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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, August 15, 2018
Brian Ocfemia, Engineering Manager
Brian Ocfemia

Obviously, cities know they must store documents to follow state records retention schedules set by law. However, we find that many cities get overwhelmed when they think about taking more proactive steps toward managing their document lifecycles. It’s one thing to keep records. It’s another thing to follow a useful records retention process that saves you time, money, and worry in the long-term.

If you’re frustrated about your current records retention and document management processes, you might wonder where to begin. The following tips will help you get a better handle on this problem and create a records retention process that runs smoothly like a machine.

1. Clarify and update your knowledge about state records retention laws.

It never hurts to refresh your knowledge about your state’s records retention laws. We find that many cities default to retain records indefinitely because of either uncertainty or busyness.

While it can seem easier to just keep everything indefinitely or for a long time, it’s better in the long-term to follow state records retention policies for each record type. For reference, we’ve provided a few records retention schedules for states where cities we serve are located.

Georgia Local Government Record Retention Schedules

Kentucky Municipal Government Records Retention Schedule

The Arkansas General Records Retention Schedule

2. Start scanning paper documents.

Figuring out what to do with a mountain of paper documents often worries and intimidates cities. Where to begin? Why begin? We encourage cities to just dive into this process. Make sure you’re using optical character recognition (OCR) technology so that words in paper documents are searchable after you convert them to electronic documents.

Some approaches to tackling your paper documents might involve:

  • Scanning and uploading your paper documents one box at a time. Setting goals and milestones by box can help you manage the process and eventually lead you to complete this task in bite-sized chunks.
  • Leverage interns, temps, and/or free labor. After defining the process, paper scanning soon becomes a tedious, repetitive activity. This is a perfect job for interns and low-cost labor.
  • Pick a date and start your document capture moving forward. If you feel scanning your past documents is just too time-consuming or overwhelming, then another option is to pick a date. Then, from that date forward, start scanning any paper document you receive. Make sure you stick to this process moving forward.

3. Make sure your documents are searchable.

Cities often show concern for how documents will be organized compared to what they are doing today and wonder how they will find the documents they want.

You need a document management system with built-in search capabilities such as searching for keywords within common document formats and bringing up the most relevant results (like how Google returns search results). This keyword capability can be applied to paper documents scanned with OCR. You can also apply custom metadata to your documents to make them more findable. (Read our blog post about metadata to learn more.)

4. Set document permissions to ensure authorized access.

It’s a best practice to set permissions for access to specific files and folders. A good document management system will allow you to set and manage these security controls. Setting up restricted access can also help prevent undesired user access and data breaches.

5. Consider using a cloud-based solution to store documents.

Some cities are not comfortable storing documents in the cloud and want to keep documents onsite. However, a cloud solution may be your best option for many key reasons.

  • Security: Onsite servers can feel more secure because you can see them. In reality, cloud data centers boast some of the best security in the industry. Engineers staffed 24/7 at these data centers spend enormous amounts of effort securing and monitoring cloud servers. At cities, onsite devices often receive less attention and there is more risk of a cyberattack or disaster that leads to permanent data loss.
  • Reliability: The whole point of the cloud is to approach near 100% reliability. High service level agreements (SLAs), multiple internet connections, and data distributed across different cloud hosting facilities means you experience highly reliable access to your documents (anytime, anywhere).
  • Redundancy: Cloud data centers offer redundant backup power that ensures continuity in case of power outages.

To take advantage of a cloud-based document management system, it’s essential that you evaluate and possibly upgrade your current internet connectivity. Ideally, cities need a business-class fiber connection with 99.9% or higher uptime and high speeds that work for your city.


Implementing these tips can be challenging for smaller cities with minimal staff. This process consumes a lot of time and sometimes requires technical oversight. Consider relying on professional IT engineers experienced with municipal records management who can help you set up processes that make your records retention capabilities quicker, more secure, and more compliant with the law.

Need help with your records retention? Reach out to us today.