Effective records management: how to avoid embarrassing losses of data

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Wednesday August 14, 2013 at 12:02pm
We read with amazement but little surprise more stories of major data breaches and loss within the public sector. Recently the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced on its website that it had lost 32,000 pieces of data pertaining to a major case review. Amazing the SFO had the temerity to praise itself – announcing that this data loss only amounted to a tiny percentage of the entire archive for this case. Yet the fact remains that they have lost this data - and cannot account for it.

I found myself asking “Does the SFO and similar governmental agencies possess sound Standards such as ISO27001 International Standard for Information Security, ISO9001 for Quality Management Systems or indeed BSISO 15489: 2001, a standard purely focusing on records management.” Having read their humiliating press release I can only conclude that the answer is no.

Unfortunately, the SFO is not alone. In many organisations and companies the issue of documentation and records archiving is often weak at best or amorphous at worst. Often there is no policy on records retention, no formal records management system, responsibilities are not codified, there is little effective implementation, training is piece-meal and of course a records management audit does not exist.

Data, whether it be hard copy or electronic is the life-blood of many organisations today. Whether they be large or small. Indeed the data can often be classified as: business, legal or contractual. It is the ‘stuff’ of modern transactions.

Having been in practice for over twenty years as a management consultant I have visited hundreds of organisations, and rarely see good records management practices being deployed - until they adopt best practice Standards such as ISO9001, ISO27001 or BS 15489. No Standard can be a cure for all organizational woes but by adopting the ‘PDCA’ Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and focusing upon all documents and records that make up and support the ‘input-output’ model, reduction of or exposure to data loss can be achieved.

After all if an organization does not consider the volume of data it holds, and effective record management protocols then it can’t hope to be in a position to retrieve vital data when necessary.

Tips for improved data and records management
When it comes to effective record management and data security a systematic approach is what you need. Here are my top tips for improved data and records management.

  1. First, identify what you hold and where.
  2. Secondly, record this information and carefully control.
  3. Thirdly create a policy on what should and should not be retained taking cognizance of legal obligations.
  4. Fourthly create a structured system with clear responsibilities to control this data and map its flow within the organization.
  5. A final note is to perform regular document / records audits to demonstrate that key sets of data can be retrieved within acceptable timeframes, as set out within your Records Management Policy.

Marcus Allen
Parker Management Consultants

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