Maintaining Board Documents and Records in Digital vs. Hardcopy


Technology Maintaining Board Documents and Records in Digital vs. Hardcopy

Published: June 26, 2024
Read Time: 11 minutes

Digital vs hardcopy association records

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, organisations face the decision of whether to maintain board or committee documents and records in digital format, hardcopy, or a combination of both. This decision is particularly significant for associations and non-profits, where record-keeping and document management play a vital role in governance, compliance, and operational efficiency.

The Case for Digital Archiving of Board Documents

The transition to digital archiving has been significantly accelerated by advancements in technology and the shift towards remote work environments. Digital archiving offers several advantages that make it an appealing choice for many associations.

Accessibility and Convenience

One of the most compelling benefits of digital archiving is the ease of access and convenience it offers. Board members and staff can access necessary documents from anywhere, at any time, provided they have internet connectivity.

This is particularly advantageous for associations with members who work remotely or are geographically dispersed. Digital archiving systems, such as cloud storage and board portal software, facilitate seamless sharing and collaboration, ensuring that all members have access to up-to-date information.

Space and Cost Efficiency

Digital records eliminate the need for physical storage space, which can be a significant cost-saving factor for organisation that do not have dedicated office space. By reducing the reliance on physical filing cabinets and storage rooms, associations can allocate their resources more effectively. Additionally, digital storage solutions often come with scalable pricing models, allowing organisation to pay only for the storage they use and expand as needed.

Enhanced Security and Compliance

Digital archiving systems can offer superior security features compared to traditional hardcopy storage. Encryption, access controls, and audit trails help protect sensitive information from unauthorised access. Furthermore, many digital solutions are designed to comply with legal and regulatory requirements for document retention and data protection, reducing the risk of non-compliance and associated penalties.

Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity

In the event of a disaster, such as a fire or flood, physical documents can be irreparably damaged or destroyed. Digital documents, on the other hand, can be backed up to multiple locations and quickly restored, ensuring business continuity. Cloud storage providers typically offer robust disaster recovery options, giving associations peace of mind that their critical records are safe and retrievable.

Digital archiving of board documents, accelerated by technological advancements and remote work, offers significant benefits including enhanced accessibility, space and cost efficiency, superior security, and reliable disaster recovery options.

The Case for Hardcopy Archiving

Despite the numerous advantages of digital archiving, there are valid reasons why some associations may choose to maintain hardcopy records alongside digital copies.

Tangibility and Permanence

Hardcopy documents offer a sense of tangibility and permanence that digital records cannot replicate. For some board members, particularly those who may be less comfortable with technology, physical documents provide a level of reassurance and familiarity. Additionally, certain documents, such as signed contracts and certificates, may be required in their original form for legal or historical purposes.

Technological Obsolescence

A common concern with digital archiving is the potential for technological obsolescence. File formats, storage media, and software applications can become outdated, making it challenging to access and read older digital documents. By maintaining hardcopies, associations can mitigate the risk of losing access to important records due to technological changes.

Reliability and Dependence on Technology

Digital archiving relies on the availability and reliability of technology. Power outages, internet disruptions, and system failures can temporarily prevent access to digital records. Hardcopy documents, on the other hand, are always accessible, providing a reliable backup in case of technological issues.

Best Practices for Document Retention and Archiving

Whether an association chooses to go fully digital, fully hardcopy, or adopt a hybrid approach, it is crucial to implement clear policies and procedures for document retention and archiving. The following best practices can help ensure effective and compliant record-keeping:

Define Retention Policies

Establish clear guidelines on what documents need to be retained, for how long, and in what format. Different types of documents may have different retention requirements based on legal, regulatory, or organisational needs. Regularly review and update retention policies to reflect changes in laws and industry standards.

Assign Responsibilities

Designate specific individuals or teams responsible for managing and maintaining records. This includes tasks such as filing, organising, and ensuring the security of documents. Clearly define roles and responsibilities to avoid confusion and ensure accountability.

