i-SIGMA History

i-SIGMA Today

The International Secure Information Governance & Management Association® (i-SIGMA®) is a non-profit watchdog organization, enforcing standards and ethical compliance of approximately 2,000 secure destruction and records and information management service providers on six continents. The association currently maintains the most rigorous and widely accepted third-party data security vendor compliance certifications in the world with hundreds of government and thousands of private contracts using the programs to meet their regulatory due diligence requirements.

i-SIGMA was formed by the merger of two well established trade associations, the National Association for Information Destruction® (NAID®) and PRISM International™ (Professional Records and Information Services Management®), in 2018. Secure information management (including storage, management, imaging, sanitization, and/or destruction) applies equally to all media formats. It made sense to combine forces to make the most difference and produce the greatest benefits as a trade association to meet the needs of the market.

Roots from PRISM International

PRISM International™, joined i-SIGMA in 2018 as a division of the association. It was the global body for companies providing any form of records information management services. The division, originally named PRISM for Professional Records and Information Services Management, served members in more than 60 countries around the world, before being fully wrapped into i-SIGMA.

PRISM International was originally formed in the mid-1990s through a merger of two other associations: the Association of Commercial Records Centers (ACRC) which was founded in 1980; and the National Association of Secured Data Vaults (NASDV) which was founded in 1981. In addition to these two service areas (physical record storage and management and data protection services) PRISM International also provided services and education related to imaging and conversion services and confidential destruction services.

The Evolving Commercial Records Center Industry

By Mike Faber, Paxton Records Storage

For approximately 50 years, the commercial records center (CRC) business has evolved from a repository of mostly inactive or, as some have said, “dead,” records in having a much more interactive, high-tech relationship with its clients. Employing some of the latest computer technologies, CRCs now offer very sophisticated computer-based indexing, file tracking, fireproof vault storage of computer media, electronic vaulting of cus¬tomers’ data, disaster recovery, and contingency planning programs, as well as a number of other new services (e.g., consulting) and products.

The article was originally published in the July 2001 issue of the Information Management Journal.

This article takes a look at how the CRC industry began and how it has developed over the last half century. It also addresses some of the new technologies, such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and global positioning satellite (GPS), to learn how new technological developments may impact the future of the CRC business. Far from being in decline, the CRC business is a growing industry.

Development of US Records Management Programs

Until the mid-1930s, no formal records management programs were in place in the United States. The federal government and private busi¬nesses kept records in whatever form they felt appropriate without the benefit of retention schedules, dispo¬sition guidelines, or other formal information life-cycle procedures. The federal government, however, recog¬nized that some controls needed to be implemented to manage the massive volume of U.S. government files being created. In 1934 the National Archives was established with the primary task of identifying federal records that should be retained as opposed to those that might be eligible for disposal. By 1937, the National Archives was completing the initial survey of federal government records and was becoming aware of a serious lack of uniformity of procedures and an enormous amount of duplication in the records programs of different agencies. During World War II, the U.S. government experienced a proliferation of new agencies and departments. Along with that growth, the government also experienced an unprecedented explosion in the vol¬ume of documents it needed to create, store, and manage.

Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), who signed the legislation creating the National Archives in 1934, was the first U.S. president to take an active interest in the management and preservation of U.S. government records. He had his own long-term plans for the gigantic Pentagon, which was built at breakneck speed at the outset of World War II and was the world’s largest building at the time. “FDR hated the Pentagon [architecturally] but recognized the need for it; his plan for it after World War II was to use it to store records.” (Brinkley 1991). Little did FDR know that the Pentagon would have nowhere near the space needed for the govern¬ment’s records.

The Records Disposal Act of 1943 was revised by the National Archives and amended in 1945 to include the government-wide general schedule (GS), which authorized the systematic disposal of government records common to most agencies. In 1948, the first Hoover Commission extended the efforts to control government records and awarded a contract to the National Records Management Council of New York to study and make recommendations to improve efficiency in governmental records management programs.

At about this time, the U.S. business community began to see the emergence of what is now the CRC industry. That emergence was led by Emmett J. (Ed) Leahy, who was with the National Archives from 1935 until 1941. He became the director of records coordination for the Department of the Navy during World War II. Leahy received the Navy Commendation Ribbon for his innovations and cost-saving initia¬tives and was released from duty with the Navy Department in 1945. In 1948 Leahy became the first executive director of the National Records Management Council. That same year, Leahy formed the Business Archives Center, which was probably the first CRC in the United States. In 1953 he formed the records manage¬ment consulting firm of Leahy & Company and Leahy Archives, which later became Pierce-Leahy Archives of Pennsylvania. Leahy continued in his role as a pioneer and innovator in the records management industry until his death in 1964. Each year, the Institute of Certified Records Managers (ICRM) confers the “Emmett J. Leahy Award,” one of the highest honors for an individual in the records management field.

