The attractions of outsourcing your storage to a third party are obvious: it's a huge burden removed from internal staff, leaving them free to concentrate on core business processes.
In today's market there is no shortage of companies ready to take data management off your hands. Digital data, from documents to spreadsheets and e-invoices to images, can all be transferred to off-site stores, managed by a chosen supplier. It's a tempting proposition.
However, a crucial area often overlooked is exactly what happens to your data once it leaves the office. Storing it is one thing, but what about when you need to access a specific item?
A good relationship with your records and information management provider means discussing your expectations from the outset. Perhaps the most important question to ask is how access to your data will be managed.
Put simply, data needs to be archived rather than simply stored. Companies need to think of data stores not as a distant domain ruled over by the third party supplier but as live sources of information, easily accessible by authorised parties.
Before signing any contract with a supplier it is vital to be certain that you can trust them to keep your data safe whilst making retrieval a hassle-free process.
Easy retrieval is vital not just because it makes life easier for employees, but because of the current legislative landscape.
Current and emerging legislation is placing pressure on businesses to increase the transparency of their records management practices. And with electronic records - the first target in most cases of litigation - it is vital that they are kept in good order.
Speedy retrieval of records proves to auditors and regulators that you are in control of your data, rather than the other way round.
Ideally, access should be available via a web browser, ensuring that data can be accessed from any location at any time.
For the quickest possible retrieval you need to think about how you want to search: by time, data, subject or keyword for example. In the age of Google, we have come to expect both speed and precision and a good service provider should offer a similar standard of search.
Having emphasised the importance of accessibility, it is important to remember two other provisos: cost efficiency and security.
Firstly, companies need to recognise that not every electronic record requires the same level of accessibility. In order to keep costs down it is vital to create categories for files according to demand for access.
Many documents are unlikely to be retrieved after storage but must nevertheless be preserved for legal reasons. For these records the most economic approach is to place a low service level requirement on them.
A good records management third party supplier should discuss the options of service from the outset. This is particularly pertinent because, despite spiralling storage costs, many electronic documents are not appointed a date of destruction.
It is not only much more economic to destroy documents once they are no longer legally required, it is much better perceived in the eyes of the law.
Secondly, companies need to balance accessibility with security. It is crucial to control, monitor and report who accesses which files and when.
The best records management suppliers offer systems programmed with levels of access and the ability to log retrievals in detail. It is this expertise in guaranteeing secure access that constitutes a real return on investment for today's data-rich companies.
Perhaps the final point to stress is the importance of consultancy. A good records management provider should always be on hand to offer advice and clarification.
With years of experience in the field and a solid understanding of the issues surrounding data management, the supplier should be ready to advise on everything from the length of time a particular piece of data needs to be stored to the best method of controlling access to the archives.
Only when you have complete confidence in a supplier should you invest in what is likely to be the longest supplier relationship your business initiates.
In a nutshell
- Digital data, from documents to spreadsheets and e-invoices to images, can all be transferred to off-site stores, managed by a chosen supplier.
- Data needs to be archived rather than simply stored.
- Speedy retrieval of records proves to auditors and regulators that you are in control of your data.
- Not every electronic record requires the same level of accessibility.
- Companies need to balance accessibility with security.
- A good records management provider should always be on hand to offer advice and clarification.