Liz Sheffield

Your Guide to Better Information Management

Records and information management can seem like a monumental task. Businesses create and use countless documents and other records, and employers have to keep it all organized while also staying abreast of regulations coming from state and local governments and federal agencies.

With an understanding of how great records management can help your business run better, implementing an effective record-keeping system will set a solid foundation for your business as it moves into the future.

Why Is Record Keeping Necessary?

Records management involves a range of activities related to the thing at the center of almost every business — the data your company produces or preserves, from creation and labeling to storage and disposal. Some companies may use paper files while others have gone entirely digital, but the fundamental principles for how to build an effective record management strategy are fairly universal.

Of course, your priority is to avoid doing anything that puts your business out of compliance with regulations about record keeping and retention. But records management isn’t just about meeting legal requirements. It’s also about understanding your company’s current situation and predicting what its future will look like. Systematic and effective records management enables business owners to:

  • Plan for future needs
  • Track current results
  • Manage employee data
  • Prepare financial records for tax requirements

Without a proper records management system in place, managing certain necessary elements of your business can be frustrating, if not impossible. Likewise, if you don’t follow a predetermined process when creating your records management system, you’ll struggle with how to monitor the development, accessibility and number of company records you maintain.

Improving Your Records Management

No matter what your current strategy for handling records looks like, here are four tips to help ensure that your plan covers the basics.

  • Identify your records retention requirements. Small business owners should keep good records and have an idea of what documents they need to retain. There are plenty of resources online that can tell you which records to keep and for how long. As you identify records you want to hold on to, be sure to clearly define what constitutes a “record” so that your employees save only the final versions of documents.
  • Ensure that records are readily accessible. The next step is to determine where and how to store your documents. Are all of your records digital, or will you also keep paper records? Consider the pros and cons — space, ease of access, security, confidentiality requirements — of both methods to determine what’s best for your organization. Take care to specify who should have access to each record type and who oversees information management.
  • Plan for destruction. Yes, that sounds fairly dramatic, but storing records can become costly and take up a lot of space. As you revisit your plan for retaining documents, don’t overlook how you intend to destroy them once they’re no longer required. Digital destruction of electronic documents involves everything from permanently deleting emails to overwriting hard drives. Hiring a certified record destruction firm is an extra step that might not always be necessary for all organizations but can reassure you that your records and data aren’t at risk.
  • Conduct annual internal information management audits. Putting a program in place is just the beginning. Once you’ve developed a plan for your records, conduct an annual audit to review and reassess how effective your records and information management practices are. If you discover gaps or issues during the audit, you can make necessary adjustments for the upcoming year.

Business owners have to navigate a seemingly endless wave of regulations, rules and guidelines, and keeping everything in check is a lot of work. Implementing a secure information management system based on up-to-date record-keeping tips will go a long way toward organizing your business and avoiding legal risks. While it may take time and work to put a system in place, the efficiency and productivity benefits that come with having the documents you and your team need on hand is well worth the effort.

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