This article appears in the Winter 2018 digital issue of DOCUMENT Strategy. Subscribe.

Image by: Marilyn Nieves, ©2018 Getty Images

If there's one resolution every organization should keep, it's effectively managing their records. This resolve doesn't just materialize every New Year, though, but usually after some significant document was lost or accidentally discovered. A team is quickly pulled together with the mission of implementing a records program in the next few months. More often than not, it ends in failure. So, how can we promise to do better in the future?

Skip the "Keep or Destroy" Debate

One of the big debates when implementing records management is whether to keep or destroy every document. While this might define your organization's level of acceptable risk, and where that risk may lie, it often means little in the long run. That's because, no matter where you start, you quickly find exceptions to the rule. Even if you plan on destroying everything, you still need to keep employment documents for "x" years, and if you plan on keeping everything, you'll soon realize that financial documents take up a lot of space and are only needed for "y" years. Skip the debate. A good records management program will keep some documents while destroying others.

Creating an enterprise-wide records management program is not an easy process, and so, it won't happen all at once.

Start with the Easiest Retention Rules

When you start looking at the retention rules for individual types of files (a.k.a., the file plan), it's best to start with the easier ones first. The appropriate retention schedules for internal documents may be difficult to define, so it will be much easier to identify the criteria for certain external processes, such as the requirement to keep tax-related documents for a specific number of years after filing or the condition to keep employee-related documents for a number of years after employment. Starting with these established policies can show progress in your program quickly.

It's Not All or Nothing

Creating an enterprise-wide records management program is not an easy process, and so, it won't happen all at once. Implementing these policies will require you to train users on identifying which documents are records and when to declare them as such. Often, it's best to start with a department or two, especially if they support the records program. Instilling organizational change is much easier when a few departments are equally motivated to implement the solution. With the help of these early adopters, it becomes easier to bring the rest of the organization on board.

Implementing records management is not an event but an organizational discipline. The lack of attention on this issue has made the problem bigger and bigger, and it's not going away overnight. In the new year, resolve to begin managing your records before a crisis forces your hand.

Marko Sillanpaa is co-founder of the blog Big Men On Content and the founder of BMO Consulting. He has been working in ECM for over 18 years for vendors like Documentum, EMC, Hyland, and SDL Trados and systems integrators like CSC and Accenture. Follow him on Twitter @MSillanpaaBMOC.
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