Electronic Records Management 101

By Kiely Kuligowski,
business.com writer
|
May 29, 2020
Image Credit: Pinkypills / Getty Images

Find out how electronic document management can bring your business's filing system up to the 21st century, improving document organization, security and compliance.

An electronic records management (ERM) strategy regulates how your organization's information is created, edited, shared, tracked, stored and protected. Using ERM software simplifies the process of records management by automating many functions like generating metadata for easy document retrieval and enabling access for approved employees.

With ERM software, you can collect and store pertinent business records such as contracts, emails, receipts and audit trails.

Read on to learn more about ERM and the key benefits it can provide for your business.

What is electronic records management?

Organizations use ERM applications to efficiently and systematically manage and share documents. It allows companies to reduce the physical space required to store paper documents and physical records, and it keeps critical documents safe from physical hazards like fire, floods or other damage.

Another advantage of using an ERM system is that it supports the automatic enforcement of consistent policies and styles across your organization, plus it may help your company comply with federal, state, and industry regulations.

An ERM system works with your documents by generating unique identifiers to make documents easier to find, providing safeguards against unauthorized users or changes to documents and creating an audit trail, all of which help protect your business and your information.

Why is electronic records management important?

An ERM system is important for any modern business because of the efficiency it provides. By electronically creating, storing and managing your documents, ERM systems allow any employee to access any record or document at any time.

Collaboration is easier, too. Employees can collaborate with their co-workers, track changes and easily find any electronic document within the ERM system.

What are the benefits of electronic records management?

Implementing an ERM system in your business can make nearly every day-to-day task that involves documents quicker and easier to accomplish, and it helps your team stay organized, which enables them to work more efficiently.

Here are some of the main benefits of an ERM system.

Efficiency

The main benefit of a CRM system is the impact it can have on your business's efficiency. Having one centralized place where all of your organization's digital records are kept can increase your business's productivity and make day-to-day operations smoother. An ERM enables employees to track changes on documents, pull up any document through advanced search and indexing, and make sure all regulations and policies are being followed.

Cost-effectiveness

If you're a new business, or even a small business looking to save money, an ERM system can help you cut costs by reducing the time your staff spends manually processing documents. It also eliminates the need for physical storage space for paper records.

Compliance

If you're in an industry that deals with sensitive information (healthcare, legal, etc.) or are a government agency, this feature may be of particular interest to you. Many document management systems and ERMs come with automatic compliance features that make it easier to comply with federal, state or industry regulations such as HIPAA. An ERM system with compliance features can help you stay on track with certain procedures, remind you how long certain documents must be kept filed, or automatically destroy an original record when the retention period is up by keeping documents on a records retention schedule.

Security

Data security is vital in today's world, so it is important that your business can assure customers that their information is safe in your hands. An ERM system can help you do that by providing and automating key security features such as user access controls, document tracking, password protection, automatic backups, determining a records manager and more. Electronic storage is also useful for digital preservation by storing all documents in a safe digital space, such as the cloud.

Scalability

A major benefit of ERM compared to traditional paper document management is its ability to grow with your business. No matter how big or how quickly your business grows, your ERM system grows with you and keep track of all your documents.

Collaboration

An ERM system makes it simple for users to share and collaborate on documents. Look for tools such as live editing, file sharing, plugin integrations and access restriction controls.

How to digitize and name your files

If your company has recently implemented or you're on the cusp of implementing an ERM system, decide exactly how you want to name and organize your files so it's easy for anyone in your organization to find and use them effectively.

Digitizing documents

While most documents are digital from creation these days, if you are in the process of converting your document management system from analog to electronic, you may have many papers waiting to be digitized and entered into the system.

To convert these paper documents to electronic files, here are the steps you must follow:

  1. Gather your documents. Gather the files you need digitized and organize them loosely – for example, you can make piles of invoices, piles of receipts, etc. Make sure your stacks are neat, and don't be afraid to adjust your piles as needed. Keep in mind that this is just the start of your organization and that you will dive deeper into indexing later.

  2. Find a scanner. Next, you need a device to scan the physical piece of paper into a digital format. This can be a scanner built into your printer, or you can download a mobile app such as AdobeScan, Dropbox, or Genius Scan. A scanner uploads a digital file to your computer, while a mobile app creates a PDF or JPG file that is stored on your phone or an online storage site and can be exported to wherever you need it.

  3. Organize your digital files. This is the most important part of the process as it determines how your company finds and works with documents. It is very important that you implement a sensible, organized system from the very start and create a companywide policy for naming documents. You can organize files in any way you want that makes sense for you and your business. Your system must make sense to you, first and foremost, but an outsider should be able to find a document easily.

Naming your files

When organizing files, a file name is the main identifier for the document. It provides metadata that helps contextualize that document with other records and record series. Having a consistent file-naming policy can increase collaboration and efficiency as well as help your organization stay compliant if you are in an industry with information-based regulations.

How to choose an ERM system

Besides price, consider your business's unique needs and what you hope to get out of ERM software. You should also consider:

  • How many documents you have (i.e., how much storage you will need)
  • What types of documents you have (Do you have sensitive material? Large-format documents?)
  • Whether your documents need to comply with regulations
  • How many security measures you need
  • What features you want
  • The level of automation you are looking for

How to keep electronic files secure

If all of your documents are digital, it is important that you have a system in place for keeping files safe and secure from threats like hackers or malware. A data breach can mean severe financial and PR-related consequences; it is in your best interests to do all you can to avoid one.

Here are five things you can do to protect your electronic files.

  1. Regularly back up your files. This should be a no-brainer, but it's a step many people overlook. If a virus infects your systems, you'll likely need to wipe your computer and reinstall programs, which may result in you losing important files. Make sure you are regularly backing up your files; make it a monthly recurring task to help you remember.

  2. Use an external hard drive. If you want to be extra secure about having backups, use an external hard drive to store copies of files. As the name suggests, external hard drives are entirely separate from your computer; your files are protected no matter what happens to your computer. You can even change the default storage location of your files to automatically store in the hard drive.

  3. Use cloud storage. Cloud storage is an increasingly popular option, since it is simple to use, easy to secure, and can be accessed from anywhere. If you decide to use cloud storage, make sure the site you're using is reputable and has multiple security measures in place.

  4. Have user controls. Most ERM services come with user controls, which allow an administrator to decide which documents users can access and what changes users can make. This helps you protect the integrity of your files, and creates an audit trail that identifies who made what changes and when.

  5. Encrypt your hard drive. While many computers come with built-in encryption, you can add your own for an extra layer of security. The most common way to encrypt files or applications is to add a password requirement for access.
Kiely is a staff writer based in New York City. She worked as a marketing copywriter after graduating with her bachelor’s in English from Miami University (OH) and is now embracing her hipster side as a new resident of Brooklyn. You can reach her on Twitter or by email.
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