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Lifecycle Management: The Flow of Document Retention

10 Sep, 2010 By: Laurel B. Sanders, Optical Image Technology imageSource

Lifecycle Management: The Flow of Document Retention

Deep within Germany’s Black Forest, a gurgling spring gives life to the EU’s longest river. A longstanding frontier of the Roman Empire and an important trade route, it remains vital in international commerce today and provides drinking water for more than 10 million people.

Harnessing this mighty river’s power closely parallels the challenges of information lifecycle management. Both require: Harnessing assets for maximum usefulness.

  • Understanding their relevance to diverse users.
  • Monitoring the continuum from start to finish.
  • Assessing potential risk.
  • Disaster recovery planning.

Many businesses adeptly capture, classify, and share information but have inadequate strategies and tools for legal and historic retention, archival, purging and recovery. Management challenges don’t end when documents outlive everyday usefulness. Someone must decide what to keep, in what form, and how long. Retaining everything results in a cumbersome search - a costly choice. 

Enforcing complex policies gets more challenging as record libraries grow. Left unmanaged, records become uncontrolled, subject to security breaches and punitive regulations. Risks obviously increase. Cost-saving opportunities for efficiency are missed. 

EDM lets you strategically manage the document afterlife, respecting your business rules for migrating and storing critical information and purging items with expired importance. Policies are enforced and files remain secure. Timelines are respected and, thankfully, fines are now avoided.

Simply said, EDM bridges the gaps.  Without it, you’re inviting real risk.

Retention and archival: keep only what you need

Important business documents exiting the active lifecycle typically must be kept for a specific period of time. Laws may require it or you may decide you need information for historical reference. Documents stored in an electronic repository and appropriately managed ensure that vital business information, regardless of medium, adheres to prescribed retention policies. Rules are enforced - audit trails prove it. 

At a minimum, business-critical files should be:

· Migrated punctually, following industry regulations and company policy.
· Indexed and stored on appropriate media, depending on the probability of future access.
· Secured via an auditable system that demonstrates regulatory compliance.

Consider your present system. Can you:

· Automate document archival based on stored information about your documents, eliminating costly and error-prone human intervention?

· Schedule important documents that are no longer relevant to be migrated automatically to less expensive media as they exit the active lifecycle?

· Segment document types automatically so that the most pertinent files can be retrieved quickly and less relevant file types can be stored on slower, less expensive media yet remain accessible?

· Search archived documents so that they can be located instantly upon request?

· Secure archived files appropriately so that only authorized persons can retrieve them?

· Create detailed audit trails with a migration history and a detailed trail showing who accessed the files and when.

If the answer to any of these is ‘no,’ your system can be improved.

File disposition: purge punctually

Documents held beyond the required retention period are at risk for future litigation. To protect yourself from lawsuits, you’re wise to set policies for email management and deletion and follow them. Purging keeps information systems from becoming unwieldy, making the sea of documents more manageable and boosting efficiency. Don’t keep more than you must. 

EDM with lifecycle management capabilities lets you schedule the automatic disposition of information that consumes valuable storage space, is no longer is needed or relevant, and could subject your company to lawsuits. Pre-established business rules and data about your documents must be coordinated to ensure timely and appropriate removal in order to eliminate cumbersome management and inherent mistakes. Fewer documents means quicker search, saving time and money. Besides, there’s nothing like a clean house - especially since EDM does the work for you!

Make sure your system lets you:

· Dictate who is authorized to purge documents.
· Establish conditions for purging then ensure they are followed.
· Request notification prior to purging.
· Provide a thorough audit trail and reports.

Tempted to save everything? Making backup copies of everything is an expensive strategy that can backfire when federal regulations require deletion of sensitive information after a pre-specified time. Don’t do it.

Disaster recovery: assess risk and plan accordingly
According to a 2010 survey by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), 62% of important documents are still archived in paper form (40% admit printing emails and newly generated documents to store as paper records). This complicates archival, search, and timely recovery. Disaster isn’t restricted to terrorism, facility damage and pandemics. It comes in many forms. Documents may be:

· Prematurely deleted.
· Inappropriately accessed/altered.
· Lost or misfiled.
· Replicated but with conflicting content.
· Inadvertently destroyed without a backup.

Downtime is costly to profits and reputations. Disaster recovery plans should differentiate between mission-critical and less important information to enable quick restoration in the order of importance to your business. Document restoration that relies on a centralized digital repository and its business rules prevents document chaos. 

Lifecycle management: integration and ease are vital
Successful information management demands combining preferred capture tools (bar code, scanning, and online forms) with business process management to control the flow of work. EDM lifecycle management software that stores and manages files according to company policy offers a priceless information continuum from document creation through archival and destruction. With a fully integrated solution, adoption is logical. Ease of use determines whether employees follow through or resist.

Laying the foundation
Success depends on clear and well-communicated policies that reflect your business goals and drivers, regardless of the technology you choose. Without them, the sea of business information will grow unabated, and with it, create unwanted risk.

Get informed about lifecycle management. Tap into trusted EDM vendors for their services when you need them. Companies are increasingly adapting EDM in all phases of the document lifecycle to avoid being swept into that river of content chaos. Your knowledge of lifecycle management could be a life-saving ring for your company and its clients…and the stepping stone to a powerful revenue stream.

Laurel Sanders is the director of public relations and communications
Optical Image Technology.  For information about the company’s
suite of DocFinity software, visit

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