In the digital age, it’s critical your wastewater business has easy access to important records. But which records should you keep, and for how long?


FFor many small medium-sized businesses, accessing valuable company information in the digital world — whether it’s a password, an important email or customer file — is becoming increasingly complex. The computer has allowed us to generate information as never before, thus increasing our ability to create a mess. Poor information management creates inefficiency. Inefficiency costs money, causes stress, results in poor customer service and directly costs untold dollars.

Michael Dell says that by 2020, the world will generate 35 times as much data annually as it did in 2010. Unfortunately, many companies never learned to manage paper, and most are not doing any better with electronic documents. If you have 1,000 pieces of paper, you can hire someone to sort through them looking for specific words and eventually they will find them. However, if you have 1,000 electronic documents stored in a variety of places from employees desktops (not backed up!) to external drives, they may never be found … and when they are, the company may no longer have the capability of reading the data!

It’s not a matter of if but when the information management meltdown will take place, unless you address the issue now. The following are seven essential questions to address about the information in your business.

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What information do we need to keep?

Start with your company’s mission and goals. What information do you need to reach those goals? And, of course, what information do regulators require? You can jokingly state that the word “archives” should be spelled “our-chives” since so many companies keep information that actually belongs to other organizations.

In what form?

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Most information today is already in digital form. In many organizations, that information can be stored in more than one program. Consistency is the key.  

Only a small portion of the information that exists on paper today is worth converting to a digital format. As the quantity of information received and generated by business increases, electronic storage options become essential. It is simply not cost effective to use paper for long-term storage of business information.

For how long?

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Employees are scared to throw anything away because the boss may ask for it, and many bosses won’t take the time to make a plan for records retention. The advantages of electronic storage can become disadvantages, as companies painfully learn when called to account for email messages sent years previously. Regardless of the reasons, the results are the same: overstuffed filing cabinets and hard drives.

Many companies hold file clean-out days, but often fail miserably. Why? Because management has failed to create the methodology, mechanics and maintenance to enable and empower employees to make the decisions to eliminate unnecessary information.  

Who is responsible for filing it?

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One client was spending thousands of dollars annually on file storage. When they looked into the situation, they identified that one big source of the problem was that multiple members of the team were filing the same information for the same project. The problem was quickly resolved by identifying a specific member of each team to be responsible for filing the appropriate information.

Every large company has an information systems person. Small businesses often ignore the issue entirely. Why not put someone in charge of making and implementing decisions about current information? It is essential to create a system so if a person leaves suddenly, the company is not left in jeopardy.

Who needs access to it?

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A major challenge in information management relates to the liability created if/when unauthorized people access private data. An advantage of an electronic filing system is the ability to determine who has access to what documents. It is unnerving to walk into offices and see paper and electronic documents accessible to people who have no reason to access them.

How can we find it?

There are three components to an effective filing system:

  • File methodology — what documents are filed.
  • File mechanics — how documents are filed.
  • File maintenance — when documents are eliminated.

If any of the components are weak, your filing system will be an ongoing frustration instead of the resource it can and should be.

How is it backed up?

A survey of more than 5,000 professionals by software manufacturer Adobe Systems found that 43 percent have lost important electronic documents, and 70 percent of those losses were caused by a computer or hard drive failure. Having a backup plan that is checked on a consistent basis is an important part of an information management system.

Clutter is postponed decisions. Countless companies are faced with the problem of boxes and boxes of “archives” in storage rooms. Unfortunately, when management realizes the cost and the risk involved and finally decides to do something, the people who created the paper are long gone and current employees have little energy or motivation for making decisions about something that doesn’t affect their ability to leave work on time.

TIME TO GET SORTING

Avoiding the problem in the future is easy. Today’s mail is tomorrow’s pile, so to get results, ignore the mistakes of the past. Create a system today to enable employees to make good decisions about the information they receive. 


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