1950s-1960s Early Development of CRCs

During the 1950s and ‘60s, the CRC industry continued to develop, primarily in the northeastern United States (New York City and Philadelphia) and in other large metropolitan areas around the country (e.g., Chicago and Los Angeles). During the 25 years following World War II, the economy of the United States grew steadily but slowly when compared with the exponential growth of the 1970s and 1980s. A large proportion of CRC expansion was focused on large corporations and organizations, and most records center holdings were inactive. Almost all CRCs during the ‘50s and ‘60s were single location or regional in scope.

Many moving and storage companies (and later, office moving companies as well) began records storage operations during this period. Moving and storage companies were in an ideal position to provide records management services for several reasons. They had warehouse and transportation facilities in metropolitan areas as well as existing relationships with other established businesses in their communities. Many moving and storage companies, as well as independent entrepreneurs, began successful records storage operations during this period. Larger regional operations and national-level CRCs would develop over the following few decades.


1970s-CRC Development Quickens

The 1970s witnessed several developments that triggered dramatic growth in the records center business. With the exception of an economic slump towards the end of the decade, U.S. businesses grew at a furious pace during the 1970s. The introduction of word processors (and word processing centers) had a tremendous impact on the volume of documents that could be produced and on the time required to produce them. Compounding this development, a continuing growth of federal, state, and local laws and regulations dictated numerous types of records that must be retained to satisfy legal and audit requirements.

For the first time, many relatively small businesses saw their valuable office space being swallowed up by the mounting volume of documents they were required to retain. Pierce-Leahy and Bekins Records Management (a division of Bekins Moving & Storage, later to become Bell & Howell, then Iron Mountain) were among the first CRCs to expand into multi-city markets. During this period, records centers, using early generation word processors and computers, first had the capability to produce automated reports and index information for clients.

The CRC business was no longer limited to merely warehousing and retrieving documents. For the first time, CRCs could take advantage of new computer technologies to provide valuable database information to their customers – and to themselves. Some CRCs were hiring data entry personnel to assist in the creation of huge databases for indexing, cross-referencing, and tracking files and boxes of records. A new, technology-oriented relationship was developing between CRCs and their customer bases.


1980s-ACRC and Continued Rapid Growth

The 1980s saw a virtual explosion in the CRC industry. Fueled by a rapidly growing economy and the advent of the personal computer and desktop printers, American businesses consumed more business paper than in any previous decade. In 1980 the Association of Commercial Records Centers (ACRC) was formed. The original membership of this trade association represented companies from the United States and Canada: Mohawk Business Records of Minneapolis; Records Management Services Inc., of Chicago; Leonard Brothers Records Service Center of Detroit; the File Room of Chicago; Iron Mountain Group of Boston; and STACS Records Management from Canada. During this decade, the CRC business developed into a nationally known industry. Almost every major city in the United States (and many in other countries) had one or more CRCs. Again, the combination of an explosive growth in the creation of documents and the creation of new regulations and laws requiring their retention fueled the growth of this industry.

Several important technical developments also took place in the early 1980s. Bar code labels and scanners were introduced and became widely used to track inventory of many kinds – including files and records containers – more efficiently. The new bar code technology enabled CRCs to process large volumes of files and containers quickly and accurately while reducing error rates to insignificant levels. Soon, a number of sophisticated bar code-based software programs became available to auto-mate other functions of CRC operations. If other areas of a records center were well managed, bar code efficiency and software programs helped CRCs offer a compelling cost-effective and accurate alternative to storing and managing records in-house.

Another technology introduced in the mid-1980s was expected to have a profound effect on the CRC industry: the optical disk or “platter.” When introduced, the 14-inch optical platters had a storage capacity of more than 80,000 pages of documentation. The optical disk was touted as the beginning of the end for both microfilm services and CRCs because it was originally thought to be the precursor of the “paperless office.” Many CRCs took advantage of optical disk technology and formed service bureaus to convert paper documents into images for storage on the disks.

