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This is the seventh entry in our NARA series. Check out the others below!

When it comes to managing records, specific needs can vary wildly from business to business. Choosing a solution with features and components that effectively meet your needs can often be an intimidating challenge.  

Since every organization has unique practices, policies, procedures, and regulatory compliance needs, your solution decision should be methodically evaluated tensure that it is, indeed, your perfect records management fit.

Build or Buy?

To build, or not to build, that is the question! 

Often, the first question–and one of the most important–is whether you should build a solution in-house or buy one. You could theoretically buy a pre-built solution (or “point solution”) that gets you “most” of the way there before filling in the gaps with custom-built features. There are many pros and cons to each approach. 

For this article, we’ll keep it brief and focus on how you can make the right decision for your business, based on the way you (and the people in your business) work.    

Considerations 

You’ve probably heard it said that peopleprocesses, and product are the main keys to business success. Let’s assume that you’ve hired the right people and, in many cases, have a documented process or Standard Operating Procedure by which you typically operateNow you just need to find a suitable solution which compliments your people and processes to enable your success. 

Although records management goals may vary from business-to-business, there are some common needs that apply to most situations. The most common include (but are not limited to)

  • Identification of records 
  • Declaration of records 
  • Security of records  
  • Protection of record integrity/lifecycle 
  • Management and storage of records 
  • Destruction of records 
  • Auditing trails/reporting 

You may be able to identify more needs that need to be met for your specific solution (and I encourage you to do so)but these are most of the major concerns that are typically applicable across the board. If you can effectively address these needs, you’ll significantly decrease your level of risk and improve your efficacy in the areas of records management and compliance.  

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How to find a solution that meets your needs

When searching for a new records management solution, the first question to ask yourself is, “Why do I need one? 

An honest evaluation of the current state

Is there a specific government regulation to which you must comply? Are you in an industry that requires standardization around record keeping/reporting? Do you just want to get organized? These will be key factors in determining the level of investment you should considersomething that will also contribute to your “Build vs. Buy” decision.   

You’ll also need to perform an honest evaluation of where you are today in terms of your records management capabilities. Some quick questions to get you started in that evaluation include:     

  • How do you identify records today?  
  • How do you declare a record once you’ve identified it?  
  • Once you declare a record, how do you lock it down so that it cannot be edited?   
  • Do you have a records management lifecycle plan?
  • Do you have a secure place to store records and move them through each phase of their lifecycle?  
  • How do you identify records for destruction?  How do you destroy them?  
  • How do you track (audit) all of the above activity?   
  • To whom are you accountable for reporting this information?  
  • With regards to all of the above: Why do you do these things the way you do them today?   
  • Lack of people? 
  • Lack of processes?  
  • Lack of technology?   
  • Lack of money? 
  • Combo/other?  

Evaluate the future state goals 

Answering the questions above will not only give you a vivid picture of what you’re currently doing well, but itll help you to quickly identify areas (gaps) where you are deficient and in need of improvement. You’ll want to consider solutions that enable you to KEEP doing what you do well and that facilitate or improve the areas where you are currently deficient or need improvement.   

To ensure success, ask yourself the following questions about your new (or proposed new) solution:   

  • Is this solution flexible enough to allow us to work the way we are most efficient 
  • Does it facilitate our current (or desired future) process?  
  • Does it help us deliver consistency and control compliance?  
  • Is it easy to use? Will we need to re-train everyone? If so, will the improvement be worth the time and investment in training everyone?   
  • Is it effective? Does it do the job well?  
  • Can it keep us accountable (through audits and reports)?  

If your answer to all of these is “yes,” you’re at least off to a good start! 

Evaluate your potential solutions 

Before implementing your records management solution, consider a pilot program where the solution is rolled out in small-scale test environment. The keys to the success of your pilot deployment will be:  

  • Document your records management solution’s success criteria 
  • Assign Admin / Manager / User roles and responsibilities 
  • Train admins/managers/users to effectively utilize the solution 
  • Evaluate feature/functionality and usability of the solution in accordance with your success criteria.  
  • Identify any gaps and address them.  
  • Re-evaluate until you are ready for production.  

Blog Post: New Survey Reveals Why Federal Agencies Aren’t Transferring Records to NARA


Implement and Measure Success 

Once you’ve selected and implemented your new records management solution, it must be meticulously managed. Admins, managers, and users must be sufficiently trained such that the solutions integrity will be maintained indefinitely. This requires a time investment by creating a programmatic approach to the ongoing management of your solution.   

Review the solution with regularity as it matures (i.e. start with weekly, then progress to monthly and quarterly as necessary).    

In your weekly reviews:  

  • What’s going well?   
  • What could go better?   
  • Who needs more training? On what?  
  • Continuous Improvement: Should we reconfigure (policies, workflows, reports, etc.)? 

In your monthly reviews:  

  • How is the solution functioning?  
  • Is it effective? Is it accurate?   
  • How well are we managing the solution?  
  • Is it meeting our company’s needs? 
  • Continuous Improvement: Create a change management process  

In your quarterly reviews:  

  • Implement a change management cycle 
  • Reporting/management reviews 
  • Audit/audit defense reviews 
  • Policy reviews  
  • Continuous Improvement: Clean-up/regular maintenance  

Summary 

When selecting a records management (or any other) solution for your business, take the time to evaluate your people, processes, and current technology, and determine whether or not the newly-proposed solution will enable your business to achieve the best possible results.   

Whether it be a point solution, home-built solution, or maybe a blend of the two–the key to success will be finding and implementing a solution that seamlessly integrates with your people, processes (workflows), and other technology. It should leverage and maximize your existing investments and should complement the way your people currently work. 

In the end, your success depends on how well you can identify, manage, secure, and track records throughout their entire lifecycle. Your new records management solution should be easy for your end users to use, easy for IT or Business Groups to manage, and should protect your business by mitigating risks through audit trails and reporting mechanisms. 


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