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Roughly 20 years ago, businesses had an easier time knowing which information to keep on hand for compliance purposes. Important documents were typically stored in clearly labeled files and large boxes, and that was that.



Then, two things started happening that changed everything. First, the volume of data companies produce and store to run their businesses exploded, spurred by such technology advances as the Web and e-mail, which double in volume every year. Second, the rules that govern what companies need to keep and can throw out started changing dramatically-- witness the recent Sarbanes-Oxley Act, new rules from the SEC and NASD, privacy requirements based on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and increased oversight from federal, state and local agencies.

So, businesses face a virtual alphabet soup of new compliance requirements, and the stakes are higher than ever for executives in charge of meeting these new standards. Nobody wants to be on the evening news for discarding critical information, or just as bad, be unable to find whatever is needed.

Up until now, records management has been a fairly quiet, even routine part of doing business. The difference today is that records management applies not just to legal and Information Technology issues, but to management of all the information that flows across the enterprise, along with its relations with customers, suppliers and partners. This information is as vital to meeting compliance needs as it is to running the business effectively.

But most businesses aren't there yet. In fact, 80 percent of business information today is typically in unstructured formats such as e-mail, graphics, audio and video - buried deep inside the organization, where it cannot be managed. To meet today's compliance needs, and run the business more effectively, all this buried treasure needs to be scanned and digitized, stored securely and be readily available for internal and external tracking, which could even include producing original documents.

As daunting as this may be, there is a powerful upside: companies now have an added incentive to improve their business performance as they meet tighter compliance requirements. Fortunately, the technology is available to do this. Up-to-date records management policies and systems can help companies comply with complex regulation, but can also spur productivity, enhance customer service and boost the return on technology investment.

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