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Record Management: Book Media Records Vs Electronic Media Records

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Record management is usually the part of the job everyone hates but it is a requirement for all business. Think of record management simply as document retention. Can you imagine how impractical as well as unnecessary it would be if businesses kept every document it generates? It is fine to clean up your desk by shredding or recycling papers here and there, but when a staff person presses the delete key on an important document, and that document is needed later, or if the information included in the document is under legal investigation and it appears that the document was deleted trouble can follow. Adopting a written document retention policy is a requirement in business practices and ensures that staff follows consistent guidance about document destruction and that document disposal and shredding practices become a regular business practice. This is important if you work in the public sector and are subject to public information requests. Financial records have been stored in paper format for years and now we are in the conversion phase of moving documents to electronic storage saving time and space. Converting to electronic storage has its advantages it will make it easier during auditing of financial records where they can be pulled quicker than paper files, no longer needing a controlled environment to save documents required for longtime storage, and no need to worry about files being lost due to unforeseen disasters of paper files.

Records include all papers, maps, photographs, machine-readable materials or other documentation, regardless of physical form/virtual form (electronic), made or received by the Government in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved as evidence of decisions, operations, or other activities of the Government. (Management) Files need to be filed and stored where they can be retrieved with access controls to ensure a high level of security and confidentiality in the records stored and retrieved. Documents need to be stored in a fashion where they cannot be edited to be able to retain historical accuracy. Be proactive with file storage and know the requirements for the documents you are storing. States have requirements for record retention but not all documents are included, the business might need to research retention for different areas of their business including construction document retention, grant funding document retention to give an example of just a few.

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The business record needs to be available for auditors, stake holder, and governing boards. All files that are stored need to be able to be reproduced in legible paper copies to be produced upon request. To ensure that every official electronic document or record is considered to be a true and accurate copy of the original information received and before the original copy may be destroyed, at least two (2) separate copies of the official document or record must be created on electronic media meeting all the conditions of a trusted system. (State) Backup files should be stored in an offsite location from the files stored on a local server. Storing all copies in one location can lead to the loss of all documents.

There has been a change in the way we file our business documents in the past twenty years. It has been historically that all documents where in paper form. The business has been converting documents over time to be in electronic form. You can store your documents in many ways as PDF, JPEG, TIFF, and others just make sure they are in a form that will be readable in years down the road. Electronic records are documents of information recorded in a form only a computer can process. Electronic formats include any media read by a computer. To be able to keep long term accessibility of documents or records converted from paper format into electronic format, the storing of documents need to be maintained in a trusted system.

It is almost impossible to correctly account for each person who accesses a paper-based file and review their use of that record. This means individuals can access records without permission and make copies of documents without anyone knowing. Documents that are pulled could be lost or not returned. These are just some of the challenges that are presented to practices relying on paper-based client files. Understanding roadblocks is an important step towards reducing labor costs and improving the quality of business documents while keeping your records secure and accessible.

Saving electronic files and paper files have several programs to implement scanning operations to convert paper records into digital images. Benefits include reduced storage costs and space, improved accessibility, and reduced risk of damage to records. When combined with effective indexing, imaging the files can shorten information retrieval time and allow access to materials for multiple users at various locations. (Archives)

Getting access to documents quickly has huge advantages with electronic filing. To complicate matters, paper records can only be in one place at a time, meaning they are not always accessible to the person who needs them, and can only be used by one person at a time. With more limited access to billing files comes a reduction in productivity. Departments that could act in unison instead of competing for the same document, such as administration and billing, who would be forced to “take turns”. What also is seen in environments that use paper files with electronic records is an increase in workload. Matching billing information with electronic payment systems becomes more cumbersome, requiring document scanning, manual data entry, and other unnecessary processes. With electronic files, the business has the ease of retrieval with the ability of mobile retrieval of documents. With electronic files, you can carry around on a laptop instead of boxes of files.

Why would a business not want to scan documents into electronic files? The time it takes to set up a filing system can be very time consuming and labor intensive. Setting up a comprehensive electronic filing system takes knowledge on the best way to store documents for long term storage but still be easily retrievable. The volume of files needed and the number of documents within those files takes up space quickly. Staff can have trouble in locating records, sorting documents and identifying key pieces of information if access is not optimized.

The business still has the responsibility to preserve sensitive client and customer information when storing documents electronically. An organization must also define its criteria for retaining data and ensure that they are following all applicable state laws in their definitions. This is best accomplished by developing a standard process and guidelines for data archiving. (Cordination) Regulations recordkeeping requirements require that employers keep all personnel or employment records including timesheets for a set amount of years depending on the state. If an employee is involuntarily terminated, his/her personnel records must be retained for one year from the date of termination.

A major consideration in the development of a filing system is the retention of the records. Record retention periods provide valuable clues for sorting files into the appropriate time requirements. Many times, records with the same retention will belong to the same record types as in contracts have the same time period, all payroll documents have the same record retention time. Record retention periods are should be recorded on a records retention schedule by all businesses. Retention schedules clearly state how long a record must legally be kept and whether the record is archival. Retention schedules also provide guidelines for moving files to inactive storage and for purging obsolete records. County record retention schedules need to be approved by their governing board.

In conclusion, there are many advantages to electronic record keeping. It allows for easier storage, accessibility, and backup of vital records. Lower cost to store files, time savings, faster filing and retrieval of information, fewer misfiles, higher staff efficiency and productivity. Cost savings by the less frequent purchase of filing equipment and supplies, less office space used for filing equipment, less likelihood of lost documents leading to unfavorable audit findings and penalties. The security for electronic files with loss of documents during a disaster means those files are safe if the files are backed up off site or on the cloud. With personal knowledge, I have converted two cabinets full of binders down to one as I myself are in the process of converting files from paper format to electronic. The hurdles that need to be overcome is how to set up the electronic folders to store the files. These files are now searchable and retrievable by other staff members that need to use the same documents. Be aware that going electronic does not mean you will completely be able to go paperless. There are some documents that will need to always be in a paper format like wills, home deeds, and other legal documents. Don’t let the thought of the overwhelming amount of paper documents that need to be converted get you down, think of the upside more office space if you need more room or less office space to rent if you only have the extra space to hold you files, no matter what the reason, in the long run, it will save time and space.

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