Whether it’s required by law or just seems wise, an archive stores proof of what your organization says it has done. And if your archiving system follows document management best practices, retrieving and presenting that proof should be fast, easy and efficient.
The first thing is to understand your goals with archiving. Most businesses archive paper documents and electronic files as a key element in financial records management. These materials may see only occasional use, but could be essential to ensure compliance and helpful in disaster recovery or resolving disputes with clients.
The challenge then is ensuring the information is secure against loss, damage or unauthorized use, while providing fast, easy access to those who need it for business purposes. Perhaps your goal is to give colleagues access to documents, but the system’s security is so rigorous that it’s difficult to get what they need. At that point, they won’t use the archive, leaving its potential usefulness untapped.
To help you create useful, effective archives for your organization, here are 5.5 document management best practices:
1) Build your archive to support current business processes: It’s a good idea to map out current business processes before developing archiving processes and configuring any software. For a given business process, the archive should make it easier to retrieve all relevant documents, regardless of the type, format, year or other factors.With paper documents, for example, you could streamline access to files by using one file cabinet for your production processes and a separate cabinet for your internal processes, such as human resources.
2) Less is more: Don’t make your archive unnecessarily complex or secure just because you have the technological capability. You don’t need to have every possible type of indexing information for a document. Focus on only those you actually need. Search dialogs geared toward different user groups help to reduce information overload.
3) Start small and build step by step: When you’re developing an archive system, start with just one department or business process — the simpler the better. You might think it’s best to start with your most complex process, but an easy process is better for trying new ways of working. Once you’ve worked out the kinks, expand the solution to other departments, one at a time.
4) Don’t change everything with the first implementation: When you introduce a new paperless archive system, people should be able to work in more or less the same ways as usual, but with greater efficiency. Once people feel comfortable with the new paperless system, you’re ready to move to the next phase and increase efficiency again.
5) Don’t forget your users: Try to engage your employees in the beginning of the new process. People don’t like changing the way they work or learning new software, especially when they don’t have input or feel invested in the project. If you wait until late in the process to engage people, it’s hard to get them over the learning curve and they tend to dig in their heels.
The last of these document management best practices is simple, but often overlooked:
5.5) Review and revise: Six months after you launch the new archive system, go back and do an optimization workshop. Now that your users understand the system, they’ll have ideas for improving it to benefit the organization.
Improving your archive system is a gradual process, especially if you’re introducing electronic document management tools for the first time. Don’t do too much in the beginning, but after some time passes, use the opportunity to go back and ask your users, “What could be better?” As people understand the system better, you’ll need to make changes, so be flexible and open to improvement.