The art of archiving: How to ensure secure and accessible archives

by FM Media
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The value of archive boxes must not be underestimated. RICHARD HARRIS, managing director of Document Management Solutions, shares how to treat these priceless possessions with the respect they deserve and to ensure secure and accessible archives.

No matter what size a business is, you will always find archive boxes scattered around the office or tucked away in some disused room or closet. That is unless, like more and more companies these days, the business recognises the value of those boxes and takes action to store them with an off-site records management provider or implement an effective on-site strategy that accommodates the storage of the boxes, including a system that references the contents to some form of database.

THE VALUE OF ARCHIVES
Few organisations, let alone the poor employee who has been assigned with the task of storing company records, understand just how much archives are worth. It’s rare to find someone that can appreciate just what it may cost if the contents of a single box were to be destroyed.
Often, the perception is that we will never need those records again and, subsequently, they are put in a box and treated like an old pair of shoes. Yet, time and time again, for a variety of reasons, sooner or later a client, a judge or the good old Australian Taxation Office finds a need for them.
If you haven’t got that one box that is required, it could mean being faced with enormous costs of having the records recreated or, worse, some form of legal action for not maintaining them correctly for the required period of time. I personally like to think of each box as being worth at least $1,000,000. Yes, that’s correct: one million dollars. Because, that’s what it might cost to go through the process of obtaining new copies of the original contents of a missing box from third parties.
In addition, with the new age of occupational health and safety (OH&S), it is essential that all potential hazards, such as those that are caused by archive boxes being left lying around an office, are eradicated.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT BOX
Hopefully, you can now appreciate the value of a company’s archives. With this newfound appreciation, let’s look at how you can protect your archives and always have them easily accessible.
The first, and by far the most important, item to look at is the archive box where these significant documents will reside. To most, it’s all about price. How much are the boxes going to cost? It is also, however, worth considering how long you require the box to last for. If you only need to keep the records for a year or two, you may be able to get away with a cheap box that has a loose lid and a folding bottom, but if you need the records for any longer than two years, you need to consider several things. These include:

  • the strength of the box – will it handle being moved about over its life?
  • are there any holes where the handles are or anywhere else where dust might be able to enter the box?, and
  • is the lid part of the box? If it is not part of the box, then it is probably going to get knocked off at some point. In addition, a loose lid doesn’t offer as much strength to the box as one that is part of the box.

At the end of the day, it’s far more cost effective to spend twice as much on the original box than having to replace it within a few years. Additionally, the right box will offer better protection.

IMPLEMENTING AN ARCHIVING SYSTEM
Now that you have considered suitable boxes, we need to look at a simple system that you can use – one that can be easily converted to an off-site system if required. In a professional records centre, the barcode is the only way large numbers of boxes can be managed and it is the best practice by far. It is worth considering purchasing barcodes to use in your own on-site storage.
If you can’t obtain barcodes, then try and purchase stick-on numbers that have at least four digits. One of the most costly mistakes that people make when archiving is duplicating the box numbers. This results in more than one box having to be pulled from the shelf and, in some cases, the second or third duplicate number disappearing from the system.
Once you have your box numbers, create an Excel spreadsheet and use the box number as the identifier in the first column and then write or stick that unique number on the box. Add the relevant description, including any date or sequence ranges, into the spreadsheet beside the unique number for each box. With a sufficiently structured spreadsheet, a lot of time will be saved; when retrieving a box you will only need to search one unique number rather than multiple words and date ranges.
Furthermore, time will be saved if you adopt a similar system to that which is used by large record centres for locations. Think about creating a simple location grid that has a number for each wall of shelving and another number for each section of shelving along the wall. You can also add a letter for each shelf if you like. If you do this, you can come up with a simple location code, such as 1-2-A, that will tell you the box is located on wall or aisle 1, bay 2, shelf A. Enter this location next to the unique number for that box and you now have a faster way of finding your boxes if you ever need them.

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