A number of CRCs are still converting paper documents to CD-ROM (CD) optical media for their customers. However, compared with the original predictions, conversion from paper to CDs still represents a very small percentage of inactive and semi-active documents. In a May 2000 in a conference address in Acapulco, Mexico, David O. Stephens, CRM CMC, of Zasio Enterprises, gave a presentation on the future of the commercial records storage industry. Stephens indicated that although electronic record keeping may be on the verge of an exponential growth period, the traditional CRC industry should remain fairly stable for at least the next 10 to 15 years.


1990s-Explosive Growth and New Technologies

By almost any measure, the 1990s will probably be remembered as one of the most phenomenal decades in American economic history, and the growth in the commercial records center industry reflects that boom. In 1991 ACRC (now PRISM) membership stood at 380 companies. By the end of the 1990s, PRISM membership had grown to more than 500 members, and a recent strategic plan by PRISM projects that by 2004 the association will have more than 650 members. According to some estimates, more than 2,000 CRCs are now operating in the United States. This estimate includes small and specialized organizations; therefore, it is greater than the numbers suggested by PRISM membership.

Once again, a number of factors contributed to this growth, including a continuation of the pattern in which more documents were created at the same time that new laws requiring longer retention periods were passed. As records managers know, the rate of disposal of records tends to be slower than the rate of accession. In addition to these factors, one of the key developments contributing to the growth of the CRC industry during the 1990s was the trend towards outsourcing.

As the trend towards organizational downsizing and merging became more widespread, many companies became aware of the economic advantages of subcontracting or outsourcing administrative services such as printing, copying, courier, and file room management. Records storage services came to be considered an ideal function for outsourcing. Many companies that would not have considered CRC services before now chose to store and manage inactive records with CRCs.

A significant trend that developed in the 1990s was the move towards consolidation or acquisition of smaller CRCs by the larger companies. During the last half of the 1990s, this trend accelerated dramatically and culminated in the $1.1 billion merger of Iron Mountain and Pierce-Leahy, finalized in February 2000, with 115,000 customer accounts. Many observers of the CRC industry are concerned about where this trend is going and what effect it will have on the business and end users. However, other industries and businesses (airlines, automobile companies, utilities, and banks) have gone through similar consolidations without a sacrifice in services. Today, the lines are beginning to blur between the CRC industry and the information destruction/shredding business. Some significant merger/acquisition activity may occur between these two industries in the very near future.

Other developments and services that helped accelerate the growth of CRCs in the 1990s were vault storage, electronic vaulting, disaster recovery and contingency planning, hot site services, and computer fulfillment. Vault, fireproof, and temperature and humidity controlled storage generally offer a secured area with a monitored temperature’ between 60 degrees and 70 degrees and a humidity level between 40 and 50 percent. Vault storage actually began in the early to mid 1980s but became a more significant factor in the 1990s with the explosive growth of computer use in organizations and their need for data backup. Electronic vaulting uses a central computer, usually located in a CRC vault, to poll a client’s local area network (LAN) on a daily basis and create a 30-day emergency backup for the client. Electronic vaulting has met with various degrees of success in certain markets, but it does offer another valuable service for CRC clients. In May 2000, Iron Mountain and Computer Network Technology announced a joint effort to offer electronic vaulting on a national basis. CRCs are in an ideal position to team with organizations in their overall disaster recovery/contingency planning efforts. CRCs can function as a backup for computer data, supplies, or even as a hot site as part of a larger recovery strategy. Computer fulfillment, or the storage and distribution of computers, boards, and components, is another area in which CRCs can assist existing clients. Because CRCs usually have sophisticated bar code programs, climate controlled areas, and courier services, they are in an ideal position to receive, store, and distribute computer equipment as needed by customers.

Trends, Technology, and the “Paperless Office”

The “paperless office” remains an elusive target at best for most companies and organizations, although technological advances will make that goal easier to attain in the future. At this time, however, the commercial records center industry should continue to function traditionally at least for the next 12 to 15 years. The simple fact that consumption of business paper has continued to increase annually through last year indicates a strong possibility that inactive records storage will continue to increase or at least remain stable for a minimum of 10 years. So, for the foreseeable future, records will not be paper or digital; they will be digital and paper.

Questions about the stability and longevity of some computer media are of interest to CRCs. A recent Business Week article reported the following cases of missing or lost computer data:

  • twenty percent of the information collected by the 1976 Viking mission to Mars
  • some POW and MIA records from Vietnam
  • almost 3,000 Pennsylvania State University student records (Business Week 1998)

Jeff Rothenberg, senior scientist at the Rand Corporation, is quoted in the article: “Digital information lasts forever, or 5 years, whichever comes first.” That is, the drives read the media will become obsolete about every 5 years, and thus the durability of the media may not be the central problem as many have assumed. The article concludes with a statement from Tom Antoginni, whose MA company markets a backup product called PaperDisk, which uses paper to print out complex patterns of dots and dashes representing digitized files. Antoginini claims, “It should last for centuries or about as long as old fashioned, high-quality paper.” Printing digitized patterns on high-quality paper may sound a little like “back to the future,” but such alternate technology will almost certainly make some promising inroads in the next few years. After all, the use of papyrus and clay recording media overlapped for some 1,700 years, as did paper and papyrus for some 800 years.

