Records Management in the Information Age – but how do you do that? (Part II)

In our last few posts, we presented our model for the first half of the information landscape, collaborative spaces. In this post, we’re going to start to look at the other half of the information infrastructure, the “records spaces”. At a high-level, we believe this covers the split for how most information can be organized and managed. Obviously, this model will not work for everyone and we didn’t design our software to cover only this one model, but as we’ve listened to lots of customers (particularly records managers), this is the model that seems to resonate the most with large public enterprises.

Records spaces

If collaborative spaces are where knowledge workers mostly do their day-to-day work, then records spaces are where the final, official copies of information get managed by records managers for the long haul. This is a space where IT and records management have direct control over the structure, the filing, and the policies of your organizations most important and vital information. These spaces are the focal point of a records management program. Let’s look at the key characteristics of a records space:

· Records spaces are managed primarily by records managers and special, privileged users: since they aren’t generally intended for knowledge workers (outside of reference and read-only access), records managers can configure their record spaces however best aligns to their file plan, retention schedules, and compliance requirements. While the taxonomy & policies in a collaborative space need to be simple enough to be understood by knowledge workers, the records spaces can be much more rigidly structured. This is a space for long-term filing and access, not for rapid, highly collaborative work, so you should optimize its structure to best help you keep your records management program functioning smoothly.

· All of the contents in a records space are records (or metadata supporting your records): whereas a collaborative space contains drafts or work-in-progress information that mostly doesn’t become official records, records spaces are intended solely to keep store and managed records that have been declared.

· Records are immutable: they cannot be edited or modified, since they represent the official “corporate memory.” Records also need to be retained for relatively long periods of time compared to information in a collaborative space, and it’s useful to keep your records in a well-managed space that you can be sure will exist in 5, 10, or 50 years (or at least that the content will migrate appropriately as technology changes).

So what should the objectives of a records management program be for records spaces?

1) Define folder structure & metadata schema to match the file plan: the first step of managing a records space is to make it follow your file plan, both in terms of the folder structure and the metadata required for appropriately managing records of each type over the course of their retention periods.

Metadata is an especially important consideration for a records space – given the large volume of records that organizations need to retain, it’s critical that you capture as metadata the information you’ll need to manage those records over their entire retention periods.

2) Implement retention schedules that can be followed as automatically and consistently as possible: retention schedules are influenced by business needs, legal and regulatory requirements, and a host of other factors. But key to allowing a records management program to handle a large volume of records efficiently -- and to demonstrating that your program is consistently followed -- is to design a program that can be executed with as little ongoing human intervention as possible. Of course, no one would claim that records management should be a fully-automated process… human involvement is vital in many cases. However, in all situations the goal should be to automate as much of the routine work as possible, freeing up records managers to focus only on the areas where their hands-on involvement is most valuable.

3) Create appropriate “hold order” processes to respond to external events: every records management program needs a way to suspend record disposition when external events require it. However, even these hold order processes should be as automated as possible – so that the minimum amount of human effort is required to discover content responsive to that hold order, suspend its disposition, produce it for an external party if necessary, and eventually release that hold order to resume normal record disposition. (Minimizing human effort here is one of the keys to reducing your litigation & discovery costs -- remember that “$2.8 billion” figure for e-discovery services from an earlier post?)

4) An ability to audit the usage and conformance of your records and policies to your stated plans and goals. The best laid plans are useless if you don’t have a means for monitoring and reporting on where your content is filed, how often it’s being referenced, by whom, and how much of your content is “out of policy” for various reasons – you haven’t completed all of your vital records reviews, you haven’t approved the disposition for expired materials, and a report of all materials managed by active hold orders.

So with those objectives defined, we can now summarize the capabilities that are required in a records space:

· The ability to implement a record file plan & metadata schema

· A way to implement retention schedules that minimize the amount of manual effort required

· Hold orders to deal with litigations & external events (which may impact the retention of content in collaborative spaces)

· A way to generate audit trails and reports to verify that your system is functioning as expected.

· A mechanism for accepting records declared in collaborative spaces in a way that ensures that they fit into the record space’s file plan & metadata schema.

This last requirement is subtle but critical -- The records space needs to receive records from collaborative spaces, determine where in the file plan they belong (using the declaration & classification information provided), and ensure that appropriate record space metadata is collected. This allows records managers to have a rich file plan in their records space, while keeping their organization’s collaborative spaces simple enough for the knowledge workers -- and still have a successful records management program.


Sounds easy, right? Well, at the very least you’re going to need a powerful set of tools to do what we’ve described here. But the good news is that the 2007 release of the Microsoft Office System provides all of these capabilities. And in the next set of posts, we’ll show you how. :)


- Ethan Gur-esh

Program Manager