Written by: JP Midgley, CEO, Avalon Document Services
Over the last 10+ years, I have been contacted by 5 to 10 clients per year asking if we can help get them out of the never‑ending death spiral of a contract that they have with their current document storage company. It might not be easy to hear, but the answer is not necessarily “yes,” but “maybe.” By all accounts, the big ones are very successful, multi‑billion dollar international companies, who are generally strongly disliked by almost any company that uses their services. Not one client that uses them has ever told me that those companies are great to work with and they are happy with their decision to partner with them. The problem is, you didn’t know that 20 years ago when you signed your first contract with them. Now the monthly bill is astronomical and you look at the contract only to find that they have outsmarted us all. Your contract probably says that you will pay to send them boxes, store the boxes, pull the boxes, put the boxes back, remove the boxes forever, breathe on the boxes, or even think about your boxes. You now have two options: 1) do nothing, which results in your bill getting a little bit bigger every month for the rest of time; or 2) pay them the box pull fee, the document destruction fee, the box termination fee, the yada yada fee, which altogether is just about enough to say forget it and go back to option 1.
The good news is this: you have other options. But before you bother exploring them, you should ask yourself this: how badly do I want to get out of this never-ending document storage bill? Go ahead, rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being not all that bad, and 8 to 10 being that you really want to figure this out and are willing to put serious effort into solving this puzzle.
If you don’t give yourself a score of 8, 9, or 10, you might as well just stop reading this and move onto other business challenges into which you are more likely to invest time and resources. However, if you are serious about this, then press on.
In our experience, this process will take a pretty big effort but the main requirements are:
- A willingness to change the way you manage your records
- Up front time investment from your people
- A few years (but hey, if you never start, the few years never ends)
- Money (yes, there is a financial investment in this process)
Before we dive into some of those investments, let me provide a 30,000-foot view of the process. We won’t get into all of the nitty gritty here but, if you want to discuss, call us and we would be happy to explore the program with you.
“Get out of my Document Storage Contract forever” process high-level overview:
- Figure out how many records you have in storage, how much you are paying, the trend in monthly expense, the frequency of record retrieval and the types of records that are retrieved, and ultimately, what it’s going to cost to pull everything out forever.
- Buy yourself a book on negotiation or hire an expert to navigate this, but you will want to try to negotiate that huge number you found at the end of step number 1.
- Pull the records and thin them out. Only scan the records that are important, not everything. This will require creating some rules of what you and your company need to keep, followed by what you want to keep, and how to identify those documents inside the boxes—not an easy task, but necessary. Prepare yourself to deal with the 5% of your employees who will fight this process, kicking and screaming.
- Plan for your go-forward strategy. The bigger the company, the harder it is to get everyone on the same page, especially if there are a number of baby boomers at the office because they tend to want to keep paper records of everything forever (maybe even two or three copies). To avoid finding yourself in this situation again, make a new plan for how to close files. Create a process to thin files as they close and digitize them shortly after that.
- Scan the old stuff. Be smart and hire a vendor to complete the backfile conversion without any bells and whistles. By now you’ve probably realized (from your analysis) that you rarely ever look at these records, so don’t go looking for major automation and granular searching capability—it drives up the cost, you didn’t have it before, and you don’t need it now (sure, there are exceptions to this, but for the most part this pertains to records you had sitting in boxes in a building that you have probably never even seen before, and forgot were even there).
So in short: analyze, negotiate, pull the records, plan, and scan- that even rhymes and is kind of catchy if you ask me.
Ok, back to what it’s going to take: the will, people, time, and money.
The Will: Closing a file, grabbing all the documents, shoving them in a box, and shipping the box off to a document storage vendor is old school. Your employees are probably used to the process of pulling up a file name, a matter number, a job number, or some other identifier and calling the storage vendor to have the file delivered in a few days. Everyone will need to buy into a new process: thinning the file when it closes, scanning the file (internally or with a vendor), and learning to access the record electronically either through a basic folder scheme on the network or in a document management system—it’s quicker and doesn’t cost anything to retrieve, but it did cost a few extra minutes when the file was closed. Of course, by then you will have defined typical practices at your company that outline what to keep and what not to keep, along with who is responsible for thinning the file, so it really shouldn’t be all that bad. If everyone doesn’t buy into this process (or you don’t have the authority to force buy-in), beware. All it takes is a few people to ignore the process to derail it. There are long‑term operational and cost benefits to getting out of the physical storage of records and into a modern records management process; sell your team on these benefits and get the buy-in!
The People: When you pull all those records that you just negotiated a slightly more palatable price to get out of storage, you have to take those same rules for what to keep and apply brute force to it. In other words, get a bunch of your staff to plow through these boxes and pull out the stuff you don’t need. You’ll be surprised at how efficient this process can actually be and how much better it gets over time. This is a necessary step in the process, so if you aren’t willing to tackle it, don’t expect the money aspect of this to be all that pleasant. Negotiate with a shredding service regarding any boxes older than your retention policy and any records you have deemed garbage. You can get great discounts for volume. We know a lot of shredding vendors at Avalon and would be happy to help negotiate or put you in touch with them.
The Time: If you have been socking away boxes for the last 20 to 30 years, don’t expect to get rid of the mess in a couple of months. The programs we put in place with our clients typically take 3 to 5 years. Make no mistake: this is a change in how you operate your business. No major business change happens overnight—you must be willing to invest the time it will take to properly tackle this process change.
The Money: Yes, it costs money, but in the end, you should be able to get a return on your investment.
Here how it works:
We find the storage contract fees, we figure out how many pages are likely to be left after thinning out the records, we total up all the costs and provide financing options to get out of storage and digitize the records quickly, but pay for it over a period of time to help lighten the financial blow. It works, believe me.
So can you break the ties with your document storage vendor? Probably, but only if you are truly willing to make it happen. We are here to help with the process and have helped lots of businesses change their records management process. It is a complex problem and we are excited when given the opportunity to design and execute a plan to end the frustration clients have with their records management services. Call us to discuss!
Determining how many pages you have depends on the scenario, so it can be dangerous to just guesstimate. See why in our blog The Risks of Guesstimating: Part One - How Many Pages of Paper Do I Have?