One of the most rigorous, detail-oriented, and challenging tasks for any municipality is records management. As a practice, records management combines time-tested principles of information management with modern technology. A knowledge of both is required to effectively manage records, follow retention schedules, and respond to open records requests.
So, what do you need? Here are five things to consider for a records management system that helps city and town clerks do their jobs better and reduces the risk of not complying with the law.
1. Digitize all records.
It’s essential that you digitize all records—including paper records. While this might seem like a time-consuming task if you haven’t done it before, consider separating out your most critical to least critical records by box and then scanning each box as you have time. Or you may consider scanning any paper records moving forward.
Optical character recognition (OCR) technology has advanced by leaps and bounds over the past few years. It can read the words on a paper record and allow you to search for those words when looking for scanned paper records in your records management system.
2. Maximize your storage.
While it’s good to scan your paper records into your records management system, you might find yourself hitting storage limits or blowing your budget on high storage costs. Large files like images, videos, or rich media will especially eat up your storage space. As data inevitably grows over time, you will struggle to rein in costs and adhere to storage limitations.
Work with your IT vendor to ensure that you keep your files as small as possible and avoid large file sizes. Ideally, you preferably want to store your records in the cloud. Not only can you take advantage of low-cost, unlimited data storage but the cloud will also help protect your records against disasters such as a fire, flood, tornado, or ransomware. The cloud gives you secure access to your files anywhere, anytime, and it’s convenient for your employees who may travel or work from home. Additionally, the cloud is an essential part of a data backup and disaster recovery plan after a worst-case scenario.
3. Seek out the right search functionality.
While many municipalities have records management software in place, they often struggle with search functionality. Two key problems are usually the culprit:
- Lack of proper indexing and tagging: Records need “metadata”–meaning labels and descriptions that describe a record in some way. Your software should give you the capability to tag records with a brief description of the contents, author, department, type of record, and other identifying information (such as useful keywords). Then, when you search for that record later, the “metadata” indexes your content and helps you find it more easily.
- Lack of search functionality: Records management software should return useful results when you’re looking for a record. You’ve probably gone on websites or used software where the search functionality is awful—returning little to no useful results. When evaluating records management software, test out the search functionality for ease of use and relevance of search results. Also make sure that it can search words in OCR-scanned paper records.
This is why accessibility is such an important aspect of a records management system. Aside from having a robust search engine, a records management solution should also allow for quick access to data after performing the search.
4. Use the right archiving and retention processes.
You can use software to help you apply state records retention schedules to records—assisting you in staging, reviewing, and purging records at specific times. To help with this process, municipalities can also take advantage of workflow features in the software so that the city or town clerk receives notifications about important records retention steps instead of having to manually hunt for expired records.
The right processes will help you comply with any local government records laws or policies along with state records retention laws. A good records management system will allow you to easily set it up to comply with any policies in place.
5. Secure your records.
We live in an era of hackers, viruses, malware, and ransomware that leads to data incidents, stolen information, and permanently lost data. Municipalities are big targets for hackers because of the confidential, sensitive information you store. As a result, records management policies and procedures must include security and data backup considerations such as:
- Secure authentication for users such as strong password policies, Two Factor Authentication (2FA), and a logical access policy.
- Authorized access to records with easy-to-manage permissions to make sure that unauthorized people cannot access sensitive or confidential information.
- Encrypted information kept within a secure technology environment with the right firewalls, network equipment, and security monitoring by IT professionals.
The right policies and software can help (or hinder) your records management efforts. You may try doing all the right things, but all it takes is one slip for an incident to occur. The right technology used to lessen human error and improve your records retention management will help lessen your liability and ease many burdens.
Are you in need of reevaluating your records management software? Reach out to us today through the form below.