Implement Access Controls

For digital records, implement access controls to restrict who can view, edit, and delete documents. Use role-based permissions to ensure that only authorised individuals have access to sensitive information. For hardcopy records, store documents in secure locations with limited access.

Ensure Regular Backups

For digital records, establish a regular backup schedule to protect against data loss. Use multiple backup methods, such as local backups and cloud storage, to ensure redundancy. Periodically test backup systems to confirm that data can be successfully restored.

Maintain Audit Trails

Maintain detailed audit trails for both digital and hardcopy records to track who accessed or modified documents and when. This is particularly important for compliance purposes and can help identify any unauthorised access or alterations.

Conduct Regular Reviews

Regularly review and audit your document management practices to ensure compliance with policies and identify areas for improvement. This can include reviewing retention schedules, checking access logs, and verifying the integrity of backups.

Despite the advantages of digital archiving, maintaining hardcopy records offers benefits such as tangibility and permanence, protection against technological obsolescence, and reliability in the event of technological failures.

Hybrid Approach: Combining Digital and Hardcopy Archiving

For many associations, a hybrid approach that combines digital and hardcopy archiving may offer the best of both worlds. By leveraging the advantages of both formats, organisation can create a robust and flexible document management system.

Dual Retention Strategies

Implement dual retention strategies for critical documents by maintaining both digital and hardcopy versions. This provides redundancy and ensures that records are accessible regardless of the circumstances. For example, keep digital copies of meeting minutes, reports, and correspondence, while retaining hardcopies of signed contracts and official certificates.

Integrating Systems

Integrate digital and physical document management systems to streamline workflows and improve efficiency. Use digital tools to index and track hardcopy documents, making it easier to locate and retrieve physical records when needed. Conversely, digitise key hardcopy documents and store them in your digital archive for easier access and sharing.

Adapt to Changing Needs

Regularly assess your document management needs and adapt your approach as necessary. As technology evolves and organisational requirements change, be prepared to adjust your strategies to ensure continued effectiveness and compliance.

Organisations with a long history

For associations and organisation with long histories, the decision between digital and hardcopy archiving takes on additional significance. Historical documents often hold immense value, not just for legal and operational purposes, but also as part of the organisation’s heritage and identity. Preserving these records in their original physical form can be crucial for maintaining a tangible connection to the past.

Organisation that have existed for many years often possess documents that are irreplaceable and historically significant, such as founding charters, early meeting minutes, and original signed agreements. For these organisations, maintaining hardcopies ensures that these artefacts are preserved in their authentic state, safeguarding against potential loss of context or authenticity that might come with digitisation. Furthermore, physical archives can be vital for historical research, exhibitions, and educational purposes, providing a direct link to the organisation’s legacy.

However, digitising these historical records can complement the physical archives by providing broader access to the documents while protecting the originals from wear and tear. Digitised copies can be easily shared with researchers, members, and the public, and can be incorporated into digital exhibits and online resources. This dual approach ensures that the historical value of the documents is preserved while making the information more accessible and usable.

It is often beneficial to consult with archival professionals who can advise on the best practices for preserving and digitising historical records. This can include using high-quality scanning techniques, ensuring proper storage conditions for physical documents, and implementing robust digital archiving systems that are capable of managing and protecting large volumes of historical data.

Comparing Approaches

Feature Digital Approach Hardcopy Approach Hybrid Approach
Accessibility High accessibility from anywhere Limited to physical location High accessibility, both digital and physical access
Storage Space No physical space required Requires physical storage space Optimised physical and digital storage
Cost Ongoing digital storage costs Costs for physical storage space Balanced costs for both storage types
Security Advanced digital security features Physical security measures required Comprehensive security strategy
Disaster Recovery Robust disaster recovery options Vulnerable to physical damage Redundancy ensures recovery in both formats
Technological Dependence Dependent on technology and power Not dependent on technology Balanced dependence, ensures access regardless of technology
Permanence Risk of technological obsolescence Permanent physical records Ensures permanence with dual formats
Historical Preservation Digital preservation of originals Preserves original physical state Best of both for preserving historical documents
Compliance Easy to update for regulatory changes Compliance requires physical updates Simplified compliance management
Ease of Sharing Easy digital sharing and collaboration Difficult to share physical copies Enhanced sharing capabilities
Audit Trails Detailed digital audit trails Manual tracking required Comprehensive audit trails
Flexibility Adaptable to technological changes Fixed once archived High flexibility and adaptability
Workflow Efficiency Streamlined digital workflows Manual and time-consuming processes Integrated and efficient workflows

