Offsite Storage: Read the Fine Print or Feel the Pain

Mindy Rathe
August 22, 2012

The goal of any volume or transactional-based organization is to get you in at a low price and keep you in by making it expensive or difficult to switch - what we call "high switching costs." Never has this been truer than with off-site records management.

It may seem that storing boxes is relatively inexpensive compared to imaging. If you only need to store a box and never access its contents, it may appear to be a very inexpensive and attractive proposition.

On the other hand, caveat emptor: if you need your documents for any reason, getting access to them can be very expensive and make you feel like you're getting raked over hot coals. The reasons for getting documents out are numerous:

   Instant access to historical information

  • Compliance with corporate document retention policy


  • Due diligence in a legal or business matter


  • Divestiture or acquisition

  • It's at this point that your contract's fine print may become more noticeable. The cost of getting documents out can be very expensive and time consuming, especially if the documents are needed quickly. Retrieval, duplication, expediting, and re-storing fees can quickly add up. When and if you decide to remove the documents from a vendor's site for good, you will liable for what is commonly called a "permanent removal fee." This can be 20 times more than your monthly fees. The seemingly small cost of storing your documents can quickly be dwarfed by these charges. The Windward Group suggests a three-pronged strategy to manage these costs.

    1.    The first part is to have a solid document retention policy authored by your legal department. This policy provides the basis for your ongoing document retention needs, enabling you to determine which documents to keep and which documents to destroy, and when to destroy them. While ultimately these opinions need to come from your company's legal department, there are many different organizations that can help, ranging from state archivists to consultants specializing in these fields.

    2.    The second part of your strategy is to begin imaging your documents. Numerous legal cases have confirmed that scanned images have the same legal authenticity as original documents - once again, you'll want to refer to your legal, corporate policy on these issues. By scanning your documents, though, you have access to their content and can easily produce them without any excessive retrieval charges. You may not need original documents to get an answer, but you do need access to the information. If you scan the document and provide a full OCR text version of it in your archives, you can find the information instantly and virtually eliminate the need to retrieve the document from storage. By investing in an in-house document scanning solution, you will realize an immediate return on your investment and recover your costs in a time period that is significantly less than you might expect.

    3.    The third part of your strategy is to have both a short-term and long-term storage solution. While there are many considerations to weigh when considering where your documents will ultimately live, storing your records onsite is best suited for companies that do not accrue a large amount of documents. Storing records in your office requires - above all else - real estate. You must consider what happens when you run out of storage space, and have a strategy in place to handle the overflow. For documents that you may need access to for a relatively short period (up to two years), it may make sense to establish your own onsite storage facility. This may be a vault in your building, or some other location that can be equipped with fire suppression and security capabilities. You can have access to those documents for a short period of time, and then, once it has been determined that short term access is no longer needed, move them to long term, offsite storage. As a side note, it may make sense to take a look at the fine print of your contract to determine when and how much it will cost to destroy these documents when moved to offsite storage, and negotiate those terms with your provider.

    The "we'll store it all" strategy for offsite storage may look cheap at first but is often very expensive in the end. As a provider of scanning equipment and scanning services, we can help you determine your breakeven point for implementing a scanning solution in conjunction with a comprehensive off-site storage strategy. By taking a holistic approach to this issue, you can have a comprehensive strategy and implementation tactics that can save your company significant resources, and provide you with the information you need on a timely basis.

    Contact us to learn more or for a free consultation