Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Golden retrieval

Golden retrieval

Developing a dependable document retention, retrieval and destruction strategy demands a measured, step-by-step approach

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As compliance legislation starts to bear down on organisations in almost all sectors, record retention is becoming a task even the most paperless of offices can not avoid.

Emails, customer correspondence, employee records, spreadsheets and countless other documents are potentially under the control of regulations such as the Freedom of Information Act, the Data Protection Act and innumerable more mundane legislation, such as the VAT Act and the Finance Act.

Many organisations are, therefore, now having to overhaul - or establish - a business-wide records retention, retrieval and destruction policy. Ensuring that is done successfully, say specialists, depends on taking a measured, step-by step approach.

Step one
The first step is to appoint someone to head the project. That person needs a firm understanding of the business and how it operates; the ability to digest the legal, corporate and regulatory requirements that will be encapsulated within the records management policy; and the ability to get management backing for the project.

Liz Maloney, managing director of enterprise content management specialist Hummingbird, says that in her experience, projects tend to be more successful if the project leader comes from a business, rather than a technical, background, and if they already hold a senior position.

“It's a lot easier to teach someone about records management than it is to teach them business skills. Business skills generally come from experience rather than training,” she says. It is also easier for someone with strong business connections to get the support required to implement and enforce the policy.

However, if a business leader is chosen, it is vital that someone else with records management skills forms part of the team devising the policy.

Step two
With the right person in charge of the project and the backing of senior management, an assessment of assets can begin. These assets include both the documents that the organisation has and any records management policies that might already be in existence, whether informal, departmental or otherwise.

“Even in quite small firms, there's someone responsible for records management, even if they're not called a records manager,” says Maloney of Hummingbird. “They might be a senior personal assistant, they may report to the facilities department, but there's usually someone.”

This 'records manager' - or 'records managers' - may not have a written policy, but he or she can describe existing processes, such as how things are filed, how long they are filed for, how people can retrieve documents, when they are archived and even when they are destroyed. This policy can then form the basis of the new organisational policy.

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