Interesting new technologies that will influence services in the CRC industry are in development. RFID bar codes, for example, have some major implications and advantages for CRCs. Using a new technology developed by Motorola called “BiStatix,” bar code labels include a tiny radio transmitter not much bigger than a coffee ground and a printed circuit antenna to transmit up to 110 characters of updateable information to a host computer. When queried through a computer, they literally “talk back” or respond to the system with location, date fields, description of contents, or other pertinent information. If a file or container is removed from a given area without being properly checked out, the system can sound an alarm and ensure that proper procedures are followed.

One of the most interesting RFID applications for CRCs is inventory control. Using RFID technology, a complete warehouse inventory could be accomplished in a matter of minutes or hours rather than days, weeks, or months. This technology could be applied to files and records cartons as well. RFID has the capability to revolutionize many business applications just as linear bar code technology has since the early-1980s.

GPS technology also presents some very interesting possibilities for CRCs. Each delivery vehicle from a records center can be identified and tracked on a computer screen map in a CRC operations center. The GPS system automatically updates new locations for each vehicle every 15 minutes. If a “next day” delivery becomes an “emergency delivery,” the exact location of the appropriate vehicle can be obtained by clicking on that vehicle on the screen; the precise, real-time position and speed of the vehicle is displayed. A message can be keyed in and transmitted via GPS. The up-dated information is displayed on a liquid crystal display panel on the vehicle’s dashboard, and the delivery information can be appropriately updated.

Database transmission and communication via the World Wide Web, high-speed transmission of information via fiber optic cable, and other technologies are today’s realities. The CRC industry has undergone many changes in the first 50 years of its evolution, many of them in just the last 10 to 15 years. The possibilities for the next 50 years are endless. Looking forward, one thing is predictable and certain. Only the CRCs that concentrate on service and technology will survive and thrive in the coming years.

Companies that do not continually strive to provide a high level of quality service will not be successful in the future. The innovative companies that remain focused on customer; service will. Because technology is changing so quickly, successful CRCs must also stay abreast of the very latest advancements and pass the benefits of those developments on to their clients. The CRC industry has evolved and changed over the last 50 years to better serve the records management community. The changes the industry will face in the next few years will be even more profound. The CRCs that are prepared to adapt to and embrace these changes are the companies that will be most successful in coming years.

Roots from NAID

By Bob Johnson, NAID Founder

What follows is my recollection of the years leading up to, and shortly after, NAID’s founding. Keep in mind, the idea to start an industry association began decades ago and some of its roots go back further still. NAID’s history involves many influential people so their stories will be intertwined with mine throughout this article. Whatever success NAID has had over the years is the direct result of contributions from hundreds of industry leaders that have given their time and talent and the thousands of industry professionals who have supported it over the years.

NAID’s story begins in the 1980s when I served as the business development manager for Certified Document Destruction (CDD), a new subsidiary of my grandfather’s business near Toledo, Ohio. My uncle, Ken Hagan, who was the president, deserves credit for starting CDD. When he learned that records destruction was proving to be viable business elsewhere, he immediately saw how the existing infrastructure of my grandfather’s company could be applied to the secure destruction industry. It proved to be a great decision for the family business and extremely fortunate for me. We quickly expanded the business to a second facility in Rochester, N.Y., where I eventually relocated.

While I spent much of the first part of my career driving trucks and loading boxes of records, early success at CDD soon allowed me to concentrate fulltime on growing the business. I spent the better part of the 1980s constantly hearing from prospective customers that they didn’t need my services, all the while knowing they actually did. I once calculated that I was told “we don’t need that service” or something similar more than 10,000 times during those years. Sometimes I wonder whether my desire to create NAID and commit to my career was to prove I was right to those who dismissed me all those years.

Thirty years ago outsourcing secure destruction services was not exactly a mainstream practice. Back then competition did not come from other secure destruction companies. Competition came from the wastebasket, the recycler, and sometimes the charlatan. In reality, NAID’s competition was and is ignorance. Like many of my peers at the time, which was relatively few, I desperately needed a third-party validation for what we were offering like a strong, industry advocacy organization.

