By Wayne Clarke, Managing Director of Metrofile Records Management – a group company of JSE listed Metrofile Holdings Limited

The growing trend of backing information up electronically has placed local companies at an increased risk of losing critical company information. According to the 2014 Metrofile Information and Records Management Trends Index, 14% of the 200 South African businesses surveyed had lost critical electronic information within the past 12 months.

The survey also found that while 88% of these local businesses are required to store electronic records and information, a mere 21% of businesses have tested these electronic back-up systems within the past month. The survey was conducted among over 200 management executives from local business operating mainly in the financial services, consumer goods and services and business services industries, among others.

These results are concerning as it highlights that local businesses may not be effectively managing their electronic records management systems (ERMS), placing not only the organisation but clients and employees at risk too.

It is important for businesses to ensure that their electronic back-up systems are as secure and fail-proof as their traditional counterparts. Businesses of all sizes must understand that electronic records are assets to the organisation, not the individual, and as such need to be managed under strict records management policies and the supervision of an accountable Records Management Officer.

SA businesses must comply with record keeping legislation and regulations such as those included in The New Companies Act, King III, the Consumer Protection Act and the looming Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act. ERMS can play a significant role in ensuring that businesses are compliant with legislation, regulations, policies, standards and best practices at minimal cost to the organisation. However, it must be done properly and be in line with the requirements of the legislation.

The survey also found that a 41% of businesses do not invest in services to confidentially destroy electronic information (on tape or hard drives) or for the clearing of photocopy machine memory. Companies must keep in mind that the secure destruction of records containing personal details is dictated by South African legislation and negligence to comply places the organisation at risk of financial, legal and reputational damage.

Often several employees have access to the company server and are often held individually responsible for backing up the products of their labour. Leaving the backup of information in the hands of employees who do not fully understand the system or the importance of ensuring backups are taking placing is simply irresponsible. It is thus vital that the incorporation of ERMS be accompanied by strict governing policies to provide structure, consistency, security and greater control over electronic company records.

The ERMS is managed effectively, it is highly beneficial for the organisation in terms of efficiency, tangible bottom line savings and improved customer service. Records stored using ERMS are accessible at the click of a button, and when hosted on a cloud-based system, are easily accessible over the Internet, which makes sharing of electronic records between employees simple.

Businesses to consult with a records management specialist, who has an extensive understanding of the process and lifecycle of electronic records, to ensure a smooth transition to an electronic back-up system.

In today’s highly competitive digital world where the creation and management of electronic data shows no signs of abating, investing in the right ERMS solution will provide an effective platform for companies to meet and sustain its business needs and goals.