Retaining original business documents critical in the event of legal action

Companies that fail to retain original documentation are placing themselves at huge risk in the event of legal action.

August 27, 2013

Companies that fail to retain original documentation are placing themselves at huge risk in the event of legal action.

This is according to Mike Grey, Solutions General Manager of Metrofile Records Management – a group company of JSE-listed Metrofile Holdings Limited, who says that while the Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act, 2002 (which is currently in the process of proposed amendments being reviewed by cabinet) does stipulate requirements for electronic reproductions of original documents to be considered suitable evidence for legal purposes – it is still imperative that companies retain the original documentation.

Grey says that business owners often only realise the importance of effective storage and management of the business’ original paper documents too late, particularly when they are required to present the original paper documents as evidence as part of a legal case. “In an increasingly digital age, this is becoming more common, especially as businesses try to save valuable physical office space by scanning business documents and storing them electronically.”

However, if the correct processes for scanning the document were not in place, the electronic copy may not stand up in the court of law and the original will have to be produced, says Grey. “This becomes a real problem for businesses when it comes to sourcing that original document if they have not properly indexed or archived their documents or – worst case scenario – they have destroyed the original document under the misperception that the electronic version was sufficient.”

He says companies that have a proper records management system in place are better positioned in the event of legal action. “Furthermore, an effective records management system assists to mitigate the risk of consequential reputational damage and financial losses.”

“It is crucial for businesses to implement a robust records management process for collating documents, securely storing records and archiving records in a managed structure so they can retrieve the records timeously when involved in a court case.”

There are two options available to businesses when seeking to implement records management systems; onsite or offsite records management. “Companies that need immediate access to documents and records have no choice but to store them onsite. For these companies, the key lies in implementing an effective back-up solution and storing the documents in a secure environment that can protect the records from damp, fire and water damage as well as insect infestation.”

Grey says that offsite records management is becoming increasingly popular due to space constraints of storing records onsite as well as the costs involved with implementing the effective security measures needed to securely store records, including fire detection and prevention.

“Offsite records management entails the storage of company data and information in purpose-built facilities incorporating data protection which involves the securing of a backup data tape in an off-site vault. The location of storage facilities are specifically situated in low-risk areas where exposure to flooding, fires, earthquakes, flight paths or other natural disasters are least probable.”

Grey says that when selecting a records management supplier, it is important to bear the following in mind:

  • Low-risk location of storage facilities – the storage facilities of records management suppliers need to be located in low-risk areas with little exposure to natural disasters and a proper fire and disaster risk management system.
  • Offsite access to records – having remote access to records when needed at any given time is essential to the businesses and should be offered by the selected records management partner..
  • Document indexing and tracking capabilities – finding particular document is made easier through proper indexing and tracking. It is important to make sure that the selected records management service provider offers discovery, search, query, role-based security access and inventory-management capabilities.
  • Regulation compliance – it is vital that businesses adhere to the relevant records management regulations to avoid any repercussions. By selecting a records management supplier which complies with best practices and is up to date on industry regulations, businesses are able to be sure of its compliance in this regard.
  • Data protection from breaches and espionage – it is always advisable to ensure that records management partners confirm the vetting of its staff to mitigate the risk of data breaches, especially when confidential documents are stored. In addition, ensuring that a provider offers role-based security access to documents can further reduce the risk of a breach.

“By employing the expertise of a reputable records management company, businesses handling paper documents can better ensure the preservation and security of these documents as well as ensure they can provide original documents as evidence when faced with legal action should the need arise,” concludes Grey.