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Custody Sets Records Management Apart From Basic Records Storage

Offering more services to records-management customers increases business and profit, as well as responsibility for self-storage operators. The biggest responsibility is guarding the chain of custody, which is altered when a facility shifts from records-storage to records-management operations.

Records management is a perfect adjunct to your self-storage business if you’re looking to expand and provide a vital service in a thriving, profitable business. As a self-storage company, you already have two essential assets for successful records management: an established customer base of great candidates for records-storage services, and the facility. If your customers are satisfied with your self-storage services, chances are they will favorably consider your company for their records-management needs.

All that’s left is a little imagination, a sound business plan and the desire to enter this business, providing a critical service that’s here to stay and do nothing but grow. But it does add a new dimension to the mix.

With traditional self-storage, you rent the unit but have no knowledge of what is being stored. With records management, knowledge of what is being stored is essential to having a complete audit trail of who accessed what records and when. This is called “chain of custody,” which refers to the chronological documentation and/or paper trail showing the retrieval, custody, control, transfer, analysis and disposition of records and data, physical or electronic.

Why is this important? Before answering that question, we must understand what records management is all about and how it differs from records storage.

Records Storage

By providing proper racking to store business records and manpower to put away and retrieve records, you have moved into a new industry. Many people have successfully taken a portion of their self-storage business and converted it into records storage. Cary McGovern first wrote about nontraditional records storage in Inside Self-Storage as far back as 2003 (“Nothing but the Facts,” June 2003).

In this context, non-traditional records storage is simply a cut-down version of full-blown records storage, with simplified services. For example, you may not offer the collection, or delivery of records to/from your client’s premises. The critical factor here, however, is you are taking responsibility for the safe transfer to/from the storage building and for the safe storage of those records. Security just became an important factor.

Records Management

This moves you into a full-service environment. Instead of just storing boxes of inactive business records, you may now offer active file storage, or even document services including the retrieval and put away of individual documents into files on behalf of your clients. Records management involves becoming an extension of your clients’ business, providing them with essential services. Storing offsite ups the level of efficiency but cuts costs.

Obviously, records management requires a greater degree of control and more resources—from manpower to trucks—but it is a next natural step up from basic self-storage.

Custody Issues

When is something in your chain of custody? Quite simply, records or data are considered to be in your custody when they are:

  • In your physical possession
  • In your view, after being in your physical possession
  • In your physical possession and then locked up so theft or tampering cannot occur
  • Kept in a secured area, with access restricted to authorized personnel only

Therefore, whenever a record is touched, you need to have proof of that activity. This may seem obvious, but what may not be so clear is that by creating an audit trail you provide two essential functions: peace of mind and complete billing/reporting services.

Peace of Mind

First and most important to clients is they are purchasing peace of mind when they store their records with you. They want to sleep at night knowing their records are secure; you must be able to prove security when called upon to do so. Among the numerous activities in a records-management business, some date-and-time stamps are required for documentation:

  • At pickup (also noting who picked them up)
  • Receipt at your facility (and who received them)
  • When they are placed into permanent storage (and who placed them there)
  • A request to retrieve records (who took the request as well as who was the requestor)
  • Retrieval from the permanent storage location (and who retrieved the record)
  • Delivery (who delivered the record and who signed for the record)

You must have the proper tools and the very best database for recording all this activity. One stored record can create six audit records. This means your database must encompass activity more than six times the size of the number of records stored. That’s why selecting the right tools is essential; you must maintain all this activity/audit history and call upon it in a moment’s notice.

Billing and Reporting

Activity data is important for billing and reporting purposes. With accurate activity/audit data, your records-management system can quickly create invoices for clients without missing a single cent of income. Each activity carries a different fee. To be successful, your billing must accurately identify each of these charges.

These data records provide you with peace of mind that the business is collecting all the charges due. It may seem like a lot of work, but a good records-management software program can make it a snap. In addition, it’s not uncommon for software programs to increase revenues by 10 percent, just by accurately recording all service fees, some of which may go unnoticed if calculated manually.

Who knew that by providing an accurate chain of custody, you can afford both your client and yourself peace of mind? Sleep well.

Ian Thomas is vice president of business develop-ment for O’Neil Software. O’Neil’s software solutions manage multiple types of data including traditional storage boxes, file folders, documents and tapes. The company also provides barcode tracking, portable printers, laser scanners, wireless handhelds and Web technology featuring RSMobile software. For more information, visit

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