By Chris Whitaker and Phyllis Wisotsky
Whether you already have a records retention schedule or just acquired one, proper implementation is paramount to a successful records management program. It is necessary to have a software system in place that can manage a records retention schedule systematically. Even for the smallest organizations, managing retention internally is not viable long term. A software implementation will ensure that all record codes added to the system are validated against the records retention schedule, that all destruction eligibility review dates are based on the retention periods in the schedule and that these dates are recalculated when a retention period is updated.
Records management may be centralized, with few people having control over business records, or the responsibility may be dispersed throughout the organization. The first step in rolling out a retention schedule is to identify who is responsible for managing records. Before sending cartons to off-site storage, record coordinators need to be trained on how to apply record codes to their inventory. They need to know how to use the records management software, the record codes used in their business unit, and how their organization deals with active records (i.e., whether the carton requires a trigger/event date). They should be instructed to box similar records together so that shorter-retention records are not over-retained, and they should be trained on the metadata to be entered into the system for each carton. The system can be set up to require particular metadata fields for each carton. Recommended minimum required metadata fields are record code, content description, department and to date (latest records date).
Once the schedule has been rolled out and users are assigning record codes and metadata to cartons they send off site, the legacy inventory can be addressed. If the organization has been storing metadata for the cartons, a first step could be to contact record owners or department heads and ask whether they can apply record codes to their inventory. However, in many organizations, applying record codes to legacy inventory is tricky. The business owner of the records may no longer be with the company, records may have been acquired through an acquisition, or cartons may have been boxed up and sent to storage without descriptive metadata. Employees are often hesitant to sign off on destruction of their records, but every effort should be made to have the record owner confirm the record code and then let the business and legal requirements for that record class drive retention. User-defined retention (e.g., “Do not destroy,” “Keep for 20 years”) and manual destruction dates should be avoided because this information is not dynamically updated. Preservation orders should be handled using hold codes and all destruction eligibility review dates should be calculated by the system so that they are based on current retention policy.
It is not enough to have a records retention schedule sitting on a shared drive. It must be rolled out to the stakeholders within the organization who have been trained on how to use it. Furthermore, implementing the schedule into a records management system can ensure that proper safeguards are in place to store and dispose of records defensibly.