Physical Records Management in the 2007 Office system

So far in this blog, we’ve talked directly about electronic records – the files created in document authoring applications, e-mail systems, etc.

But few records managers out there (if any) have the luxury of dealing solely with electronic records… for most organizations records will continue to come in both electronic and physical form for a long time. And even the “physical” category is fairly broad – depending on your organizations needs, you may need to preserve printed documents as records (especially if they’ve been hand-signed) or physical objects. (For example, Microsoft’s hardware team that produces our keyboards & mice need to retain our device prototypes as records!)

Some aspects of a records management program may be different for electronic & physical records -- for example, the storage of physical records is a very different challenge than electronic storage. (Especially from a cost-per-record standpoint; physical record storage costs don’t follow Moore’s law ;-) ). But from the underlying business/legal/regulatory requirements for records retention are independent of record format – whether it’s a Word document, an e-mail, or a piece of paper, it’s the content of the record that determines its retention schedule.

For that reason, it would be ideal for most organizations to have a records management application that can support both their physical and electronic RM needs – so that they don’t need to configure, manage, and maintain file plans in two separate systems. Fortunately, the 2007 release of Office SharePoint Server supports the management of both physical and electronic records.

Physical Records – just another type of “item”

The reason we haven’t labeled this post as a new “records management feature” is that in the 2007 release, we don’t think of physical records as being separate from the concepts we’ve already described. Rather, we took great care in making sure that as we created records management features like Information Management Policies, Expiration, Barcodes, etc., that all of those features can enable physical RM.

The core concept behind physical RM in the 2007 release is that SharePoint supports the management of not only “Documents” (electronic files, like the kinds authored by the Microsoft Office client applications), but also generic “items” (objects that don’t necessarily have an electronic file).

“Items” can be customized using Content Types to add metadata schema appropriate to representing physical records – for example information about the location of the physical object represented by the item, a description to enable searching, identifiers to relate sucessive "parts" of a collection of records, etc. Items can also optionally include attachments (electronic files relevant to the item) -- e.g. a scanned image of a physical document, for online browsing.

Workflows can be written to target non-document “items” – for physical records this would enable organizations to define appropriate human-centric workflows for transferring records, sending them to a custodian temporarily for review, etc.

And information management policies can also be applied to “items”, just like for electronic records. The barcodes automatically assigned by the barcode policy can be printed out on sticky labels & affixed to the physical records to facilitate retrieving the corresponding “item” using a barcode scanning device. Expiration policies can be configured to trigger a workflow as the disposition action for physical records, and that workflow can drive the appropriate process for the physical object.

So in short, the tools to enable an organization to manage physical records alongside their electronic records are available in the 2007 release of the Office system. In fact, Microsoft’s internal records management department (our first and best customer) is in the process of migrating their physical records management program onto Office SharePoint Server 2007!

Where partners add value

While it’s true that the 2007 release enables physical records management, it’s also fair to say that many organizations will want additional solutions/customizations beyond what we include “in the box”. As mentioned above (and in some earlier comments on the blog), there are several capabilities particular to managing physical records, including:

  • Imaging solutions that integrate with scanner/copier/printer hardware to automate the ingestion & capture of physical records.
  • Space/warehouse management solutions to handle allocating shelf space in physical storage sites.
  • Integration with off-site record storage providers.

We’re absolutely aware of the value of these types of additional solutions for physical records management -- and we’re actively working with our community of software, hardware, and service providers to help them extend their solutions onto the 2007 Office system. While I won’t name any individual partners/solutions in this post, stay tuned for more details on that subject soon on this blog.

Thanks for reading!

- Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager.