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Boxing Clever

15 July 2007

Strategic expansion and an innovative use of technology is the key to success in the burgeoning archive management sector. TNT’s Tim Robb describes how a widening range of public and private sector clients are using archiving services to support their businesses

RECORDS MANAGEMENT AND INDEED, data management have gained greater prominence than ever before on the commercial and public sector agenda. A raft of new legislation – a prime example being the Freedom of Information Act governing the individual’s right of access to information held about themselves –have served as a wake-up call to the complacent. Incomplete record keeping or, indeed, well-preserved material rendered useless by inefficient retrieval processes does not just amount to poor practice, but could land organisations with costly and time-consuming legal ramifications.

The daily avalanche of paper and emails facing us all and the increasing competition between people and paper for precious office space within our cities has also prompted FMs to turn to data management specialists for the answer. TNT Archive Services stores millions of paper documents, audio-visual media and computer back-up tapes and employs 200 trained records management staff in several location around the UK. It numbers the Government, major hospitals, legal and financial sector companies among its client base.

Divisional General Manager Tim Robb says: “The cost of office space in the capital is astronomic and understandably businesses would rather have people occupying that space rather than boxes of paper. Storing files in an office not only wastes valuable space but limits the growth of a business.”

Indeed, Robb argues that the soaring costs of office space aligned to the need for added security and back-up systems means that TNT has thought long and hard about the meeting the increasing demand for archive management services. The result – a £10m capital investment in the form of TNT’s new archive facility at Thurrock, on the outskirts of London – highlights the continuing importance of business continuity as a necessary imperative in the arena of big business. The 70,000 sq ft facility opened for business last year and provides storage for 700,000 archive boxes – almost doubling the company’s capacity in and around the London area.

Rob explains: “Office space in the capital is at an absolute premium and we’re ideally located to be close enough for quick file retrieval but far enough out from a security point of view. The level of investment in Thurrock highlights the commitment of TNT to this sector. I’m looking for 20 per cent growth for the division this year and, with superb facilities such as this in our portfolio, this is eminently achievable.”

Customers such as the London Borough of Hackney are already reaping the benefits of TNT Archive Services at Thurrock. The convenience of a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach to their needs, 24-hour turnaround times for file retrieval and excellent all round service levels were instrumental in TNT gaining the custom of a major player in the public sector.

Robb continues: “We work extremely well with our colleagues based a short distance away at our hi-tech Basildon facility for the imaging element of this contract. With an increasing number of paperless offices, the industry will start to shift more and more towards imaging files - scanning them in and saving to disc – and we are already ahead of the game by making this link now.”

The portfolio approach is a strong one. The team is using every available resource to provide for customer needs and, ultimately, keep funds in-house by partnering with colleagues throughout the TNT portfolio who specialize in document delivery through mailroom and intersite distribution solutions as well as scanning and print services. Pushing for growth will see the Thurrock team make greater inroads into key market sectors of healthcare, financial services, entertainment and legal in 2007.

“Thurrock affords us the capacity to expand business with existing customers and also accommodate new business”, says Robb. “Our storage space, delivery options and out-of-hours service are all first class but we need to make it known to as wide an audience as possible in London and the region. We are used to servicing all types of contracts, many of them requiring very specific operating controls, often with confidentiality being a major consideration. To prevent unsanctioned breaches of the system, only authorized employees are able to browse an online catalogue and order up files electronically.”

Clearly confidentiality is not only a concern for Government and other sensitive sectors such as health. Any organisation seeking to outsource its archive and data management systems should examine the safeguards offered by a supplier to protect commercially sensitive information from falling into the wrong hands. Leading records management companies will have security measures in place. TNT establishes a list of authorised users and operates a unique password access system. Working to high security levels, TNT archiving facilities have controlled environments for back-up magnetic media and delicate documents, as well as an extensive sprinkler system.

Robb explains: “As a specialist in off-site archiving our objective is to devise and implement highly secure archiving solutions that release space in offices and enable fast, accurate retrieval of information. One of the first questions any organisation should consider when looking to outsource the management of its records is the frequency and speed with which it needs to access the documents or data. Much of the documentation we safeguard ceases to be in regular use beyond six months or a year, however, for legal reasons it has to be maintained. For example, financial accounts and medical records must be retained for a specified period but may no longer be active documents after 12 months.

“Ideally it is better to store material on a single site. One of our clients previously held their documents at 13 different locations with an offsite archive provider. This made the retrieval and tracking of important legal files especially difficult, “ commented Robb. “We reduced that to two – one site in London for ‘active’ material, regularly accessed, and a second outside the capital for ‘deep’ storage. Deep storage records are managed at premises outside the major cities as a more cost effective solution for material that must be maintained but not accessed regularly.”

The differentiation is not always clear cut and old does not necessarily equal obsolete. Hospitals for example need fast access 24-hoursa-day, 365-days-a-year, to all their patient records – some of which are up to 30 years old. A patient who has not required treatment at the hospital for many years may return in an emergency and their notes will have to be supplied urgently.

The needs of clients vary enormously. A good supplier will assess the records management requirements and develop an appropriate record management and retention programme, encompassing the indexing, secure storage, efficient delivery and eventual controlled destruction of your vital data. Swift and reliable retrieval of documents is essential. Records should be carefully catalogued and indexed. Leading records management specialists use electronic bar-coding systems to track and locate individual files, tapes or archive boxes at all stages of their journey.

All items are bar-coded and their details logged into a database using cutting edge O’Neil software, a reliable package used widely throughout the industry. Customers telephone or e-mail their request for an item, quoting either the internal company item number or unique barcode and their authorisation to retrieve the item.

This is recorded on the O’Neil database which then recognises that the item has been dispatched and to whom. The item’s barcode is electronically scanned as it leaves the storage facility and again when it arrives at the customer’s premises, creating and recording a continuous and permanent audit trail.

Robb says: “We clearly establish with our clients the options for scheduled and ad-hoc retrieval and delivery services. For example, we offer an emergency local one-hour delivery, same day and next day delivery through our own dedicated vehicles. Reliability is the keyword. A number of clients have come to us after previous suppliers’ success rates in delivering items on time fell below 50 per cent so thoroughly check out this aspect of the service before signing on the dotted line.”

In some cases documents never have to leave the storage facility to provide a ‘retrieval’ service. If appropriate, material can be faxed or delivered by ‘scan on demand’.

Of course, not all records are in paper format. Many organisations hold vital information on computer back-up tapes, and audio-visual media. Careful storage is essential to prevent degradation of these vulnerable items.

TNT’s high security, specialist facility at Beckton in East London stores and manages some 300,000 original studio recordings for a leading global music company. Irreplaceable tracks are kept in temperature and humidity controlled media libraries. This treasure trove of musical history is protected by a stringent security regime, including CCTV and advanced intruder alarms, and a highly sophisticated fire suppression system.

“Precious audio visual master tapes require careful handling in an environmentally controlled facility. Compliance with British Standards governing the protection of audio visual media, including BS 4783 offer a good indication of the quality of care available,” says Tim.

TNT also provides the full range of high security services linked with the storage of computer backup data computer media and data cases compliant with British Standards. As Robb explaines, “IT and records managers should provide secure, off-site facilities well away from potential common disaster zones to store computer backup tapes. If a client’s data is lost or compromised, they will require backups to be dispatched swiftly to minimise time lost to the business. Records management is absolutely crucial to ensuring businesses run at their most efficient, and our customers see the benefits of a fully outsourced and managed system, hourafter- hour, day-after-day, year-after-year.”

● Tim Robb is Divisional General Manager TNT Archive Services (01283 227905)

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