The Bottom Line

The decision to maintain board documents and records in digital versus hardcopy formats is complex and multifaceted. Each approach has its own set of benefits and challenges, and the best solution will depend on the specific needs and circumstances of the association.

By implementing clear policies and procedures, assigning responsibilities, and regularly reviewing and updating document management practices, associations can effectively manage their records and ensure compliance, security, and accessibility.

Whether choosing a fully digital, fully hardcopy, or hybrid approach, diligent record-keeping remains essential for the successful governance and operation of any organisation.

For organisation with long histories, a thoughtful, hybrid approach that leverages the strengths of both digital and physical archiving can help preserve their legacy while meeting contemporary needs for accessibility and operational efficiency.

Additional Resources

Take Your Board to the Next Level: Powerful Agenda Best Practices

A Comprehensive Guide to Achieving a Quorum

Crafting Well-Organised Board Packs

Frequently Asked Questions

Should board meeting minutes be signed?

Yes, board meeting minutes should typically be signed by the chair of the meeting and the secretary. The signature of the chair indicates that the minutes accurately reflect the discussions and decisions made during the meeting, while the secretary's signature attests to the accuracy and completeness of the record. This practice helps in validating the document's authenticity and can be crucial for legal and compliance purposes. It also provides a clear record that the minutes were reviewed and approved by the responsible parties.

What do Robert's Rules say about meeting minutes?

According to Robert's Rules of Order, meeting minutes should include a concise and accurate record of what was done during the meeting, rather than a detailed account of what was said. Essential elements to include are the date and time of the meeting, a list of attendees, a summary of the reports and statements given, motions made and the outcomes of votes, and the time of adjournment. Robert's Rules also recommend that minutes be signed by the secretary and, optionally, by the chair to confirm their accuracy and authenticity. This helps ensure that the minutes serve as a reliable historical record of the organisation's decisions and actions.

How should meeting minutes be stored?

Meeting minutes should be stored in a secure and organised manner to ensure they are preserved for future reference and audits. For digital storage, this involves using cloud-based solutions with appropriate access controls and backup systems to prevent loss or unauthorised access. Digital files should be indexed and stored in a well-organised directory structure for easy retrieval. For physical storage, minutes should be kept in a dedicated filing system, such as binders or locked file cabinets, in a secure location. It is also advisable to maintain a backup copy of the minutes in a different format or location to safeguard against potential damage or loss.

Do board minutes need to be signed by all directors?

No, board minutes do not need to be signed by all directors. It is typically sufficient for the minutes to be signed by the chair of the meeting and the secretary. The chair's signature indicates approval that the minutes accurately reflect the proceedings and decisions made during the meeting, while the secretary's signature confirms that the minutes were accurately recorded. This practice is generally considered adequate for legal and corporate governance purposes, ensuring that the minutes are validated without requiring the signatures of all directors.

What is the quorum for a board meeting?

The quorum for a board meeting is usually defined in the organisation's bylaws and is often set at a majority of the board members. This means that over half of the board members must be present to conduct official business and make binding decisions. Having a quorum ensures that decisions made during the meeting are representative of the board as a whole and that there is sufficient participation in the governance process. In some organisations, the bylaws may specify a different quorum requirement, such as a fixed number of members or a supermajority. It is important for board members to be aware of and adhere to these quorum requirements to ensure the validity of their meetings and decisions.

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