Modern records management software is designed to control records within an organization systematically and to offer key personnel an easy and quick access to any piece of information needed. Such software will help manage records in any format.
But evaluating, selecting, and buying records management software depends on several factors. Not every system is right for all users. This is why googling “the best records management software” is not the right way to go.
The system you choose should fit the complexity and size of your organization. To make the right choice, you will need to know what you need specifically:
- What will you use the system for?
- How much it will cost to acquire?
- What records management legislation it needs to follow?
These are just some of the factors you must consider when buying records management software.
Manual records management may have been effective in the past, but this hardly meets the requirements of today’s fast-moving technological environment. Manual systems are time-consuming, inflexible, prone to error, and very costly.
An automated system will provide faster access to data due to its robust searching capabilities, and is easier to learn. Also, an automated system will help you organize your records, allowing you to capture, store, manipulate, and manage the data the records contain. These systems also help your organization to be data storage compliant because the companies behind the systems keep track of compliance requirements.
If you choose right records management software, it will provide many benefits to your organization such as:
- Decreased paperwork,
- Increased productivity,
- Greater efficiency,
- Improved customer service and support…
So to determine what your organization needs (and does not need) of records management software, let’s take a look at several key issues when picking a new records management system.
Conducting A Records Inventory
As a user, first, you must determine what items and activities the records management software will manage. For example, active records, inactive records, historical records, vital records, records retention scheduling, and so on.
Many organizations evaluate their records management needs by conducting a records inventory. Such inventory will determine what and how many records you have, their environmental and physical condition, their current location, and how often you refer to them.
Also, an inventory will provide a survey of your current records situation, determine storage needs, identify archival and vital records, and provide a foundation for a good records management plan. Once you have collected this important information via an inventory, you can start to investigate what type of software will work best for your organization.
Evaluating Your Records Management Needs
Evaluating your records management needs will help you determine precisely what the software must do. But before that, you first need to evaluate what records management functions you really need and what are the performance criteria of the software.
Records management software can provide many specific features that you may want to consider such as:
- Document management
Regulates the creation, usage, and maintenance of electronic records
- File and box tracking
Tracks the locations and contents of files and boxes of records
- Destruction of electronic records
destroying electronic records, making them irrecoverable
- Files management
Files, stored, retrieves, and updates electronic records
- Destruction notification
Monitors and controls destruction of records
Questions To Consider When Selecting Records Management Software
While you search for records management software, it will benefit you to ask these questions about what the software can and cannot do:
What records do I need to manage?
You should know precisely what records you want to manage and what problems you want to solve. Consult with others in your organization about their records management needs to help choose the best software solution.
What kind of software will meet my needs?
There are many types of software that support records management. Make sure you are looking at the right kind of product for your specific needs.
What software do other organizations use?
Contact other organizations to learn what software they use and why, so you will determine what to avoid and what will work for you.
Is the manual clear and easy to understand?
Vendors should provide you with a copy of the software’s manual before buying. The manual should outline how to use the software. It should also include information on troubleshooting and contacts for questions. Examine the table of contents and index for detail, clarity, and comprehensiveness. Make sure you can understand the software’s manual and can use it without difficulty.
Is the software easy or difficult to master?
The software can be too complicated for your needs. A vendor can tell you that the software can do anything you want – but it can also do more than you need. Additional features that you do not need will probably cost more. Test the software before purchasing. If it offers more features than your organization needs, search for other software packages.
Does the system do what it is supposed to do?
You know what you need, so make sure the software supports those needs. Make a list of what you want the software to do, and check the list as you test the package.
Are the screens helpful?
Screens provide access to operating procedures during use. These procedures should be brought up on a screen easily and should be easy to understand and follow.
Are tutorials available?
Tutorials provide step-by-step directions on how to operate a system. Tutorials are a bounty in any software package. However, they must be logical, written in simple language, and able to answer your questions clearly and concisely.
Will error messages appear when making an error?
Error messages should pop up on the screen when you hit the wrong button or try to enter unacceptable data. The message should be easily understood and provide a recommended solution to the problem.
Is the system menu-driven?
A menu-driven system performs actions from a menu of options. The menus should lead the user smoothly throughout the system. Menu screens must be easy to understand and organized logically. They should also provide shortcuts for experienced users and a secure, but easy, sign-on.
How fast is the system?