When I initially struck out on my own, shortly before the family business was sold in 1991, I was a consultant. As such, I was either helping someone get started in the secure destruction business or helping them improve what they were already doing. Business was good. As a result of all this networking, however, the idea of an industry trade association strengthened and solidified. It was during an engagement with a company in Phoenix, Ariz., in June 1992 that I finally decided to act. It may sound a bit corny but I still remember stepping off the curb at 24th Street and Camelback Road on the way to have lunch as being the moment when I decided to go for it. Ironically, that corner is only a short distance from NAID’s current headquarters. Upon returning from lunch that afternoon 20+ years ago, I reached out to seven people – six who were owners of secure destruction services and one who was an equipment manufacturer.

Determining who could belong to this new association was a little more complicated. Most of the people in the room represented destruction services, meaning they were not any other related businesses such as paper recycling or records storage. And, at the time, there were many paper recycling companies and records storage companies who the group felt were engaging in disreputable practices. Many records storage companies sold destruction services but did not have destruction equipment. They usually outsourced the destruction, often to recyclers with no security or destruction equipment, and rarely with any transparency regarding the fact that they were subcontracting the destruction.

Many wastepaper recyclers offered destruction services, rarely with any attendant security and without destruction equipment. As a result, initially some expressed the opinion that the association should only represent dedicated destruction operations — those not affiliated with records storage or recycling operations. However, there was a major problem with that approach. It ignored the fact that some recyclers and records storage companies were running reputable, ethical and transparent destruction operations.

Obviously, it would not be fair or in the interest of the industry to keep them out.

Ultimately, the group unanimously agreed that voting membership would be limited to businesses that provided secure destruction services directly, requiring the provider to actually possess the equipment necessary to perform the primary destruction services they offered.

A vendor membership category was also created, which is very common in other trade associations, and allows companies offering products and services to businesses in the industry to be involved and support their customers. Eventually, these categories would be labeled “active” members (i.e., service providers) and “associate” members (i.e., vendors), but that would come a year later when the bylaws were written. A few years later, a “franchise” member category would be added to limit the influence of a large voting population created by multiple franchise operations, and an “individual” membership to allow professionals who hire destruction companies to stay informed about industry issues.

It also deserves mentioning that issues such as private versus public ownership and mobile versus plant-based operations did not enter into the discussion whatsoever. Simply, there were no public companies in the secure destruction industry at the time. None of the major records and information management companies had a significant presence in the industry, at least not as direct service providers. On the second issue, mobile destruction services were still very new, with only a handful of operators that had negligible impact on the industry. Luckily, the structure created during the founding of NAID seamlessly integrated these two issues, making it easy to incorporate e-destruction more than a decade later as well.

The third agenda item, picking a name for the new association, took the most time of all. It is impossible to recall all of the suggestions but most revolved around the word “shredding.” I recalled ideas like the “National Records Destruction Association” and “Security Shredding Association of America” and similar variations being bandied about. We probably had 10 prospective names on the whiteboard when we broke for lunch, none of which were generating much support. After lunch, we started fresh with the simple question, “What business are we in?” We are in the security shredding business, right? Or, are we in the records destruction business? Or maybe it’s really the secure data disposal industry.

Ultimately, we agreed that we were in the information destruction business and, after what was probably two more hours, the group arrived at the “National Association for Information Destruction” (a.k.a., “NAID”).

It is hard to calculate how fortuitous this decision has been for the association. First, it has allowed members to fully expand the association’s influence into all information destruction issues and arenas, regardless of the process or media type. Think of how different it would have been had we agreed to use the “National
Paper Shredding Association,” which I believe was one of the early choices. An interesting point to note is that at the time of the name selection, there was never any consideration about NAID becoming an international organization. Now, about 30% of NAID membership is outside of the U.S. When NAID board members asked European members if they wanted to change the name to better suit their region, they said NAID represented more than just the words and decided to keep it. It is a thought-provoking name, almost Orwellian as a Wall Street Journal article called it a decade later. People hear it and they have to stop and think about it. For lack of a better way to put it, the name sticks. Even the acronym “NAID” has proven to be memorable and unique over the years.

With the name agreed upon, each participating company committed $200 each for NAID initiatives. Besides Bartel’s $500 for the Las Vegas meeting room, that money was the only money used to found NAID. Next, Kopelman took on the job of drafting bylaws. As luck would have it, Kopelman had an associate who was a retired attorney who had specialized in association management. Before going forward, however, we decided to get more buy-in from likeminded business owners. Because I was more heavily networked than the others and less occupied at the time, I took on the responsibility to reach out to like-minded organizations.

