Spotlight: Records and Identity Management

The Growing Need for Retention Policies

Story and Photos by Monique Musick

There is one policy, customizable for any department, capable of saving money, reducing risk, saving time and freeing up space: a records and information management policy. Knowing when and how to properly dispose of various types of records is a vital part of reducing litigation risk, protecting personal information and improving efficiencies throughout the university.

Most of us keep way too much, way too long. If you think you don’t create records and don’t need a policy then you’ve misunderstood what a record really is. A record, according to Chief Records Officer Russell O’Hare, “is any recorded information, regardless of the medium or characteristics, made or received by an organization that is evidence of its operations, and has value requiring its retention for a specific period of time.”

How much e-mail is in your inbox? Are you holding on to boxes of files that have moved so often you no longer remember what they contain? Those are records. Every memo, e-mail, web page, report, image, tweet or IM you create is a record, and at some point – depending on its classification – it needs to be properly disposed of.

In 2008, Russell O’Hare became the chief records officer and began to formalize processes to extend standardized records management procedures beyond Human Resources and Student Services to the rest of the university. O’Hare is a Certified Records Manager, one of only three in the state of Alaska. Under his direction the office has created a records retention and disposition program that provides substantial economic, operational and legal benefits to the university.

A university has to undergo regular accreditation and audit inspections so proper adherence to a records and information management policy is vital. Our business and admissions offices have worked for years to ensure compliance with HIPPA, PCI and FERPA laws. Payroll records are carefully managed (and stored on microfiche for 51 years after an employee leaves) and required audit trails are carefully maintained. University student records are likewise carefully documented and stored. But what about the rest of us?

Statewide Records Coordinator Sue Anne Denny manages paper records and mircofilm and mircofiche.
Statewide Records Coordinator Sue Anne Denny manages paper records and microfilm and microfiche.

Chances are, if you (or your office designee) have never contacted Sue Ann Denny and filed a Certificate of Destruction (used to arrange for the destruction of paper documents) you are holding on to some things that really should be destroyed. The biggest reasons are legal: it is just as bad to fail to dispose of records as it is to dispose of something too soon. Then there is the issue of storage. If your storage room is full and there is an old box of files stowed in your cubicle you might want to start inquiring if it all still needs to be there!

A records retention and disposition schedule begins with classifications. The General Administrative Retention and Disposition Schedule for the university is available on the records website. This policy covers everything from meeting minutes to land sales, stating how long the record should be retained and when it should be disposed of. There are separate retention and disposition schedules for classroom documentation, cash management, fund accounting, grants and contracts, human resources and student enrollment services on the website as well. There may be publications, reports and other materials created by university departments that don’t seem to fit under the general schedule. In that case, work with the records office to create a personalized retention schedule for specific record-types.

One of the key tools for records management is OnBase enterprise content management software. With OnBase records of all kinds—reports, memos, images, web pages or newsletters—are digitized and loaded onto the secure server. The record is fully indexed, making retrieval simple and efficient. The extremely flexible interface can be adapted for any department’s needs.

The time saved by using this system has transformed student services. Student requests, such as for transcripts, can be processed in days instead of weeks. Transfer inquiries, admissions and other services are similarly streamlined. In addition, tons of paper is saved because all the files are managed electronically- no need for paper transfer, no multiple copies floating around.

Security is similarly flexible. Access to records can be restricted to a group or to a single individual. They’re also accessible (to authorized users) from just about anywhere using VPN sign-in.

A retention schedule based on the classification of the record is applied when it is uploaded. When the time comes—be it 1 year, 5 years, 10 years or more—the file is automatically disposed by the system. The automatic disposal can be over-ridden in the case of a hold due to audit, litigation or other legal matters.

There are times and reasons to use physical record storage methods. All payroll records are stored on microfiche. The film is fully processed in the records office in the basement of Butrovich and stored in their climate-controlled vault where it could last 500 years—except for the retention schedules regulating its destruction. The vault is not the only secure storage space for physical documents; there are several restricted access storerooms holding records, and documents in line for shredding are stored in locked totes.

When it is time to dispose of paper documents Shredway is called in. This vendor provides secure on-site document shredding and disposal service. They pull up in a big truck, collect the documents from the secure totes and pulverize the contents. There are some rules to follow for preparing documents for shredding, including important do’s and don’ts on the records web site.

