Should Electronic Records Be Stored Off-Site?

By Phillips, John T., Jr. | Records Management Quarterly, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Should Electronic Records Be Stored Off-Site?


Phillips, John T., Jr., Records Management Quarterly


There is little question that records managers are being challenged with competition for the responsibility of managing enterprise records. The data processing departments of the past and the "information technology" departments of today strive to gain or retain control of records that are created, processed, and stored within computer systems. These organizations say the electronic data is on their computer systems. In so far as paper records are concerned, off-site records storage companies are now marketing their off-site records businesses as "strategic partnerships" and selling the cost-effectiveness of their services directly to executive management. They say that using their services results in decreased costs in maintaining records for the organization as a whole. In addition, some records management support companies are offering full or part-time services that directly compete with the professional activities that most records managers presently address internally within their organizations. This could include developing retention schedules, performing inventories, or developing policies and procedures. Many records managers are caught in this high stress triangle - they do not run the computer systems, their office floor space is relatively expensive, and their labor rates may seem high compared to those offered by companies selling "temporary" records management services. So what is a records manager to do?

The creation of professionally considered solutions to each of these challenges is critical if records managers are to have organizational viability and influence. These solutions may determine their future specific role in an organization, with respect to the kinds and types of records that they are to assist managing and the activities that they will perform. Each challenge will have different considerations and impacts. However, all three situations will affect the ability of records managers to influence the creation, storage, management, and disposal of electronic records. Due to the transition of many workplaces to computer-based business activities, many records managers are realizing that a significant part of their present and future professional activities will of necessity be in the arena of electronic records. In fact, this situation will become increasingly important as companies are downsized and decide to outsource some traditional records management functions to outside services.

Making each of these challenges even more complex is the possibility that in every case, there may be a recommendation or an action that could transition the management of electronic records to an off-site facility or vendor. In the first case, a computer support organization could decide to use electronic vaulting (EV) to actively store electronic data (and possibly electronic business records) off-site. EV is a technique used to transmit backup computer files periodically to remote sites for added security and protection of data. Some of the implementation concerns surrounding this practice have been discussed previously(1), however, there is still today a feeling among many vendors of these services that the "management" issues are mostly centered on the technology, cost, and general business risk factors(2). A decision could also be made to store magnetic tapes holding computer data and electronic records off-site.

In this second case, a traditional records storage company could become interested in expanding their services into the management of computer media such as disks or tapes. They might simply upgrade their existing vaults or "controlled environment" records storage areas in order to be able to accept and properly store computer media. In the third case, a records management services firm might recommend to a client that a "data conversion bureau" be used to speed up the implementation of a document imaging system by having most document scanning performed by an outside organization under contract. …

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