Make sure the software works fast and that your computer will run it without shutting down repeatedly.
Does the software remove the need for redundant data entry?
You shouldn’t have to re-enter the same data into the system. You should only need to enter a specific data element once, in one location.
Can global changes be performed?
You should have the ability to modify information in the whole system with a single change. With this options, you can, for example, change a department’s name and update every instance of it throughout the system.
Is switching between files allowed?
The system should enable you to switch back and forth between files without having to save the current page. It should also allow you to exit to a menu and transfer to another file.
Are backup procedures provided?
The system should provide procedures that backup all of your data on a regular basis, and the capability to restore backed-up data is essential. Determine whether the entire system will need backup or just the data, and decide who will set the schedule to execute regular backups.
Are there other conditions to examine before buying?
There may be conditions that exist in your organization that should be reviewed before buying any software. Budgetary flexibility will determine both the price you spend on software, hardware, and staffing, and the price of entering your data into the system. Consult with your staff to determine their familiarity with computer use. Analyze what in-house support you may need. Also, engage the assistance of others in your organization and use their expertise as you plan your RM program.
Are there any special features I require?
You may require some special features. Some special features include bar coding, networking capability, label printing, and advanced security. These features may be part of the system or may be enhancements to the basic application.
Is there an annual maintenance fee added to the software?
Some companies that generate specialized records management software add an annual fee that covers any maintenance needed or upgrades. Since this will be a continuous fee, be sure that your organization is able and willing to pay it annually.
Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Records Management Software
If there are existing records management software products that meet your needs, it is more cost effective to buy a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software package instead of developing one in-house or hiring a consultant to write on for you. Maybe you will have to modify the way you work to accommodate the COTS software, but it offers advantages over custom-developed applications, such as:
- Immediate availability
You can buy the software, install it, and put it to use easily and efficiently
- Proven reliability
Many users probably tested the software, so many of its problems are resolved
- Lower cost
The cost is lower than the cost of hiring a consultant to write a customized application or writing one yourself
- Availability of user manuals and online tutorials
Instant help is available to assist you in navigating the application
- Availability of extended technical support and training
Usually provided by the vendor, this benefit is worth the additional cost
Because of these advantages, the State Archives suggests that you buy off-the-shelf records management software if such products meet your needs – even if you have to modify your work processes slightly.
Choosing The Records Management Software
As you make decisions on what records management software to buy, keep the following in mind:
- Select software that is the right “size” for your organization.
- Learn what is included in the price of the software. A low-cost software may become pricey if you include maintenance and upgrades costs.
- Test the software products before purchasing them.
- Attend vendor software demonstrations.
- Visit a current user to evaluate the system, but without the seller present.
- Before you contract with sellers, check their financial stability and the length of time in business.
The quality of seller support can affect the value of the software package. To ensure that what you expect in seller support is what you get, make sure you understand how each of the followings will be managed:
- Decide who will do the installation: the seller or the user
- Know the base price and what is available for an additional fee
- Learn the charges of any customization
- Note each step of the installation process
- Know what training provides the seller
- Determine when and how the training will be done: on a site, by phone, or at the seller’s location.
- Check if a maintenance contract is available for an annual fee. The contract should include any upgrades or enhancements to the system.
- The seller should bill you for free time and materials if needed.
- Check if the seller provides a warranty, what it covers, and the period it is in effect.
- See if maintenance support is available on a site or by phone.
- Check the availability of a technical service hotline.
Records management software can make a more productive and effective records management program for your organization. Evaluate the software packages carefully so that it will meet your needs. The time you spend in selecting and evaluating the right software will provide a long-term payoff for your organization. And remember:
- Test the software packages before you buy any
- Investigate sellers before you buy their software
- Know what is and is not included in the price of the software
- Consider the lasting effects the software might have on your organization and staff. It might change your work process or the work schedule of your staff. Workflow, job descriptions, and internal operations might all be affected.
In short, use common sense. Ask questions. Review your needs. Buy only what you need. Create your records management program one step at a time.
If you’re at a loss as to where to start, there are many companies that provide unbiased consulting services. Some of these companies have decades and decades of hands-on cumulative experience working with small businesses and government agencies alike. Their experience and expertise can prove invaluable when choosing your records management software. It will be an extra expense for your organization but on the long run it can be the best investment you can make.