I have been in the records management business for 35 years and have provided software, consultancy and services to thousands of clients around the world. I can honestly say that most of those clients wasted money every year storing redundant paper records in archive boxes at records centers.
Not much has changed since 1984 and all over the western world companies and government agencies are still wasting enormous amounts of money maintaining boxes of paper on the dusty but lucrative shelves of offsite storage companies. I worked with one company that spends over a million dollars a year on offsite storage at multiple offsite repositories and doesn’t even know what its holdings are or even, where they are. They just take the easy road and pay the invoice every month.
It is almost enough (but not quite) for me to dive into debt to build an offsite storage facility and then buy a few vans. I say almost because I am not a hypocrite and I wouldn’t be able to sell a service to my customers I didn’t believe in. For the life of me, I cannot understand why senior management delegates this level of expenditure to junior or mid-level managers when it really should be scrutinized at board level like every other significant cost.
Even a Financial Crisis didn’t change behavior
Even the advent of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008 didn’t wake up senior management or board members to this area of massive waste. Instead, big corporations and government cut costs by laying off staff and outsourcing jobs to third world and developing countries. Where is the sense in that when there are easier and less disruptive and more ‘humane’ savings to be made by simply reducing the money being paid to store useless paper records that will never be referenced again? How would you feel if management laid you off because they thought it was more important to keep paying for boxes of old paper they will never use again?
Is it really only me that sees the unfairness and absurdity in this archaic paradigm? Why is the huge cost of the offsite storage of useless paper often overlooked when management is fighting to find cost savings? Why are people’s livelihoods sacrificed in deference to the need to maintain old, never-to-be-referenced-again, useless paper? Is it just because senior management is too busy with more important stuff like negotiating their next executive pay increase?
The Retention Schedule
If you talk to the records manager, you will most likely be told that all that paper has to be maintained whatever the cost because of the Retention Schedule. In most cases, the Retention Schedule will be mentioned in the same way one talks about the Bible. That is, it is holy and sacrosanct and anyone who dares question it will be charged with heresy and subjected to torture and extreme deprivation in a rat infested, moldy, dark and damp cell in the basement.
But, dig deeper and you will discover that the Retention Schedule is way out of date, incomplete, vague and too complex for the organization’s needs. You will also discover that no one really understands it and that that the application of it is at best, haphazard and irregular. This is when you will also discover that no one in records can actually justify why a huge percentage of those old, dusty and now irrelevant paper records are still costing you real hard cash each and every month.
Isn’t it time someone senior, like the CFO, actually looked at the money you are spending to manage mostly paper rubbish in very expensive containers? Yes I know ‘Records’ isn’t a profit center (so no senior manager is interested) but it certainly is a cost center and it is most certainly costing you far more to run than it should because of tens of thousands or millions of moldy archive boxes that are maybe stored somewhere.
Does anyone really know that all those boxes you are paying for are actually still there?