Information Governance Insights: What’s in the Box

Robin Woolen, MBA, IGP has worked in the field of information lifecycle management since 1994 with a specialty in strategic consulting focused on enterprise-scale information management.

Regardless of how advanced your organization is and how far you have gone down that path to paperless bliss you still have to deal with piles of old paper documents. You know what I’m talking about: Your building’s basement may be filled with overflowing file cabinets and you may have a contract with Iron Mountain or Access that store even more. I have seen warehouses that make the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark look tiny. We may be called Information Governance Professionals now, but back in the day we were known as File Clerks and it is still our job to find stuff in all that chaos.

Therein lies the challenge; Can you? As time goes on and the people in the know retire that prospect gets more difficult because, in general, archival cataloging is spotty at best in most organizations. I have faced mountains of boxes filled with paper and all manner of other stuff and nobody had any idea what was in them. Many of you aren’t laughing after reading that last line because you might be facing the same issue. You are not alone!

So how do you fix this predicament? The good news is that you can start today by including an inventory list with each new box you fill before it goes to whatever archive you maintain that details the document type and date at a minimum. Include whatever you need to fully explain what those records are. Keep a master list with the same information in a central location that can be easily found by successors to your position so that the information doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Understanding what you have in hardcopy storage is vital to good Information Governance practice.


Now for the bad news: Somebody (hint, hint) has to go through those unknown boxes and do an inventory. Needless to say, this is not a quickly accomplished task. What you can do is combine this inventory with a disposition project as well. Keep your Retention Schedule handy and start getting rid of those records that are beyond their retention date, well as long as there isn’t a current Hold in place of course! Fortunately, there is help for this task from your friendly record storage provider that you might want to consider because this is not the most enjoyable exercise. The issue with this is that they would need to be trained to recognize records for what they are. You are the one that knows what your records look like. I’ve done it both ways and found that keeping it in-house leads to a better result IF you are dealing with a relatively small amount of boxes. If you are looking at thousands, you need all the help you can get.

There are two goals of this project: Identify what you have and get rid of what you can. There is no shortcut for it but to open each box and do an inventory. The immediate benefit is knowing what you have and where it is. The long-term benefit is reducing the risk of keeping records that are no longer needed. This may not seem like much of a benefit until something comes out in a legal matter or audit that you didn’t know existed anymore. Understanding what you have in hardcopy storage is vital to good Information Governance practice and is just as important as what you have electronically. Hardcopy will be a fact of life for the majority of us for as long as we continue working. We need to get a handle on it.

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