Posted by: Knightbird | June 9, 2010

Records Management

One of the legends of waste at Chugachmiut that I talk about frequently is the “Infamous Quonset Hut.” Before I talk about the Quonset Hut, I want to talk about what I originally saw for document management at Chugachmiut.

When I arrived at Chugachmiut, there were 6 four drawer legal sized file cabinets in the office I inherited. There were also 3 seven foot high book cases there with a plethora of three ring binders containing reams of documents. During my first 4 months on the job, I did not refer to any of the documents contained in my office. I did look through them, and was amazed to find multiple copies of the same document contained in many different files. Later we would find that multiple copies was a pattern throughout the company.

One day, one of my Division Directors came to work in jeans and a sweat shirt, then disappeared for the better part of 3 days along with 2 other employees. I later learned that they went to the Quonset Hut to search for a document requested by a board member. The Quonset Hut was located about 3 – 4 miles away from our offices. I was told they never did find the document they went to look for. They did tell me that the space had cobwebs all over the place, and that it wasn’t heated. I should have done the Lean Management tool of “going to the Gemba” and actually looked at the Quonset Hut, but I didn’t.

Around this same time, the same Division Director and another employee conducted a “Spring Cleaning” event in the room used by our Grant Writers. I was told that they hauled 3 truckloads of paper from that room. Files were kept in different places around the office, and there was no central place to go to find a specific document. They took care of the need by having multiple documents stored in multiple places around the organization.

With all of the difficulties we seemed to encounter in document management, I asked one of my Division Directors if she would coordinate a training session for document management. With her staff, she arranged for one of the most distinguished records management experts in the country to come teach us, Dr. Mark Langemo from the University of North Dakota. Dr. Langemo is a recipient of the Emmett Leahy Award, the highest award possible from the Certified Record Managers association. Dr. Langemo toured our records management sites, took pictures and prepared an incredible presentation for us. The highlights of his presentation were photos of the Quonset Hut (including showing a 1 gallon gasoline can sitting next to personnel records) and a swimming pool in a Minnesota high rise office building filled to the rim with books and records. He gave us excellent advise on developing a centralized records management system.

When we moved to the Chugachmiut Building in October of 2005, we developed a central records management room with rolling compressible shelving storage. We developed a records management process and began encouraging managers to create file patterns for records management. This part of the process was incredibly difficult because most managers were loathe to let their records leave their offices. I had to remind them that the records belonged to Chugachmiut and they had to be secure and managed. We achieved a great deal in about 3 years. For FY 2008 we had no lost documents for any document that made it into the system, and every request for a document was typically answered with the document provided in less than 5 minutes.

Along the way we closed the Quonset Hut, 2 Conex containers on the same property, and an additional shed with more stored items. We disposed of about 13 pallets of boxes, and archived a number of pallets more with an archival company where the records were secure, dry and retrievable within a very short period of time.

Our next step will be moving to Electronic Document Management. We have already digitized every paper document entering Chugachmiut. When our new Financial Accounting Software is fully functional, we will be reviewing and revising our policies to digitize most of our documents and make them accessible to appropriate employees who require access and have the necessary permissions.

The horrors of the Infamous Quonset Hut are now far behind us, and we have a document management system that eliminates most of the problems we once had such as multiple copies throughout the organization, loss of originals, misplaced documents and an inability to retrieve documents we need for doing our work.

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