If you’re like me, about this point you’re wondering where to begin. (Especially with that ever growing e-mail inbox.) The staff in the records department are more than happy to assist you. While all official retention policies need to run past O’Hare and General Counsel, both Sue Ann Denny and John Osborn are able to assist in the initial formation of a retention schedule customized for your department, and Osborn is able to customize OnBase modules to handle any digital record management needed for your office.

Both Denny and Osborne attribute their student employees for providing invaluable support and assistance. Rebecca Salmela helps Denny downstairs scanning, coping, sorting and otherwise assisting with physical records management tasks. Meanwhile Bruce Lee assists Osborne with scanning, classification and management of digital files on OnBase. Lee even updated OnBase training videos, available on the records website, which provide step-by-step instruction for users new to the university’s OnBase software.

The important contributions of Alicia Wyse on the development of the OnBase system for the university cannot be overlooked. Although she is in Massachusetts now, she still works on contract as a consultant part-time. Wyse set up the foundation for the whole system of digital content management—contributions which have achieved national recognition.

Meet the Records Staff

Russell O'Hare

Dr. Russell O’Hare joined the university in 2002 as a budget policy analyst. In 2004 he became the project manager for a digital document infrasture project. It became clear during the process that a systemwide records retention program was needed. O’Hare led a committee to help develop both the digital document-imaging infrastructure and a records retention disposition program. He was appointed Chief Records Officer in 2008.

Prior to coming to the university, O’Hare was a field artillery officer in the Army. With a Master of Business Administration, he functioned as a Comptroller, providing advice and guidance concerning resources to commanders and activity chiefs. He later became a professor of military science and head of the ROTC program at Southeast Louisiana University.

O’Hare and his wife Lee have a son and three grandsons. One grandson graduated this spring from UAF with a computer science degree.� His graduation represents three generations of UA students. O’Hare’s son, a UAA alumnus, works in software development for Microsoft.

When he finds time to get a vacation from the university, O’Hare enjoys travelling as well as hunting, fishing and camping. He and Lee regularly visit Soldotna, where they have a residence, and take advantage of the great fishing on the Kenai Peninsula.

John Osborne

John Osborne started in the records department as a student employee in February 2011. By August he was made a temporary employee and was hired full-time in April 2012. In addition to his OnBase duties, Osborne helps troubleshoot computer problems, a job he had plenty of experience with as a former OIT help desk student employee.

Osborne was formerly in the security force for the Air Force National Guard. He also worked in loss prevention at the military exchange on post. He does a lot of volunteer and community work including tutoring for the Literacy Council and is involved in Rotoract—Rotory in Action—performing services for the community.

With such a background, it is no surprise that Osborne enjoys the challenges of troubleshooting and thinking on his feet that his role in records requires. He likes to solve puzzles and strategize; always trying to see “the big picture” in the work he does. Even in his free time he reads political, managerial and historic books. He also likes to keep on top of new advancements in technology and computing. He also likes to travel and is a perpetual student of language and culture.

Osborne’s words of advice are to “work smarter not harder.” But the most common phrase you’ll hear from him? “OnBase it!”

Sue Ann Denny

Sue Anne Denny has been with records management since November 2005. Even though the office changed (it was formerly part of the data center) her position as records coordinator has remained the same. Prior to joining UA, Denny had a lot of experience dealing with sensitive information. She started in a law office, then spent 15 years working in doctors’ offices.

Denny is a new mother (her daughter is almost one) so her writing aspirations have been temporarily back-burnered while she serves as personal jungle gym and parent. She has several novel ideas and hopes to complete them some day. Her mother is also a writer and has just published her second novel.

Denny is glad to have had some great opportunities to travel with her husband pre-child, but thinks future travel, for a while at least, will likely be limited to visits to family out-of state.

Denny’s favorite part of working is providing quality customer service. She believes in people helping people, and is willing to drop whatever she is doing to assist a customer when they call. This positive outlook helps keep things bright down in the basement where she refers to herself as being the “crazy box lady.” On that note, she wanted to sign off with a bit of humor “which I think is most fitting to the Records Center and our love of what we do: You don’t have to be crazy to work here. We’ll train you.”

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