EB123 - Strategic Record Keeping © Question:   I work in a high pressure job that requires a lot of documentation, although I think we sometimes lose sight of why we’re gathering it.  What principles should we be following in the gathering of data.

Larry:  There are times when it seems like information management is taking over our lives.  But, I’m sure you also realize that keeping accurate records of the operational and financial activities of an enterprise is a legal and practical necessity.

We create reports and file forms for everything from taxes to health and safety issues, and as you know - the list keeps growing.  But filing reports is a reality of doing business and our failure to perform even perfunctory reporting can carry serious consequences.

Fulfilling our legal obligations is reason enough to gather and preserve data, but there are better reasons why an organization should engage in strategic record keeping.  An organization that is dedicated to “keeping the promise” to their customers, staff and shareholders must have accurate records to protect its assets and manage its processes.  For example:

1.    Records that increase our process knowledge are extremely useful for improvement.  When we routinely measure and record how much we produce, how many people we serve, etc., we are gathering information that can help us improve processes.  When we add to these records financial data such as income per item, expense per item, etc., we are giving ourselves the perspective we need to make better decisions.

2.    With all of the challenges in maintaining stewardship within an organization, there are just as many threats from the outside. Procuring products and services can produce a maze of opportunities for both financial losses and errors that can directly impact our processes.  Most difficulties with suppliers will be the result of inaccurate clerical operations.  A simple set of records will settle issues which the most principled arguments have been unable to solve - and it will keep vital resources flowing when there are disagreements.

The systems for keeping records should be designed to anticipate and prevent the common causes of problems, things that can be reasonably predicted to occur.  Common causes include such things as errors in orders, billing, payments, receipts, schedules, and other activities which have immediate and direct consequences.