The company is enclosed within a secured fence. No name is on the door. Inside the vast, windowless building, boxes of records are stacked on steel racks from floor to ceiling. Every item in storage is bar-coded. This is the setting for the serious business of records and information management.
This huge collection of paper files, back-up tapes and microfiche inherently holds work histories, successes and failures, dreams and plans and other evidence of the businesses which are FileVault clients.
Physically, FileVault is a 100,000-square-foot archive with a second storage facility nearby which is equally secure and perfectly tempered to its contents. Beyond space, what it represents to its clients is convenience, peace of mind and staying out of trouble.
“I like to think of it as managing a giant haystack, pulling out needles on demand and accounting for each of them,” says Dan Peck, founder and CEO of FileVault.
Peck started FileVault, L.L.C. in September of 2001 after a summer spent talking with administrators and information and financial managers about their records management strategy. What Peck found was a lot of frustration: “Either they had popping veins or deer-in-the-headlights expressions.”
Peck identified five common concerns, which he refers to as “pains”: space (cluttered work environments); accessibility (getting what is needed when it is needed); compliance (with applicable legislation); security (with regard to their own teams or other people); and workflow (efficiency of transactions).
“One-hundred percent of people who seek our help are interested in addressing one or more of these concerns,” says Peck.
As someone who was looking to start a business, Peck saw these challenges as opportunity. “Today, we are blessed with a wonderful business and wonderful clients,” says Peck who shares that his clients number in the hundreds and range from mom-and-pop enterprises to Fortune 100 companies.
Serious About Security
When Peck started his business on September 9, 2001, he had no idea that the world of information management was about to undergo a massive change. Forty-eight hours later, the World Trade Center collapsed under terrorist attack.
“I came to work and a friend called from a nearby diner and said, unbelievably, ‘We’re watching planes crash into the twin towers on television’”
Perceptions of security were altered. As 9/11 changed the world, it was also a turning point in how businesses thought about the security of their information, says Peck. In a matter of weeks, the country was also engrossed in the Enron scandal and the unraveling of Andersen.
Doubt and suspicion over corporate malfeasance and the destruction of records ramped up legislation that was already in the works and inspired new legislation such as the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and the Sarbanes-Oxley acts of 2002.
“As a result, corporations got serious and focused about managing their information in a way they hadn’t before,” says Peck. “We now saw C-level employees rather than line staff taking responsibility for handling records management.”
Security is chief among FileVault’s goals. They maintain a strict confidentiality policy regarding the identity of clients. Records are strategically mixed so that, in the unlikely breach of property, no one could gain access to all of any one company’s records.
“We get paid to protect our clients’ information—to avoid having client material turn up lost in a restaurant or in the river,” says Peck, showing a bit of dark humor.
Peck recounts one case whereby the client needed a tape to be in Denver by the end of the next business day. “We put a staff member on a plane with the tape,” remembers Peck. “It physically never left our control until we handed it over to the client.”
FileVault clients include medical centers, law firms, financial service firms, manufacturers, consumer products companies, local governments and other types of businesses of all sizes. Peck likens the broad range of client size to rabbits, deer and elephants. “The best practices that the elephants demand help us to be better stewards for the rabbits.”
Records, too, are a variety pack. A single record may be a paper file, microfiche, back-up tape, x-ray, legal evidence, health report, spreadsheet, drawing, a physical widget or lot sample, or a myriad of other things deemed necessary for business to operate and be in compliance.
Still, by and large, it’s paper. Despite years of discussion about a paperless society and the reality that people under 35 are more used to touching a keyboard than handling pulp, there is quite enough paper alone to keep the records management industry going for decades longer. “The rumors of the death of paper have been greatly exaggerated,” chuckles Peck.
While it is commonly thought that magnetic or online media will predominate in records storage, another challenge has presented itself. Technology isn’t keeping up with demand.
“We’re now storing and accessing absolutely everything!” Peck exclaims. “The volume of data is growing at a far faster rate than the density of the medium that we store it on.” Peck explains further that while gigabyte users reach for terabytes, the growth of information races ahead.
