Documentation Tips: Onsite vs. Offsite Archival

Once your project is in the wrap-up phase, it’s time to decide where your records will be stored—onsite or offsite. We’ve put together some pros, cons, and things to consider for each option to help you determine the solution that’s right for you. And remember that documentation doesn’t have to live in paper form; you should also be deciding where and how you’ll store electronic records, too.


Onsite: Plucking a record out of storage for review couldn’t be easier than having everything housed onsite and at your fingertips. In-house retrievals, especially if they’re frequent, are usually quick and cheap. However, many onsite archival systems require at least nominal staffing to maintain organization, and ensure records are stored in the appropriate (read: findable) location and are promptly retrieved when destruction/review dates come up. Project teams could spend hours digging through boxes looking for a critical piece of paper if the system isn’t well-managed.

Offsite: Retrieval requires very little staff support, but can take days depending on your company’s service level agreement. For last-minute requests, there may be no option but to drive to the storage site and gain access in person, which can also be a problem if the facility has restrictions on which company representatives are authorized to access records.


Onsite: If you have plenty of space to store your records and enough staff to manage archival tasks such as labeling, monitoring destruction/review dates, and retrieving boxes or disks, then the monthly costs to maintain your archival program onsite could be quite low.

Offsite: Ongoing storage costs can add up as your record base grows, and maintaining sufficient funding when times are lean is sometimes a challenge. Costs can also become burdensome if employees are regularly sending records out for archival or calling them back for review.


Onsite: Allotting sufficient space for record storage could become cost-prohibitive, as well as a potential sticking point when archival and headcount space needs collide. This is especially true for companies that are land-locked in their current building(s) or have limited expansion options. Relocating archive boxes can eat up a surprising amount of time.

Offsite: Space is rarely an issue when archival occurs off-site, though it’s best to check with your provider to ensure that future growth can be accommodated in the same location.


Onsite: Disasters that hit your organization—fire, earthquake, flooding—are also likely to affect the records stored onsite. Even things like excess humidity or a broken heating unit can result in the loss of archived materials. Maintaining business continuity during or after a disaster will be difficult if your records have been damaged or destroyed.

Offsite: Geographical separation is often preferred for archived records, especially those that are highly sensitive or will be critical to recovery efforts. Many storage facilities are designed to resist disaster, whether natural or man-made. Be sure your team and the archival vendor are on the same page when it comes to accessing records in an emergency.


Onsite: Security within your own facility can be tightly controlled and the procedures finely tuned to your specific needs. Unfortunately, that means you also need resources in place to ensure those procedures are followed, whether that means adding staff to monitor access or building rooms with lockable doors.

Offsite: You’ll likely have less flexibility within an archival provider’s established procedures, but their security measures are often extremely robust. They also have the necessary personnel available to guarantee that only authorized individuals access your records. Additional levels of security, such as biometric readers and video cameras, may also be part of their overall program.

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