Things to Consider Before Flying to the Cloud
If you’ve ever flown on an overcast day, you know that feeling of release when the airplane bursts through the cloud deck and into the bright sunshine. In contrast, the role of cloud storage in records management isn’t so clear. Before taking any RIM program to the cloud, be sure to weigh the risks and benefits carefully.
Cloud storage refers to the housing of data files on large servers, usually managed by third parties at offsite data centers. While the term is relatively new, the concept is not. If you’ve ever kept old emails in a personal folder in Gmail or retrieved a favorite recipe from Pinterest, you’ve used cloud storage.
The attraction to records managers is obvious: reduced file containers and physical storage space, and less cost and time involved in administering and retrieving records. Documents can be scanned and placed in a searchable database accessible from anywhere. While it doesn’t eliminate the need to keep some paper records, it can cut the number down tremendously.
Although for all its benefits, cloud storage has dangers as well. “The biggest issue that an organization faces when deploying cloud computing is the obligation to ensure that the company’s policies surrounding retention, privacy and security are administered and validated in the cloud,” cautions Samantha Lofton, director of Records Information, Risk Management and Practice Support at the law firm Ice Miller LLP.
Speaking in a CMSWire interview, Lofton adds, “Vendors must have the ability to meet their potential client’s needs relating to the authentication of users, data access and the physical storage of data in the cloud.”
In its publication, Guidelines for Outsourcing Records Storage to the Cloud, ARMA International offers additional guidance for RIM managers:
- Accessibility. Will you have direct access to your cloud-stored files at all times? How simple is the process for retrieving them? This is especially important to the legal discovery process, so seek your legal department’s input. You may consider a number of storage options – online (i.e., digital), offline (hard copy or other tangible medium in long-term storage) or nearline (disk or tape retrieved by an automated system) – depending on needs and costs, which can vary significantly.
- Data security. Is your information adequately protected against accidental or intentional disclosure or loss?
- Data location. The term “cloud” seems ethereal, but in fact your data will reside on a real server at an actual data center — or even spread across multiple locations. Know where those sites are, and how vulnerable they might be to disaster or security breach. Also, the location could have a bearing on jurisdiction in certain legal cases, another reason to consult with your attorney.
- Data segregation. Chances are your files will reside on the same server as some of the host’s other clients. You need proof that your data won’t be intermingled or inadvertently accessed by anyone other than the authorized people in your organization.
- Data integrity. What is the process for backing up, retaining and recovering data? How robust is that process? You want to know your data is safe and recoverable under the worst-case scenario — that is, a physical or electronic disaster.
- Data ownership. No matter how or where your records are stored, your organization is responsible for them, including adhering to retention schedules and complying with legal rules and regulations. Be sure you are confident that the vendor will manage cloud-stored files according to your RIM policy and the regulations involved. Also make certain the Service Level Agreement clearly emphasizes that the vendor meets all confidentiality standards and has no ownership of the information.
While still a pie-in-the-sky concept for many, cloud storage is potentially useful for overall records management — as long as the risks are understood and managed effectively.
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Abraxas partners with clients to determine the best options and right tools for records and information, whether high in the sky or on terra firma. We provide clients with tailored records and information management solutions, delivering the business intelligence that matters most — and we do it more efficiently and reliably than anyone else, particularly in highly regulated industries. To learn more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call us: 866.535.0016 (toll-free) or 269.226.0016.