9 Steps to Create an RIM Strategy
It is 2020 and life is changing. Many businesses do not know what the future may hold or what they will have to do to adapt, but there are steps you can take to make your company more flexible and better prepared to meet whatever tomorrow may hold. One of those steps is developing a records and information management (RIM) system, because every business generates information and having the right information, in the right place, at the right time can make the difference between a sluggish response to a changing market and staying ahead of the curve. This article will walk you through 9 steps you can take to create a successful RIM strategy which will prepare your business for the future.
What is an RIM?
RIM is sometimes called Information Life-cycle Management (ILM) or simply Records Management (RM). Regardless of the name, all of these programs set requirements and guidelines for how information is stored and tracked. The goal is to create a system to organize and store information in such away that records can be easily searched for and located.
Why you need an RIM strategy
An RIM program may seem daunting or unnecessary for smaller businesses, but all businesses create and use information whether digitally or on paper. So, every business needs a plan for how to handle information throughout the information life cycle from creation to disposal. Doing this effectively will help your business better react to change and prepare for the future. There are several laws and regulations which dictate how different types of information can be used, accessed, stored, and destroyed, and new legislation is being considered across the United States, some of which would drastically change how we view information. Now is the time to set your business up for future success by gaining control of your records. Here are just some of things an effective RIM strategy can do:
- Increase compliance with laws and regulations
- Mitigate the risk of security and privacy breaches as well as any legal damages
- Improve accessibility to information for those who need it
- Increase efficiency of space by organizing records and destroying old records
- Increase staff efficiency
- Decrease costs for storage and management
How to develop an RIM strategy
An RIM program can be adapted to fit the unique needs of any business regardless of type or size. We have a developed a nine step guide to help you get started on your journey to improved records management, but as you go through this guide keep in mind that your business is unique, so scale and adjust our steps to match your organizational needs.
Step 1: Evaluate
Begin by assessing not only the records you have, but how records are created, used, stored, and disposed of. This assessment should include both physical and digital records. Evaluate what can be destroyed and what must be kept. Also consider the needs of other departments and individuals who will require access to certain records and how that access can be improved, simplified, and secured. This analysis should cover both incidental records such as memos, drafts, and copies which can be disposed of when they no longer have an immediate use, and controlled records which must be kept for a set period of time due to legal requirements or value to the business.
Step 2: Plan
Now it is time to set both short-term and long-term goals. Examples of short-term goals may be securely disposing of all documents beyond a certain age, or securing documents which should never be destroyed. Examples of long-term goals, may be creating a retention schedule for the regular destruction of records which have reached their end of life, or the eventual digitization of certain types of physical records. Setting goals to meet both the immediate and future needs of your company will allow you to develop clear policies and select appropriate service providers and technology solutions.
Step 3: Equip
With your goals in mind, equip yourself and your team with the tools necessary to be successful. These tools may be as simple as labels and a spreadsheet, or may be as complex as information management software and regularly scheduled destruction services. Carefully consider and vet the tools and services you will need to manage both physical and digital records and to guarantee they are securely and responsibly handled at every stage of their life cycle.
Step 4: Index
In order the manage records it is essential to know where they are, what they are, and when they should be destroyed. The only way to accomplish this is by indexing. Indexing is the process of organizing, labeling, and tagging records in a database which lists their location. Begin the indexing process by developing appropriate categories for all of your records. If you are indexing in-house, you can use a spreadsheet as your database. Every box will need a box number, a description of the contents and a location. For example when looking for tax records from 2012, an easy search can be done in the spreadsheet that will show the box is listed as being in the file room on the third shelf. A more complex system may involve indexing every file in every box so that a search of the database will show the file on John Smith is in Box A7 13 which is on a specific shelf in a specific slot at a warehouse. This same process can be adapted to index digital records and IT assets.
Step 5: Secure
Securing your information is a critical part if any RIM program. Restricting access to only those who need it, limits the risk of security and privacy breaches. Physical records should be stored in an area that is not accessible to everyone. For digital assets you will need to use security measures such as passwords, two-factor authentication and encryption.
Step 6: Digitize
This step may not be be necessary for most businesses, but it may be appropriate for certain enterprises to scan physical records into a digital version that can be more easily stored and shared. This is often an intensive and costly process, but combined with the right ECM (Enterprise Content Management) software it can revolutionize your RIM strategy.
Step 7: Schedule
Once records are indexed and properly stored, you can begin building a regular retention schedule by assigning the amount of time each category of records must be kept. You may need to consult a legal professional to develop the retention periods that are appropriate for your business. Once the periods have been set by category, expire dates (destroy dates) can be added to the individual records. For instance, your business may keep sales records for seven years, so all sales records will have an expire date that is seven years after their creation. Ergo, a sales record from March of 2013 can be destroyed after March of 2020.
Step 8: Backup
Backing up digital records is fairly easy by using external drives, disks, and cloud storage. It is sometimes necessary to keep copies of physical records or to scan physical records in to a digital format, as we discussed in step six. Keep in mind that all back ups and duplicates need to be secured and indexed. They also need to be destroyed when the original reaches its expiration date.
Step 9: Destroy
When records reach their end of life they must be disposed of in a way that renders all information unreadable. Physical records can be easily destroyed by burning and shredding. Digital records are more complicated. Devices and computers (anything with a hard drive or memory chip) should be securely destroyed. The same goes for external drives, disks, and LTO tapes. Keep in mind that deleting and factory resets do NOT destroy data. Even wiping programs can leave information behind. We recommend the physical destruction of IT assets by crushing and shredding. The recycling of the raw materials will also guarantee that the information can never be recovered.
Take your RIM strategy into the future
As you refine your RIM strategy, you may need to consult a legal professional to assist you in preparing for legal changes. In fact, as you become an RIM professional you may move into the realm of information governance, which focuses on maximizing the use of information, increasing efficiency, and mitigating risks. It goes far beyond organization by tracking and managing the creation, use, access, and disposal of records.
RIM is about organization and control. the goal is to give you more insight into the records you have and where you have them. An RIM strategy does not need to be overwhelming and should be scaled to meet the needs of you business. Keep things as simple as possible in the beginning and refine as you move forward, because the most important step in creating an RIM strategy is to get started.