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CitySmart Blog

Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Brian Ocfemia, Engineering Manager
Brian Ocfemia

As the Georgia Municipal Association points out in its City Clerk Handbook, “A good records management plan requires a lot of education and hard work. As the records custodian of your city, you must inventory, organize, maintain, archive, and delete records according to the city’s records retention schedule.” These records retention schedules usually follow specific, rigorous state laws—making this aspect of a city clerk’s job one of the most difficult and detail-oriented.

While the field of information technology does not seem at first like a records retention ally, experienced IT engineers can help city clerks beyond just providing hardware and software. Here are six ways that technology can ease your burden.

1. Applying records retention schedules to the document management software and automating specific tasks related to those records.

Different documents will have different records retention schedules according to law, and these rules can be applied to records that you store in your document management system. Upload a document, tag it by type, and know that the schedule is applied automatically. You can classify documents and set times for them to be staged, reviewed, and purged. Otherwise, the manual aspect of trying to remember what schedules apply to what documents can get overwhelming and lead cities to make errors or keep all documents indefinitely.

2. Assisting with search and retrieval.

Getting an Open Records Request or FOIA request is always a pain for city clerks. It takes time to search for specific records, and sometimes they can be hard to find. We often surprise cities when we tell them, as part of IT in a Box, that we can help city clerks process these requests.

Quick search and retrieval is rooted in having:

  • Google-like search capabilities to help you easily and intuitively find documents.
  • Highly organized documents ideally organized by groups that match records retention categories.
  • Tagged documents with useful labels so that you can find them by different search criteria.
  • Significant data storage capabilities so that you don’t worry about running out of room.
  • 24/7 access (versus 9 to 5 access) so that city employees can access documents anywhere, anytime.

3. Deleting records according to records retention schedules.

Many cities keep all documents indefinitely for fear of purging a record accidentally. While that caution is admirable, two key problems emerge:

  • Unnecessary use of storage space. You are keeping documents you don’t need to keep.
  • Unnecessary liability related to keeping documents. If you have a document, even if you’re not required by law to keep it, then you must produce it if asked.

In a blog post earlier this year, we cautioned about some of the dangers related to hoarding city records instead of purging them according to state records retention law:

  • You’re adding a legal risk to your city.
  • You’re adding an operational burden to your city.
  • You’re adding a storage burden to your city.

As we say in the post, “Depending on your adopted records retention policies, you are only required to keep most records for a finite amount of time. Then, you may dispose of those records. That means if someone requests a record after you legally dispose of it, you are not required to produce it.”

4. Going paperless.

Paper may seem safer than electronic information because you can see and touch it. However, paper has many disadvantages including:

  • Single copies of important documents that can be lost or destroyed.
  • Physical storage space limitations.
  • Money wasted on paper and ink.
  • A requirement for people to go to the physical location to get access to a document.

By scanning your paper documents into your records management system, you will be able to search for and find them much easier. Plus, electronic copies can be backed up, making sure that the chance of data loss from theft, fire, flooding, or simply losing documents goes way, way down.

5. Enhancing security.

A document management system introduces more security and protects the integrity of your city records. Many cities without a document management system may store city records on unsecured computers or shared folders with no real authorization policies or procedures. Your IT staff or vendor can help you:

  • Create authorization policies that only allow specific people to edit or delete city records.
  • Protect access to the overall document management system with a strong password policy and other security features.
  • Keep the document management system software patched and updated.
  • Ensure that files are encrypted and protected, as needed.
  • Track all document interactions and changes while creating an audit trail (which is especially useful for compliance or legal issues).

6. Backing up data.

For any worst-case scenario—from a server failure to a natural disaster—you want your city records protected. Data loss is simply unacceptable when it comes to city records. When it happens, it’s devastating—financially and legally. It also doesn’t look good as a front-page headline.

City records are best backed up with the following components:

  • Onsite data backup for quick recovery after a small incident (such as accidental deletion).
  • Offsite data backup for more serious disasters (such as a tornado or fire).
  • Periodic data backup testing to make sure it will work and that you can restore city records.
  • Real-time maintenance of all data backups to spot issues early.

As you can see, technology can benefit records custodians at cities whose job is already difficult. Automating many elements of records retention while securing, protecting, and improving access to files allows cities to focus on more creative and unique tasks related to records management. Plus, leveraging senior engineers (such as with IT in a Box) who can find records for you and help you respond to Open Records Requests makes your job even easier.

Need help improving your records management processes? Reach out to us today.