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Binders to Bandwidth: Myths on Modernizing Records

Electronic Records Misconceptions

One common theme we hear from offices is about going paperless – either they did it a few years ago, are in the middle of it, or are planning to do it soon. We think this is great because electronic records are accessible when staff is working remotely. They can be backed up in multiple locations which makes them less vulnerable to disasters, they are more secure, and easier to manage. But there are a few commonly-held misconceptions about electronic records that we want to clear up.

Myth: “I don’t really have any records—it’s all electronic!”

Reality: Just because you look around your newly digitized office and see that old file room was turned into a useful student lounge with houseplants, it doesn’t mean that you no longer need to manage those records. Any information created or received at the UW is considered a record, regardless of format, and is still subject to the WA Public Records Act. All the same concepts apply as when you managed paper records (including following legally-approved retention periods, making records accessible, and disposing of them properly).


Myth: “Electronic records are more efficient because we can’t see any clutter.”

Reality: Shifting to a digital format doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to just have a big pile of documents stored together. Whether you are using a cloud-based application, a shared drive, or email, creating a thoughtful filing system is crucial. Consider whether the arrangement of records matches the functions in your office. Are there lessons to learn from the way the paper was previously filed to make records easier to access in an electronic environment? Discuss with your colleagues how they search for records, such as chronologically or by office activity, and create a filing system based on their responses.


Myth: “A scanner is the most important tool when going paperless.”

Reality: Instead of focusing on scanning old records, focus on why paper is still being created. Make the decision today to change processes to reduce the burden of paper in the future, and dispose of the old records once they meet their retention.

  • Electronic Forms: Explore ways they can be filled out using web forms or a fillable PDF.
  • Better monitors: If staff are routinely printing in order to read or compare documents, consider obtaining some better equipment so they no longer need to print, and explore accessibility tools.
  • E-signatures: E-signatures are secure and their use is legally approved by state and federal statutes and regulations. Use them to create an efficient work process, especially in a time when colleagues are physically distant.

Myth: “If records are in the cloud, we don’t have to manage them, right?”

Reality: Regardless of whether you are housing records or a third party vendor hosts them in the cloud, record location or format has no impact on your recordkeeping responsibility. Records stored in the cloud are still your responsibility to manage appropriately. At the very least this means protecting the confidentiality of the records and ensuring they are deleted at the end of the legally-approved retention period. Click here for more information on storing records in the cloud.


Have you heard any misconceptions about electronic records? Email them to us at recmgt@uw.edu and we’ll address them in future editions of this listserv.

 

WE ARE ALWAYS HERE TO HELP

Barbara Benson

Cara Ball

Emily Lemieux

Michael Mooney

Lynn O'Shea

206-543-7950

recmgt@uw.edu