Fortune Smiled

It is hard to overstate the importance of that first meeting or the luck of having such committed, conscientious, ethical and visionary industry professionals at that table. On another day, it could have easily been four or five different people at the table. Had it been a different group, who knows how it may have turned out.

It may not surprise anyone to learn that none of the companies represented at this initial meeting are around today. In fact, none of them were around to see NAID’s 10th anniversary, let alone its 20th.

Ironically, CDD, the firm I helped start and ran for the better part of the 1980s, is still in business in Northwest Ohio and Rochester, N.Y.

The Association Starts Forming

In that first meeting, industry professionals met to discuss forming a secure destruction industry trade association. The vision and integrity of those first six set the stage for the next steps of NAID’s establishment. The second NAID planning meeting was held in the spring of 1993 and from there came the formation of the organization.

Putting A Plan Into Action

Eight professionals met in Las Vegas, Nev., to discuss the possibility of a secure destruction industry trade association. They thought it was best to reach out to others to get input about the idea prior to taking any steps. To that end, another meeting was scheduled in Orlando, Fla., the following spring. Among those attending the meeting were those who attended the first Las Vegas meeting and 16 other, highly regarded industry professionals. Everyone attended at their own expense.

Among the additional 16 attendees were Bill Cook of Cook’s Mobile Shredding (Tennessee) and Brian Dorosz of Certified Document Destruction (Ohio), the only two service provider representatives in attendance who still remain active in the industry. Others in attendance included John Thomas, Jr., and Bill Buhl of Document Services, Inc.; John Mengel, Sr., of Chicago Data Destruction; Russ Walzer of Mohawk Records Management (Minnesota); and Woody Clayton of Security Archives, Inc. (Texas). Bernie Thomas of Schleicher Manufacturing and Jean Flavin of Allegheny Shredders were also in attendance, representing equipment companies.

The meeting lasted a full day. I and several others who were present in Las Vegas used most of the morning to explain the concept. Of course, everyone there was familiar with the concept of a trade association, but the “devil is in the details.” The purpose of the meeting was not only to get buy-in but also address concerns in the association’s foundation documents such as the bylaws and corporate charter.

Some of the concerns raised in the meeting were anticipated.

For instance, there was some concern about how the new organization would deal with the divide between plant-based and mobile service providers. Luckily the group wisely agreed that the association would remain neutral on that issue, instead focusing on educating customers on the need for proper destruction and the benefits of outsourcing. The consensus was that customers could make their own choice between the competing service platforms.

It was more important to increase the amount of customers for everyone by raising awareness. All boats would rise equally under this strategy.

Also, there were a number of attendees who worried that establishing NAID would actually lead to more competition. As a result, it was determined that NAID would not provide incentives or training materials specifically designed to attract new competition. As it came to be expressed in the future, NAID would be your best friend once you are in the business; however, would not provide information about how to get started in the industry. Regardless of NAID’s position, however, the increased attention on data protection, privacy and identity theft issues dramatically increased the number of competitors in the industry. By the end of that day, though some participants remained skeptical, those 24 professionals left with the understanding of what NAID would become.

Due to a meager treasury that included $1,200 from those that participated in the first planning meeting, I filed the incorporation papers myself. Fortunately, years later the incorporation documents were reviewed by an attorney who did not find any problems. Once incorporated, I also filed for non-profit status with the IRS as a 501(c)(6) organization designating it as a commercial trade association. All in all, it was a relatively simple and inexpensive process.

The decision to structure NAID as a non-profit was never really in question. In that regard, the founders were following in the footsteps of other, world-class trade associations they admired such as ARMA, ASIS, PRISM, AIIM, IFMA, BOMA and AHIMA. It was a well-founded principle that the level of transparency and accountability inherent in the non-profit structure would be critical to the organization’s credibility and integrity. The non-profit structure was the only one that would give every member an ownership stake in the organization and ensured their rights of representation in the long term.

Taking It To The Streets

It was very important the founders had everything in place when they rolled out the association for the first time. Had NAID entered the market without the corporation, charter, bylaws or having applied for non-profit status, things would most certainly have gone differently. In August 1995, non-profit status was officially awarded to NAID. As a result, NAID founders did not have to answer questions that most people would ask before giving their support. Some of those questions might have been: Where is the corporate filing? What’s the structure? How are officers and directors elected? Where is the charter? Who owns it? By doing most of the work first, the founders found it much easier to introduce the trade association to their potential members.

