You are a records management failure
A provocative title, I know, but I think we need a little provocation in the records management (RM) world today. For way too long, we’ve been focused on the wrong things, for the wrong reasons, and the disastrous information management situation in play at 99% of the organizations I encounter is a direct result: we keep everything forever, have adopted corporate policies we can’t follow, either because they are operationally impossible or technically unfeasible (or both), and we derive precious little of the value our information could be providing us if we could only find it and use it effectively.
Man in the mirror
Before you stop reading and hastily scroll to the bottom of this post to heckle me mercilessly, ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your RM policies in place? Are they being followed? For both paper and electronically stored information (ESI)?
- Do you have a corporate retention schedule in place? Are you retaining and disposing according to the schedule? Both paper and ESI?
- Are you currently using RM technology? If not, how close are you to doing so?
- Does the larger organization understand the strategic importance of managing information?
If your organization is anything like the hundreds of organizations I’ve encountered in my time as an enterprise content management (ECM) practitioner, my guess is that:
- You have policies and a retention schedule in place, but that you can’t demonstrate compliance with any degree of certainty (for both paper and ESI)
- You are years away from getting technology to enforce your RM policies (even if you currently own licenses for this or that tool)
- Your organization pays mostly lip service to the strategic value of information and manages it much less effectively than the its physical, financial, or human assets
How did we get here?
There are a number of reasons why we’re where we are with RM, but these three are pretty key:
- All or nothing “letter of the law” approach to the RM program – total compliance with laws, regulations, and standards
- Comprehensive, records-focused approach to retention schedules – hundreds of record types, complex retention triggers
- Academic, best practices approach to RM policy – extensive and comprehensive coverage of all RM areas
What these three problematical RM approaches lead to, on the one hand, are policies and processes that are impossible to live up to in practice, which places an unreasonable (unattainable) compliance burden on the organization; and on the other, they result in a retention schedule that’s far too complex either for users to understand and follow or for IT to support with tools and systems.
Et voilà: we find ourselves in the mess we’re in today.
We gotta get out of this place
The way out is not going to be easy—it took 10 years or more to get into this mess, it won’t take a year (or two, or even three) to get out—but the basic idea behind the way out is pretty simple:
- Practical “spirit of the law” approach – reasonable compliance with laws, regulations, and standards
- Big bucket, execution-focused approach to retention schedules – dozens (not hundreds) of record types, simplified retention triggers
- Realistic approach to policy – transparent and up front about what can and can’t be done at the organization
These three guiding principles help back you out of the information management dead end you’re currently in: you get an actionable and practical RM program, with policies and procedures that place reasonable obligations on the organization, which it can (and will) meet—not the least of which is a retention schedule that’s straightforward enough for users to understand and follow and for IT to support with tools and systems.
And the payoff is significant: the enterprise can demonstrate with reasonable certainty its compliance with laws, regulations, and standards as well as corporate policies and it’s able to curb rampant over-retention because information is now disposed of according to the retention schedule (and when past its legal and operational life).
The final word
With that done, you are now free to heckle, as usual. But hopefully, in addition to being provocative, the post also made you take a hard look at how RM is done at your organization and evaluate how successful it really is. Feel free to jump in and share your thoughts, observations, questions, comments, feedback, insults, etc.—always excited to get the conversation started!