payroll, and performance review records for every employee. You need to manage contracts, transaction records, and correspondence for every client or partner.
Effective record and information management takes time, energy, and knowledge. Tedious clerical work like filling out and filing forms drains your focus while costing you valuable time that you could be spending on your core business instead. Even more tedious, staying compliant with legislation means research. You are required to know and understand the implications of any relevant legislation and adjust your business processes accordingly.
Why not outsource these tasks to a dedicated record management service provider? High-quality records management service providers will know how to manage and organize information efficiently and understand the relevant regulations inside and out. You’d free up time to focus on your core business while ensuring that your records are managed by experts. You know your core business better than anyone else; information management is their core business.
There are some essential questions to consider if you’re interested in the benefits of records management services:
- “Are records management services right for me?”
- “What does good records management mean?”
- “What does good records management look like?”
Are Records Management Services Right For Me?
Records management services benefit any organization that isn’t based on information management. If your organization is already specialized in information technology, or record and information management, storage, or destruction, then you can probably manage your own records just as well as anyone you’d outsource to.
If that description doesn’t sound like your operation, you can probably benefit from outsourced services. You can especially benefit if you often find yourself running into the limits of your physical and digital storage space or if you don’t have the staffing budget for legal or other specialists. In other words, outsourcing is especially beneficial if your operation is a small business.
What Does Good Records Management Mean?
“Good management” is somewhat vague; what counts as “good” records management? In general, there are three main principles: organization, security, and compliance with legislation.
Keeping your records well organized is essential for maintaining accessibility. The first step is to develop a classification and indexing system that makes intuitive sense. With a classification system that organizes records based on notable, memorable characteristics (e.g. contents, author, purpose, date created), you can find what you’re looking for without having to sift through hundreds of irrelevant documents. Even more important is that you actually use that system every time you add a new record to your storage.
The entire purpose of keeping records, whether for your own sake or because it’s required by legislation, is to maintain access to that file for when you (or the CRA) may need it. Getting rid of or losing a record too soon isn’t just bad records management; it’s illegal. But merely having a record in your possession counts for nothing if it’s buried under so many other disorganized documents that you can’t access it quickly when you need it.
If the CRA comes looking for your tax records from a particular year, for example, they won’t care whether you say the documents are somewhere in your storage, only that you can produce them when asked.
You must retain records for various lengths of time and keep them accessible to the right people throughout the retention period. Another part of good records management is ensuring the wrong people don’t have access to them. There are many reasons why you would want to secure a record, but in general, if a document is worth collecting and retaining in the first place, then it’s probably worth putting in the effort and the funding to make sure they’re secure.
If you collect any of your clients’ or users’ personal information as part of your business model, for example, then you are legally required to keep that information safe. It has to stay secure when it’s collected, while you’re holding on to it, and all the way up to the disposal.
Finally, good records management is compliant with legislation. The potential penalties for being found non-compliant include lengthy delays in any interaction with the government while you’re being audited, costly fines, and, if your violations are particularly severe, criminal prosecution is not unlikely. Ensuring that your practices are compliant gives you the peace of mind that only comes from knowing that you have nothing to hide.
Compliance is easier said than done, however. Developing a system of records management that meets all of your operational needs while staying organized and secure is already a difficult challenge. For better or for worse, regulations add even more conditions and contingencies to that puzzle.
Even if you contract your records management to a provider specializing in it, Canadian federal legislation holds you accountable to know what policies and procedures your organization would need to operate by.
The complexity of any organization’s operation means that there’s an enormous variety of policies and procedures that might be necessary in some cases while irrelevant in others. Rather than try to establish regulations that somehow cover every possibility, the government requires you to develop your own set of rules specific to your situation and enforce them within your organizational structure. (To learn more, check out our blog on records retention legislation.)
Even if you outsource as much of your records management as possible, you need to have policies and procedures covering every step of the records’ lifecycle. When outsourcing to service providers, you need to enforce the policies and procedures that work for your operation onto the service provider as part of the terms of your contract with them.
What Does Good Records Management Look Like in Practice?
Having identified the three core features of competent records management, the short answer is that good records management is organized, secure, and compliant. But this doesn’t give you much to think about when considering which records management service to work with.
The lifecycle of a record goes from collection or creation to classification and organization, to use and modification, to retention or archiving, and eventually to disposal. When weighing up your options for service providers, it’s a good idea to take a close look at how the provider deals with each of the steps they’ll be contracted to handle and evaluate how efficient, organized, and secure their practices and policies are at each stage.
As mentioned previously, outsourcing doesn’t mean you don’t have to learn the regulations. It saves you the work of operating the records management system. However, you still have to build that system in collaboration with the service provider, based on the relevant legislative requirements. If the government audits your operation or the operation of your service provider, and their practices are found non-compliant, you’ll be on the hook as well. Your records are your responsibility, and that includes the way that others handle your records.
No outsourced service can cover 100% of your records management. You’ll still need to create and collect your records before sending them to your service provider.
However, letting an organization specializing in records management handle your records storage, archiving, digitization, and/or disposition can save you time and energy, all while ensuring that the job is done by experienced and well-equipped professionals.
Even if you want to keep your records management in-house, third-party providers can help you set up an efficient, organized, secure, and compliant program. This will usually involve helping you choose an electronic records management system or helping you build one from the ground up. In the digital age, having an effective digital information system is a must, as it has enormous benefits for organization, security and flexibility. To learn more about the benefits of digital systems, check out our blog on the security advantages, or our blog on the operational advantages.
Of course, the benefits of digital information systems only extend to digital files. Efficient digitization solutions allow you to bring your entire library of paper files into the digital world, letting you share instantly, access from anywhere, and store more efficiently. Consent has been offering reliable and secure digitization services for decades, including data entry, day-forward or backfile paper scanning, and even old film scanning.
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