As it is often done, the initial bylaws created a temporary board of directors that would serve until an official board could be chosen by the membership. That board consisted of Carol Kopelman of Document Destructors in Washington, D.C., as president, Bill Buhl of Document Services, Inc., in Pittsburgh, Penn., as vice president, Pat Clayton of Security Archives, Inc., in Dallas, Texas, as secretary/treasurer, and Russ Walzer of Mohawk Records Management in Minneapolis, Minn., Rich O’Brien of Arizona Records Destruction in Phoenix, Ariz., and me as directors. I was an ex-officio director who did not have a vote. Then, I had volunteered to serve as the interim executive director until the association got on its feet. Everyone realized it would be years until the association could compensate any staff.

I agreed to keep it going until that was possible. The plan was to hire an association management firm when it was economically feasible, which ultimately came to pass in 1999.

The Shredded N – The Story of NAID’s Logo

Within the world of data destruction, and even in the broader world of records management and data protection, the NAID logo was a highly visible and familiar insignia. In many ways it has become more of an icon than a simple logo, recognized far and wide, even without the NAID acronym associated with it.

“The shredded N,” as it has come to be known, appears today exactly as it did 20+ years ago when it was first created. At the time, Carol Kopelman, who eventually became the first NAID president and was from Document Destructors, Inc., in Washington, D.C., had a daughter who was a graphic designer. In late 1993, after a short discussion of what the new trade association would be and what the founders wanted the logo to represent, Kopelman shared her daughter’s designs with the group. While there were five or six logos featured, someone noticed a sketch on the bottom of the last page that had not been fully developed.

All agreed that it had the most promise and asked for a finished version. What came back is exactly what the world sees today. In total, it took less than a week from concept to implementation. As the association grew and added chapters, so did the logo. Here is an examples of the final rendition of the logo.

The Association Achieves Relevance

The new association had held its first annual conference in Fla. While the event was a success, the organization had about $6,000 in the bank, no paid staff and was in need of some creative ideas to be effective with so little resources. As it were, it would be nine years until NAID paid for any staff and, even then, the staff remained parttime for two more years.

Prior to NAID, in 1990, I had created a brochure for my consulting business titled “Information Disposal.” It confronted the seven most common objections to using a data destruction service. It became fairly popular at the time. Its success was largely based on the fact that it was the only third-party, educational brochure in the industry. Frankly, the success of the brochure was my first experience with educational pieces proving to be more credible than the same literature generated by the service providers themselves.

Based on the past success of the Information Disposal brochure, the fledgling board took a leap of faith in creating the first NAID brochure in late 1995. The brochure made the case for outsourcing data destruction as well as branding NAID. And, though it took about half of NAID’s financial resources to create it, the 140 or so members ate it up. For the first time ever, service providers had a tool from a third party, non-profit, education-oriented organization that explained why outsourcing secure destruction was the better option. In fact, simply having a legitimate trade association for the industry gave added credence to what members were offering.

1995 also happened to be the year mobile data destruction was appearing throughout the U.S. (Note: The mobile platform remains a footnote in Europe and Australia and when this was written, had not surfaced yet in Asia.) As mentioned, NAID’s founding members had resisted the temptation to create an association of plant-based service providers in favor of a more inclusive approach of future platforms. They decided it was more important to keep the discussion on the general importance of secure destruction and the benefits of outsourcing. Lax customer attitudes on data disposal were the issues to confront, not which destruction platform customers chose.

Mobile Operators Join Forces To Start AMSA (1995-1998)

However, another group felt differently. With the increase in mobile services, a group of mobile service providers decided to form the American Mobile Shredding Association (AMSA) in 1995 to promote that platform. AMSA was a created as a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the use of their members’ services locally and nationally. The organization also made no secret of the fact they were attempting to battle the growing number of mobile operators in the Shred-it franchise network. Shred-it was having success with national accounts, an area in which the independent operators had no means to compete. At this point in time there were no national, plant-based service providers in operation. At its peak, AMSA had about 80 members, rivaling NAID’s size at the time. Most AMSA members also supported NAID so the organizations coexisted rather peacefully. NAID had no designs on national account management since it would inevitably pit one member against another where multiple members served the same market.

After a couple years, having delivered no national accounts or other meaningful benefits, AMSA decided to disband. Many AMSA members had added plant-based or records storage services, both of which seemed inconsistent to arguments that destruction services were best offered onsite. Those offering records storage had trouble promoting the position that records could be stored offsite but had to be destroyed onsite. Prior to its dissolution, however, the AMSA Board of Directors attended a NAID board meeting in 1998 to request some changes to NAID’s structure. Several compromises were reached at that meeting to accommodate what were viewed as reasonable improvements by both boards.

