Physical Records Management Systems – Why?

by Frank 18. March 2012 06:00

Twenty-eight years ago we released our first records management product, DocFind I.

Twenty-six years ago we released the first version of our iconic records management product RecFind 1.0.

Twenty-five years ago we released our first imaging enabled records management product, ImageFind 1.0.

Thirteen-years ago we shipped our first fully featured Electronic Document and Records Management Solution (EDRMS) with a full complement of records, document, imaging and workflow functionality, RecFind 3.2.

Twenty-five years ago I used to do a lot of trade show and seminar presentations about the coming paperless office yet here we are today with more paper records in existence than I would have ever imagined all those years ago. The fabled paperless office as far away now as it has ever been.

It isn’t because of a lack of functionality to deal with the problem. Most of the other vendors did what we did and produced products merging records, document and imaging functionality many years ago so the functionality to facilitate the paperless office has been around for a very long time. Yet, governments and private companies are still using paper as records and are still using and storing billions of sheets of paper each year. Organizations like Iron Mountain and Crown are rushing to build new warehouses all over the world to store boxes of paper records and there seems to be no end in sight. We are drowning in paper.

In order to understand why we are still storing millions of boxes of paper every year we have to ask ourselves two very important questions:

  1. What are we (still) doing we shouldn’t be doing?; and
  2. What is it we should be doing that we are (obviously) not doing?

Answering number one is easy; we are still using paper and are using it at a rate many, many times that of twenty-five years ago.

Answering number two is also easy; we are not taking advantage of available technology.

The next and most important question to ask is why? Why are we still using paper and why aren’t we taking advantage of available technology?

I have pondered the above questions for a long time and have discussed them at length with my customers and staff and associates in the industry for many years. Whereas you are likely to get any number of responses from industry experts, I am going to narrow it down to four simple issues.

  1. Paper is actually still a great medium for many applications and its convenience, cost and flexibility is hard to beat;
  2. Most electronic document management systems on the market today are expensive to buy, difficult and expensive to roll out, difficult to use and difficult to maintain;
  3. Most EDRMS implementations fail (albeit over time) because very few organizations budget for or are prepared to pay the huge ongoing cost to retrain workers as software changes or train new workers as staff turns over; and
  4. Records management is not a core business activity in most organizations and it is seen as a cost centre, not a profit centre so it gets little senior management attention and little funding.

Basically, in most large organizations senior management is aware of the paper problem but it is not high on their agenda and it is easier to just maintain the status quo; keep packing files into boxes and sending them off to Iron Mountain. It is a lot like the Greek Debt problem, that is, keep ignoring the problem and leave it to someone in the future to solve.

To summarize, management says, “It works and isn’t my major priority so I will leave it for someone else to solve.” Or, applying that time-honoured old maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The reality is that we have to find ways to manage paper. The additional reality is that very few of the ECM/EDRMS software packages on the market today do the job well or even at all. SharePoint 2010 for example is hopeless at managing physical records so don’t even think about paying a consultant hundreds of thousands of dollars to configure it for you to solve the problem.

Luckily for us, and largely because we started developing applications for physical records management back in 1984, we have incorporated a rich subset of physical records management functionality (our legacy if you may) into our latest product suite, RecFind 6.  This means we are one of the few vendors with a product that can easily handle any physical records management requirement.

Also, and this still surprises me, we are receiving more and more inquiries for a product that just does physical records management. To be honest, if anyone had told me twenty-five years ago that I would still be receiving requests for a physical records management product in 2012 I would have laughed at them. Yet, here we are today in a world swimming in paper with organizations all around the world desperately needing to solve a paper records management problem.

Now I am really glad that I insisted that my design teams maintain upwards compatibility through all of our product releases and that they should continue to refine and improve our physical records management capabilities.

I hope I am happily retired in another twenty-five years but just in case I am not, I will set myself a reminder to re-read this post and once again review how far we have progressed in replacing paper records with digital records. With luck, I will be living in a luxury apartment converted from an old Iron Mountain warehouse and there won’t be a sheet or paper or archive box in sight.

What will they do with all those warehouses?

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