Preparing for Offsite Storage: Should it stay, or should it go?

When considering the option of moving records to a professional secure offsite storage location, deciding what to move offsite can pose new questions and challenges. What should stay? What should go? How do I decide? If this indecision is bugging you, below are some suggestions as to where to begin.

An excellent starting point is to consider how often you access the information. Because offsite storage services will charge not only for storage, but also for access to the media, prioritizing based on how often you find yourself touching a file may help.

Another approach to consider is the “Fire Drill,” a concept developed by Madison IT Consultant Steve Liethen. This approach asks a business to consider what to do with your information in an emergency situation.

“I ask my clients: ‘If you have 30 seconds to evacuate a building due to a fire, what are you going to take?’ I then ask, ‘What would happen if everything you couldn’t take was destroyed in the fire?’”

“I let them think about it for a few seconds, and then say, ‘Well, let’s go!’ and start walking towards the door. ‘Grab whatever you want and can hold on to running down the stairs.’”

Steve uses the “Fire Drill” to help clients feel the importance of an appropriate business continuity plan, but the same could be applied to a records storage scenario and deciding what to keep onsite. While not a sole deciding factor, it is certainly another perspective from which the analysis can be made.

Here are a few suggestions specific to physical records to help decide, should it stay or should it go:

  • Keep high frequency records close by: If you are continually touching a file to add information, pulling records for review, or for other reasons, keeping these files in house may be a good idea. These files may also be a candidate for document imaging – but that’s another blog entry.
  • Send low access files away: If the file’s main purpose for existing in the here and now is to either collect dust while waiting to be shredded or for someone to need one time in the next five years, relocating the record may be beneficial.
  • Limited life span: If some files are due to be destroyed after a specific number of years, they may be good candidates for offsite storage since they will not be there forever.
  • Rotating inventory: Some users of secure offsite records storage have an annual rotating inventory – every year some records get destroyed and a new batch of records goes offsite. Your records storage partner should be able to assist you with this organization as long as the records are organized appropriately. Again, another blog entry…
  • Media type: If you have non-paper media that really should be stored in a controlled office environment and your space lacks not only the appropriate case/shelf/cabinet, considering media vault storage is a good idea.
  • Making room for a new batch: Some businesses have seasonal spikes in adding records to their inventory. If you know you have new paper on the way, planning a rotation of older docs to offsite storage could be very helpful.

Another facet of this decision is the service available from your secure records storage partner. How fast and in what form you get your information back can be a variable in the equation that decides what goes.

  • How fast can they get your information to you?
  • How flexible of a regular request schedule do they have?
  • What are the costs associated with each?
  • Can you get just a folder instead of a whole box? (and, will the folder go back to where it came from?)
  • Do you have to get the physical record or can they be faxed, emailed, or delivered with an encrypted transfer?

There is no standard answer as to what is eligible for offsite secure records storage. It is a consideration that is specific to your circumstance, but Mr. Liethen has some perspective to offer:

“My experience says the cost of good backup/storage is about 1/100 of recreation.”

As an aside, while self store units are certainly an option, having a professional offsite records storage vendor as a business partner can have additional returns as compared to a self store storage unit. The cost of your or your staff’s time plus time lost on more critical tasks to retrieve files instead of focusing on your business could easily out-pace the service costs of a vendor.

At the end of the day, this is not a decision that is necessary to get right on the first go around. Once records are offsite they can obviously be retrieved. I hope, however, that this provides a few different ways to make the decisions of what to move offsite a little easier.

Up Next: Look! Over there! In the drawer! It’s a Fiche! It’s an Ap Card! It’s a…. actually I don’t know. What the Heck is It?!?.

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