NAID Develops Certification Program (1997-2000)

The idea of an industry certification was a topic among NAID leadership from the beginning; however, it was not until 1997 that a task force was formed to create the structure and specifications of a program. Among the task force members were Tom Simpson of Confidential Security Corp in Peoria, Ill.; Don Thorne of InstaShred in Irvine and Oakland, Calif.; Bill Buhl of Document Services with seven plants across the eastern half of the U.S.; and David Culbertson of Texas Shredding in Houston, Texas.

After two years of planning, the board approved the program and the NAID Certification Program was officially unveiled in March 1999 at the annual NAID conference in St. Petersburg, Fla. There were to be three levels of certification offered: A, AA and AAA with AAA being the most rigorous. NAID contracted with Pinkerton Security to conduct the audits. Within the first few years of the program, NAID certification dropped the A and AA versions to become the NAID AAA Certification Program. Also, NAID started contracting with independent, ASIS International accredited, Certified Protection Professionals (CPPs) to conduct the requisite audits. The success of NAID certification is now a matter of record and it stands as the crown jewel of the association’s programs.

Transforming From Start-up To Industry Institution

After NAID’s first conference, the still struggling association faced a predictable set of challenges: little money and no paid staff. I remember one early call from a prospective member in 1996 asking about the extent of NAID’s lobbying efforts. It was tough to report that NAID barely had the money for the airfare to get to Washington, let alone do any lobbying. My time was largely spent planning the annual conference (e.g., sessions and exhibitors), soliciting new members and vendor support, and serving as a publicist for the organization.

Then, there came a point when it was a safe bet that NAID would be successful so I did what I always said I would do. I resigned in 1999. In reality, I had never intended to manage NAID for more than a few years. When the five-year mark rolled around and the association was ready to go to the next level (or stop being subsidized), I left and the board hired an association management company to run the organization. At the time, I was completely convinced that NAID would succeed without my further involvement. I did not take a salary in those five years and was more than happy to turn NAID over to professionals who knew how to run an association.

Nonetheless, I returned to NAID a few years later. In the interim, I had co-founded a secure destruction service in New York City. While it would be nice to take the credit for NAID’s transformation, no one person, group of people or single event is responsible. The first years of the new millennium saw the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Gramm-Leach- Bliley Act (GLB) compliance deadlines hit, the ENRON/Anderson scandal, and the explosion in identity theft crimes that resulted in new state laws. It was the perfect example of preparation meeting opportunity, and it was the reason NAID transformed into the industry’s flagship trade association.

Why NAID Works

Timing and market conditions aside, there are some critical ingredients that led to NAID’s success.

The proper structure:

Shortly after the association incorporated, I filed the paperwork to become a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization. Not to avoid taxes; we did not have money. It simply showed our motives were not to make a profit but create a member-owned organization. Besides, all the associations I respected (e.g., PRISM International, ARMA International, AIIM, ASIS International, IFMA) were all structured as non-profits. It never dawned on the founders that members would be willing to build an industry brand over which they did not have legal ownership.


We kept the discussion on the need for data destruction and the benefits of outsourcing. Consumers were in no position to decide between different service platforms if they did not care about data security in the first place. Once the market became educated, consumers would have the tools to decide what type of service best fit their needs.

Consensus building:

NAID has always involved a lot of members in everything it did and continues to do. Industry professionals are encouraged to run for office and participate on committees, councils and boards. Even now, close to 100 industry professionals participate at some level in leadership roles.

Mission-driven orientation:

The idea for NAID came to me after more than a decade of selling data destruction services where misinformation and apathy ran wild in the industry. During those years, I longed for a credible, third-party industry association to help me make my arguments and rid the industry of the bad guys. I truly believe my dedication to the industry and NAID’s principles is simply a continuation of the battles I fought with ignorance as a young man. NAID is still about proving that point that so many ignored during the formative years of the industry.

No Opportunity To Rest

Few professionals would dispute that NAID has become an influential force in promoting secure destruction industry standards and education. While this history was meant to cover NAID’s formative years, the challenges the industry faces will never cease. In fact, there has never been a time when one or more events, conflicts. or industry developments have not challenged the association’s mission or place in the industry. It would be naïve to think it would ever be otherwise. It will always be a struggle but such is life. For now, each new chapter is still being written.