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Issue Date: March 2007

Save young business from failure

1 March 2007
Paul Mullon, information governance executive, Metrofile

Records management is not the exclusive domain of large enterprises
Small to medium-sized business owners should be concerned. According to the South African NGO Coalition, 80% of small businesses fail in the first year. Yet private corporations, partnerships and sole proprietorships proliferate, particularly in South Africa where the government promotes the entrepreneurial spirit that has given rise to notable local products such as Kreepy-Krawly, Appletiser and Banditos.
Government's goal is clear: alleviate poverty and reduce the number of poor people in the country. Promoting small, micro and medium businesses has proven worldwide to play an important role in reversing this situation.
According to a white paper on the national strategy for the development and promotion of small business in South Africa commissioned by parliament, there are in excess of 800 000 small, micro and medium businesses in the country, employing over 15 million people.
These span industries to include small cafés, hairdressers, tradesmen, solicitors, lawyers, accountants, restaurateurs, guest houses, photographers, small-scale manufacturers and more.
One of the greatest concerns for these business owners is bankruptcy. Therefore, small and medium-sized business owners are acutely aware of gross margin, fixed costs, capacity, networking, market change, business growth, business change, goals and opportunities.
With all of that on their minds, they are not typically focused on records management and digital record preservation. Considering that successful small and medium-sized businesses also enjoy some of the best growth rates in business, it is common for their infrastructure to rapidly evolve to maintain pace. That means new computers, new software and new processes and methods.
The law and records
The law requires companies to keep many types of records, about 40 of which relate to factors such as minutes of meetings and accounting records. Employment laws and occupational health and safety laws require employers to keep around 35 types of records such as employee files and employment equity plans. Tax laws require businesses to keep around 45 types of records such as books of account and invoices. Financial services laws require the retention of records of communications with customers, complaints, transactional data, policies, client identification and suspect transactions, to mention but a few.
It is important for businesses to keep accurate records because it affects every part of their operations. Using incorrect document versions can be disastrous. Taking a great deal of time to locate documents can adversely impact customer service.
These issues and others are compounded when businesses simply keep every document they generate. This is inefficient and it costs a great deal of money if it is stored in the office. The paper records can be scanned and stored on a computer either on the business premises or off-site.
Companies that follow the digital route should ensure that they do not fall foul of evolving technology. Records stored in an unreadable format are worthless. Records stored on media that degenerate to the point of being unreadable due to environmental factors or evolving technology are equally worthless.
Another option is to catalogue paper and those records that are infrequently accessed can be stored off-site in a safe and secure facility to be retrieved when necessary.
It makes a great deal of business sense for many small and medium-sized businesses to reduce their risk, reduce their costs, improve their efficiencies and focus on their core business through effective records management.
For more information contact Paul Mullon, Metrofile, 27 (0)11 677 3000,

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