Records Management in the Information Age -- but how do you do that (Part I)?

As Tina Torres, Microsoft’s Corporate Records Manager, mentioned in her last post, themajor challenges for records managers in the information age are: (1) keeping what you need to keep, and (2) avoiding the unnecessary retention of content that you don’t need to retain. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately it’s not so simple, for a few reasons. Firstly, as Tina mentioned, the tools that knowledge workers use to collaborate and to create and work on information have multiplied and become highly decentralized. (And if you think that this problem doesn’t apply to your organization, keep in mind that e-mail is the #1 collaboration tool for knowledge workers.) Secondly, becoming involved in the management of these “collaborative tools/spaces” is outside the traditional boundaries of a records management program, which generally begin from the point in time that the records are acquired/declared/classified rather than how to make sure that the right information is being acquired, and how to manage the information that isn’t.

But here’s the good news – over the next few weeks we’re going to be sharing with you our thoughts on how to approach these problems (and why they’re not as hard or unsolvable as they might seem), and the capabilities in the 2007 release of the Microsoft Office system that will enable you to address these problems directly, so you can implement records management programs that meet the needs of an enterprise in the information age.

And rather than leave you with just a promise that the answer is coming soon, here’s the “20,000 foot view” of how to think about your company’s information infrastructure in terms of records management.

The two types of “spaces”

Your organization’s information infrastructure consists of 2 different types of spaces – “collaborative spaces” where knowledge workers do their work (including creating information, some of which may become records), and “records spaces” where records managers administer the business records that must be retained beyond the period of time when they’re useful to the knowledge workers who created them. Let’s examine each space in more detail:

“Collaborative spaces”

These is where the employees of your organization do their daily work. Examples include e-mail, file shares, Web-based collaboration tools like SharePoint, or line-of-business applications. But independent of the particular tool or application your company is using, all collaborative spaces share the following characteristics:

· They’re designed to maximize employee productivity: These tools are intended to support knowledge workers and make them as efficient at doing their jobs as possible. This is why so many collaborative resources are decentralized or not tightly managed – because doing so would slow down knowledge workers (or at least cause them to stop using that space and start circumventing the system by using less-controlled tools like e-mail). And because maximizing productivity isn’t aligned with the goals of corporate records management, the decisions employees and IT administrators make here about what to keep or delete won’t be consistent with the company’s records retention goals – so these are NOT the right places to keep business records for any long period of time.


· Most of the content created in a collaborative space are NOT records: During the normal course of business, knowledge workers generate a lot of information. Some of this information constitutes business records -- i.e. documents and other information that need to be kept in order to preserve the “corporate memory” of company activity. However, most of the information created in these collaborative spaces is of short-term value and only valuable to the people involved in its creation and does not need to be retained.

So what should the objectives be for a records management program as it applies to collaborative spaces?

1) Because some of the information created in these collaborative spaces are records, there needs to be a mechanism for collecting those records out of those spaces and into the “records space” (which are controlled by a records manager in accordance with the corporate retention schedule.)

2) Since the organization isn’t required to retain most of the information in these collaborative spaces for a long period of time, records managers should be ensuring that the non-record information is disposed of as soon as it’s no longer of business value to knowledge workers.
(And while this will be the subject of a future post, it’s worth noting that Information Technology administrators in your organization will be happy to work with records managers on this – because disposing of this content more quickly will reduce their management and storage costs.)

3) Because knowledge workers are the “kings” of collaborative spaces, records managers have to meet the first two objectives while requiring minimal knowledge worker participation – because anything that slows down knowledge workers in doing their jobs will meet with their resistance and with inconsistent compliance.

The good news is that, as the above points imply, collaborative spaces do NOT require full-blown records management – you can succeed on all of these goals without needing a long file plan and retention schedule for information in collaborative spaces.

But you will need to figure out an appropriate “record keeping” strategy for these spaces, and you will need tools built into these spaces that can implement the strategy in a way that doesn’t disrupt knowledge workers while they’re doing their jobs.

In our next posting, we’ll complete the picture by looking at the role of “records spaces” in this overall model (which includes all of the traditional duties of records management), and over the next few weeks we’ll “zoom in” on this picture to talk about the tools available in the 2007 Office system to manage both these types of spaces, how records managers should work with IT to help plan and manage these spaces, and much more.

Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager