Physical Records Management: Archiving Process & Procedures

In today’s digital era, the significance of physical records archiving may seem diminished. However, many organizations still rely on physical documents for various reasons, such as legal requirements, historical preservation or the need for physical signatures. Efficiently managing and archiving physical records are crucial to ensure easy retrieval, regulatory compliance and optimal space utilization. In this blog post, we will explore the processes, procedures and best practices involved in archiving physical records.

What is Archiving & Why is it Necessary in Physical Records Management?

Archiving refers to the systematic process of transferring inactive physical records from active storage areas to designated repositories for long-term preservation. This process involves organizing, indexing and storing records in a controlled environment to ensure their integrity, security and accessibility.

Archiving physical records is necessary for several reasons, starting with compliance. Many industries are subject to legal and regulatory requirements, mandating the retention of specific records for a defined period. Archiving ensures compliance with such regulations, avoiding legal penalties and potential risks.

Furthermore, physical records may contain valuable information, historical data or intellectual property that make preservation necessary. Archiving safeguards these records from damage, deterioration or loss, preserving their content and integrity for future reference.

Following a formal archiving process also improves retrieval and access of records. Well-organized and indexed archives facilitate quick and efficient finding of records when needed, reducing time and effort in searching for specific information.

Additionally, archiving promotes optimization of physical space. Active storage areas, such as filing cabinets or shelves, should primarily house current and frequently accessed records. Archiving inactive records frees up valuable space and enhances overall productivity and efficiency.

Physical Document Archiving Process

The archiving process involves several steps that ensure a systematic and organized approach to record management. These steps may be different based on industry and the type of data involved, or on an organization’s unique structure or needs, so it’s important to establish a formal process.

To get started:

Assess Your Needs

Because every firm or company and the industry in which it exists is different, begin by conducting a thorough needs assessment. Understand the regulatory requirements to which the records are subject, and inventory all physical records to identify which are no longer actively needed and can be archived.

Categorize and Index

Classify records based on common characteristics such as document type, date or subject to simplify retrieval and aid in establishing archival categories or file structures. Create a comprehensive database that captures essential information about each archived record. Assign unique identifiers or bar codes to physical files for easy tracking and retrieval.

Create a Retention Schedule

The importance of creating and following an established retention schedule cannot be overstated. Demonstrating consistent adherence to all data governance policies, including regulatory and all internal rules as well as client outside counsel guidelines, ensures defensibility in the event of discovery in a litigation, investigation or regulatory matter.

Purge Unnecessary Files

Retention and disposition are both critical elements of records management. Retain what is necessary, but always dispose of records that aren’t required when they reach their destruction date in accordance with governance policies. Not only does this save on storage costs, but it reduces the risk of unnecessary records being subject to discovery.

Digitize Paper Files

When possible, convert paper files to digital. While this can be a time-consuming process, inevitably it will save money on storage costs and improve accessibility of the records that need to be kept long term.

Secure Storage Space

Consider the frequency of access and whether a third party can do so or if the firm’s own staff will require access to the records to determine how close in proximity the records must be stored to the firm. Conduct thorough due diligence to ensure the facility’s environmental conditions (temperature, humidity) are controlled to preserve document integrity, as well as to confirm the space’s security and physical protective measures from fire, flood and other natural disasters or human-triggered breaches.

Prepare for Archiving

Ensure that physical records are appropriately packaged and protected during transit and storage. Consider using acid-free folders, archival boxes or protective sleeves to safeguard documents from deterioration, moisture, pests and physical damage.

Tracking and Documentation

Maintain a detailed record of all archived files, including their location, retrieval history and any relevant metadata. This documentation aids in record management and facilitates efficient tracking and auditing.

Physical Document Archiving Procedures That Must Be Followed

To ensure effective and consistent archiving practices, organizations should adhere to the following procedures:

  • Record Retention Policy. A comprehensive policy should outline the retention periods for different types of records based on legal, regulatory and business requirements. Regularly review and update this policy to stay current with changing regulations.
  • Standard Operating Procedures. Detailed SOPs define the archiving process, including roles and responsibilities, required documentation and quality control measures. SOPs help maintain consistency and clarity in archiving practices.
  • Security and Access Controls. Stringent security measures protect archived records from unauthorized access, theft or loss. Use physical security systems, access controls and monitoring mechanisms to ensure data confidentiality and integrity.
  • Disaster Recovery Plan. Established protocols to address potential risks and disasters that may affect the physical records should include measures such as backup copies, fire suppression systems and off-site storage options to mitigate risks and ensure business continuity.

What is the Best Way to Handle Archiving Records?

In the digital age, leveraging specialized record management software can significantly enhance the archiving process. FileTrail is a leading solution that offers numerous benefits, including streamlined workflows, enhanced security, efficient retrieval and compliance assistance.

FileTrail features an intuitive interface and automation tools that simplify the archiving process, minimizing manual effort and errors, and its advanced search and indexing capabilities enable quick and accurate retrieval of archived records, saving time and increasing productivity. The platform’s robust security features ensure archived records are protected from unauthorized access, theft or loss, and the software helps organizations stay compliant with legal and regulatory requirements by providing record retention schedules and automated alerts for timely disposal or review.

Archiving physical records is a critical process that ensures the long-term preservation, compliance and accessibility of valuable information. By following the established processes, procedures and best practices, organizations can optimize space utilization, enhance data security and streamline retrieval.

Embracing record management software like FileTrail can further amplify the benefits of physical archiving, facilitating efficient workflows and compliance adherence. To explore the advantages of FileTrail in managing your physical records archiving, schedule a demo today.

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Physical Records Management | Retention of Records & Documents | Matter Mobility | Document Archiving