The self-described “passionate entrepreneur,” sits back and smiles. His business is in demand.
Despite growing up in an entrepreneurial family, Peck didn’t think he’d be an entrepreneur. He majored in English at Princeton and received a master’s degree in city planning, thinking that was his career path.
“After working for awhile, I decided that the public was a tough boss and that I had a more entrepreneurial bent,” laughs Peck.
Returning to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and his family’s scrap metal recycling company, Peck started an intrapreneurship within his family’s business called James River Ventures. He spent his 20s purchasing ships from the U.S. Navy and cutting them up for scrap metal while they were still floating.
With a team of about 80 people, the company floated the ships up the river on a tugboat and secured them in Chesapeake, Virginia. “There weren’t many of us around the country,” says Peck, reminiscing about the adventurous achievement. Around the time of global consolidation for that industry, Peck’s family sold the entire company to an Australian enterprise looking for a mid-Atlantic location.
Marriage relocated Peck to Charlotte in the late 1990s where he started a mortgage information business. The company did not fare well and lasted for only a year.
“At the time, it was tough, but I’ve come to view it as some of the best entrepreneurial experience I’ve had,” says Peck. An acquaintance, who worked in the industry with a local company that got bought out by a national company, brought Peck’s attention to records and information management.
“He convinced me that this was not a dispassionate business; this is actually a relationship business.” Peck credits this realization and insight for his success. “This is not “Dial 9 for your vital records”; it’s about Sally talking to Sharon and dealing with human beings in real time,” says Peck.
“We’re dealing with a sense of security and a reality of urgency,” explains Peck. “I really saw an opportunity for a local company to do this work and do it differently.”
Bear-hugging the Account
“We strive to provide more than a commodity-type service but rather a value-added service,” says Peck, who explains the development of an information dashboard for customers to see how they are doing with their record-keeping. “Nobody else in the whole industry does this,” says Peck.
Each quarter FileVault meets with its clients to discuss performance and news about the industry. Peck refers to it as “bear-hugging” the account. “We’re agnostic about which records management approach they choose but we want to be partners in helping them know their options,” says Peck.
Using comparisons to the design and construction of a house, which includes tradesmen, a contractor and an architect, Peck describes the development and evolution of his company: “We start out as tradesmen with the basic service of archival and retrieval. Next, we become contractors; planning, negotiating and managing outsourced services on behalf of the client. Finally, we work with the client in the design and strategy of their information management system to create optimal workflow efficiency.”
For the future of Peck’s house of information there is interest in being more of an architect, or partner, than a tradesman only. Plans center on the development of intellectual property with strategic consulting.
FileVault prides itself on outstanding customer service. “The only time we have ever lost a customer is when a national firm tells its branches that they must work with another vendor to honor a national agreement,” claims Peck. FileVault, too, has national clients as far afield as Colorado and New York.
Peck’s management style is decidedly lean. With just 15 employees, FileVault exceeds $2 million in revenue annually. There is no clerical staff; no back-office employees. The bookkeeper and the chief financial officer have their own business.
Most surprising, his executive assistant is a virtual assistant. “I’ve only met her two or three times,” confesses Peck, though he has no hesitation in saying, “She runs my life.”
Traditional employees either touch records or talk with clients, according to Peck, who believes that this approach adds value to the company. “An entrepreneur has to have a laser beam focus on time management and value creation,” he affirms.
A big fan of coaching, Peck attends one meeting or event per quarter with The Strategic Coach to stay abreast of the principles of entrepreneurship. In turn, he coaches others just starting out. He is a member of the Professional Records and Information Services Management (PRISM) Association and has also sat on its board.
FileVault’s main facility has a capacity of one million boxes. The second facility near UNC Charlotte has a capacity for one million tapes, which are stored in cabinet drawers, custom- designed for security.
For companies who are experiencing the pains of records and information management, FileVault is ready to offer relief.
Welcome to Peck’s house of information!