Digital Records and Scanning Service Bureau
Computers have enabled offices to update documents with ease, share information readily, and keep active records current. Unfortunately, they have also failed (so far) to deliver the much anticipated “paperless office.” Instead, they have provided users with many new ways to create and print out information. This has resulted in an unprecedented growth of paper records, and provided managers with the added complexity of handling information in both electronic and paper formats.
And now, with the advent of document imaging, we have come full circle. Today not only can electronic documents become paper, but paper documents can become electronic!
More and more information is now being maintained in computer-processable formats and in many ways it is far more challenging for organizations to control their electronic records than it is to control their paper files.
To best manage digital records; keep in mind the following points:
- Departmental file plans should serve as a basis for the classification of electronic records. Whether those records are stored on an individual workstation, a shared server, or in the RMS digital records repository, a clear and consistent organizational structure is essential to finding and using digital records.
- For paper records it is advisable to have file rooms, and avoid having every employee maintaining their own filing cabinet. In the digital environment, this is also very good advice. All official digital records should move off of individual workstations, and onto a controlled document repository that is shared by the department. This could be a departmental server, OurFiles, SharePoint, or (most appropriately!) Dartmouth's digital records repository (OnBase).
- Existing paper equivalents may allow digital records to have a significantly reduced retention period. Likewise, a well-managed digital record-keeping system may reduce or eliminate the need to maintain equivalent paper documents.
- For computer records with no analogous hard copy equivalent, it is especially vital that policies be developed and documented as to their eventual disposition. A plan should also be put in place to ensure that this disposition is carried out on schedule.
- Ensure duplicates and drafts are disposed along with their master documents.
- If a document on paper has been disposed according to an approved retention schedule, yet the original electronic version of that document remains on computer media (such as a backup or security copy), the College is in violation of approved policy, and may be in a position of legal liability. Remember, computer records can and will be subpoenaed just as easily and quickly as paper documents.
- E-mail messages may be subject to discovery in any litigation. Be judicious in the use and retention of electronic mail. Most e-mail is very transient in nature, and should be disposed as soon as it no longer serves any clear purpose. E-mail with record value should be moved out of the e-mail repository and into a controlled repository, along with other digital documents.
- Saving electronic documents on magnetic media such as CDs or backup tapes is not an acceptable format for long term retention. Magnetic media is notoriously unstable, and loses its signal very quickly. Records stored on these media will likely be unreadable when they are needed at a later date.
- Records in electronic formats may quickly become unusable due to changing hardware and software standards. For instance, a document saved in an early version of a program may be unreadable when that program is upgraded to a new version. If electronic documents require retention beyond three years, a strategy must be in place to migrate that data forward.
- The fluidity of digital records can be problematic. For instance, a document, web site or database that is updated with changes on a periodic basis can result in the loss of previous versions. Policies should be established that determine when and how a document becomes a record, and preserves version snapshots when appropriate.
- To ensure that your electronic documents are protected, backup is not optional. It is essential!
All of these issues can feel daunting! But the good news is that tools are emerging to help users classify, manage, retain and dispose their digital records with the same care and attention we have provided for paper files. If you need assistance or have questions on how to best manage your digital records, contact the Records Manager or contact the Records Analyst.