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Issue Date: November 2007

Records management for SMEs

1 November 2007

Paul Mullon, information governance executive at Metrofile Records Management Systems are not the exclusive domain of international mega-corporations.
Paul Mullon, information 
governance executive at Metrofile
Paul Mullon, information governance executive at Metrofile
Small businesses are the slimmer, smaller counterparts of those commercial megaliths and have many of the same needs, albeit on a smaller scale. One key difference is the financial and human resources to supply those needs, which is why smaller operations must maximise every opportunity afforded them.
Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) often lack domain-specific expertise.
The business owner and a few key employees must be jacks of all trades and they run the real risk of being masters of none. Their daily operational concerns are manifold:
* How many have the time to investigate which records should be retained, for what period and how to do it securely?

* How many have the luxury of time to search through filing cabinets stuffed with paper to ascertain how many units they sold or how many customers were serviced, which units were sold or what the primary service was that customers required during a given period?

* And when the financial year draws to a close, there remains the constant threat of unforeseen tax payments.
South African Revenue Services (SARS) intends to audit 6,4 million people a year now that its resources have been freed up by the e-Filing program. If it meets that goal, SARS can audit every single South African at least once every seven years. Being audited is a scary prospect for most businesses, even if they believe their payments are up to date.
A well designed records system will alleviate much of the anxiety that surrounds SARS audits and improve small and medium businesses’ relationships with the government tax collection agency.
A proper system will also highlight sources of income and expense, allow business operators to register which expenses are tax-deductible and which are not, clearly establish profits and losses and the value of their businesses. Having the information available and accessible has a positive impact on operations.
But it also allows businesses to ensure that they claim all possible tax deductions. With clear records and an efficient management system, SARS cannot argue. Contrast that picture with sketchy details of approximate amounts, shoddy record-keeping and a chaotic records management system that leaves auditors working through reams of disorderly paper bundles.
But it is not just SARS that small business owners need to please with orderly structured records management. Any attempt to secure a loan or investment from a third party will flow smoothly when systematic records management supports claims made around meeting tables. That does not only allow banks and potential investors to learn about the business. It shows them that owners know what is going on inside their own operations.
In the past, many small business owners thought that third-party records management providers’ services were only available to the large companies. But many have now designed programmes and systems to tackle the specific requirements of smaller operations.
In addition to having systems designed to meet their needs and budgets, smaller operations also benefit from the learning curve that larger corporations had to endure. Some records management service providers have gone to extensive efforts to formalise the industry and introduce best-practice standards into their own operations and the industry and those have been scaled into the services targeted at smaller customers.
Since smaller businesses face more pressure to compete in an entrepreneurially minded society, they need to ensure that they have their fingers on the pulses of their operations and can meet the challenge. Effective records management, tailored to their needs, gives them that competitive edge.
For more information contact Paul Mullon, Metrofile, +27 (0)11 677 3000, paulm@metrofile.co.za


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