5 reasons effective records management needs ECM
When I worked in state government, records management was nothing more than an annoying end-of-fiscal-year task. The hallways of my department would be littered with paper and bankers’ boxes as my peers sorted the records from the last year. In the end, they closed the fiscal year and then boxed up the records and sent them across the street to the state archives. They did a thorough job, but things would back up as we waited for the file drawers to be emptied and reset. My desk would be an impromptu file cabinet and, eventually, I needed to file away what had built up on my desk. I confess that, at times, things were lost or never filed.
On top of the year-end tasks, we had to find room in our budget for ever-increasing offsite storage costs for our records. Our department had large volumes of paper that we needed to keep and, each year, we added to the pile. Retention periods ranged from two years to seven years to forever, a complex and expensive responsibility to manage. In addition, our staff had to be trained and, if we lost a staff person, a new person had to be ready to assume the records responsibility. Our stretched administrative staff did not have extra time to make sure that my colleagues and I were following records policies.
In hindsight, so many of the administrative headaches we faced could have been eliminated by effective records management, supported and enhanced by enterprise content management (ECM). Key features and functionalities can help records managers move their archives from a vulnerable paper-based system to a secure and cost-effective digital solution.
Consider the potential for ECM in these significant records management moments:
Inventory and classification
The act of storing a document in an ECM solution requires the staff to declare what type of document it is. Behind the scenes, the ECM solution can be configured to handle that record appropriately, without the staff person needing to know the records policy. This ensures accurate classification and preservation at the earliest possible moment.
Retention and destruction
When digital records are secured in an ECM solution, they can’t be deleted until the policy permits. Staff avoid accidentally or intentionally deleting files, and it demonstrates to an increasingly suspicious public that records can only be destroyed per policy and not political interest.
ECM manages records storage, eliminating the filing and archiving process while helping agencies avoid the long-term burden of ever-increasing offsite storage costs. And, easy retrieval of digital files means staff are ready for the rare moments when they have to consult archived records to resolve an issue.
When working with paper records, there is generally only one copy of any given record. In fact, that record is certified as “THE copy.” This presents difficulties if storage is compromised by events ranging from fires to floods to storms. Using ECM means that you have the option of redundant systems, allowing access in the event that your location is compromised or a copy is destroyed. This makes business continuity and disaster recovery easier, especially if those records need to be consulted to aid in the recovery.
It’s worth mentioning again how important it is to appropriately dispose of records. Increasingly, an audit trail that demonstrates that records were only destroyed per the policy is a key aspect of records management. This allows government to be considered both trustworthy and transparent, particularly in the wake of high-profile instances of destroyed documents. An ECM solution helps to ensure both an audit trail and that records are removed only according to the policy, supporting open government initiatives.
At these key moments, ECM is a responsive and critical platform for the next generation of government. It offers significant protection for records while supporting these traditional and foundational responsibilities. And, with automation and mobile and self-service access to records, ECM is a tool that improves not only records preservation and management, but also day-to-day government tasks.