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New laws, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, new SEC regulations and the invigorated determination of federal and state regulators, make proper corporate records management a necessity. Whether shredding paper documents, or failing to suspend the rotation of backup tapes during a preservation order or federal investigation, document destruction without proper controls is a no-win proposition. Companies and law firms run grave risks if they fail to establish document retention/destruction policies that allow them to preserve electronic records consistent with then-current legal requirements. Failure to properly preserve records can result in sanctions or default judgments. However, failure to put limits on the amount of stored corporate records creates unnecessary burdens on IT and records management personnel, complicates knowledge management efforts, and needlessly increases storage costs. Here are some “best practices” to help your firms and your clients establish sound policies: � Create a cross-functional planning team. There are hundreds of federal and state record-keeping regulations that govern retention policies, as well as myriad technology products that purport to automate portions of the records management process. When so many diverse issues collide, the only way to ensure success is to pull your best people from key functional areas — legal, IT human resources, finance and operations. � Inventory past, present and future information sources. Any historical record stored digitally or otherwise represents potential liability, because it could become discoverable evidence in the future. Historical archives such as back-up tapes, microfiche and paper documents must be located, properly cataloged and classified by their relative value to the corporation or firm. Your IT systems (and your staff) generate volumes of information daily. This data must be profiled to understand how it impacts the records life-cycle process. Finally, plans for business unit expansions, acquisitions and general IT improvements must also be considered within the records management framework. � Use risk analysis techniques to prioritize. One benefit of cataloging, classifying and assigning relative values to the inventory of your records is that the application of risk analysis principles and techniques can be used to determine the highest priority areas to bring under the new retention system. Too often, organizations try to develop complex retention policies for all records — even those that hold little to no value to the corporation or have little significance to regulated areas of the business. � Develop a comprehensive plan, but implement in phases. This is critical for success. The records retention plan must be clearly and concisely written, and available to all employees. The plan must include retraining of people, describing how new processes are to be introduced and existing ones modified, and what types of new technology products will be used. Conduct a “pilot” in a single office or city before you roll out organizationwide to identify problems and bugs. � Research new technologies through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. Use output from the planning phase to articulate an ideal system to automate the entire records retention process — from synchronization of retention policies with back-up tapes to online electronic document and paper management. Distribute the RFP to companies such as EDD consultancies, records archiving software providers and storage providers, then collect and digest the results. Use a “trial balloon” RFP to test the marketplace and solicit ideas before writing the real RFP. � Change management of people, process and technology is not an afterthought. Expect to introduce at least one new position in every geographic location — the certified records manager. Be sure that person is certified by the Institute of Certified Records Managers on behalf of the Association of Records Managers and Administrators. This individual should not only train employees on proper records retention and management procedures, but monitor and enforce those policies. � Legal risk mitigation is a by-product of quality records management. Maintain both current and historical electronic records in readily accessible, searchable storage. With the increased electronic discovery in civil cases as well as federal investigations, it pays to know your position very quickly at the outset of a matter. Without quality records management, large organizations cannot know if there is or is not a “smoking gun” somewhere in their records. Leaving electronic records unmanaged, physically dispersed in various storage facilities and inaccessible by corporate counsel leaves few options to properly determine position and enable the creation of viable legal strategies. Robert Gomes is CEO and president of RenewData Corp., based in Austin, Texas.

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