By Martin Susec and Deborah Gantt
Q: Why do companies struggle with records and information management?
A: Hundreds of laws may apply depending on the industry, so companies struggle to understand which records must be kept and for how long. Further, they must not destroy information that is relevant to any pending or ongoing legal disputes. Companies also must determine how long to keep certain records for business purposes even when no specific law requires their retention. And throughout the entire process, companies must identify and protect sensitive and confidential information.
Q: Must some records be kept forever?
A: Some records, such as previously filed federal and state tax returns and corporate structure and governance records, must be kept as long as the company exists. After all, there is no statute of limitations for companies that fail to file their tax returns. Companies can, however, discard most records according to a routine and systematic records management program based on the records’ legal and business value.
Q: What is a records management program?
A: A solid records management program includes a records management policy and a retention schedule. A records retention policy and schedule requires all records to be cleaned up once they are no longer needed for business or legal purposes. The schedule then identifies the company’s primary types of records and establishes pre-defined retention periods based on business and legal needs.
Q: How would our company create a records retention schedule?
A: To create a records retention schedule, you may need help from records and information management professionals in collaboration with business associates closest to your records. The successful formula incorporates routine and systematic compliance with a pre-defined program enacted in good faith. Your company should take advantage of local resources in records and information best practices.
Q: How can our company clean up large collections of abandoned physical and electronic records?
A: “Stock piles” of abandoned records include aging warehouses full of paper; off-site locations bulging with unmarked, mismarked or unidentifiable boxes; and neglected share drives. There are legally acceptable ways to clean up such records, but many companies do not pursue them because they require some understanding of proper records and information management techniques. Once enacted, a solid records management program can help your company clean up these stockpiles using the following steps:
1) Identify which records in the stockpiles can be destroyed by identifying and matching records in the stockpiles against those types prelisted in the retention schedule.
2) From the newly created list of records now eligible for destruction, give business and legal associates one last, but very narrow, opportunity to identify additional information that should be retained for future legal or business purposes (e.g., pending litigation).
3) Destroy all remaining records not otherwise identified under the previous two steps.
Q: Where can we get help with records management?
A: Consider contacting an Ohio chapter of ARMA International. Chapters exist in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Dayton and hold monthly public meetings to share the latest trends and standards for proper records and information management. These meetings can help you network with lawyers, consultants and company records managers to tackle your most difficult problems. For more information, visit the ARMA International website at arma.org.
Martin Susec and Deborah Gantt are officers and board members of the ARMA Greater Columbus Chapter.