Hot Issues in Records Management

Records management is generating an unusual degree of passion lately. Long held captive to an image of dusty file cabinets in the basement, accessed only when needed for legal purposes, records management is now being recognized as a critical component in information governance, a vital process that extends beyond—but includes—records management. The sheer volume of information with which organizations must cope is an important aspect of records management, because proper application of policies will eliminate unnecessary documents.

The need to locate information is another issue driving records management. If it is not classified correctly, information is much harder to locate quickly. Auto-categorization is helping to reduce the burden on users to declare and categorize documents as records, a step that is often overlooked or incorrectly carried out. Also, e-discovery has been driving records management because when records are properly managed, the process is greatly simplified and the threat of sanctions is reduced.

Information governance
“Records management is a fundamental cornerstone of good governance,” says Galina Datskovsky, senior VP of information governance at Autonomy, (an HP company) and president of ARMA International. “As a part of governance, records management touches multiple groups, including business users, the IT department, the legal community and executive management.”

The broad relevance of records management also points to the need for interdisciplinary skills from the records management officer. “Records management should be involved in everything from procurement to e-discovery, and the leaders should have the skills to match this diversity of activities,” says Jason R. Baron, director of litigation in the Office of General Counsel at the National Archives and Records Administration. “Records managers should be involved in a creative, interdisciplinary way to ensure that the role of records management is understood and supported.”

No longer standalone
The technology to support a more integrated approach to records management is available. “All major ECM systems now include records management, and it is no longer necessary or desirable to implement a standalone records management system,” says Mark Mandel, records management practice manager at OpenText.

The OpenText EMC Suite: Content Lifecycle Management offers both ECM and records management, along with scanning and capture. It also includes options for auto-categorization for e-discovery and early case assessment, workflow for automation of business processes and electronic forms.

One of the ongoing challenges of records management has been to persuade users to declare records and classify them appropriately after a document has been in use. One way around that obstacle is to capture documents into an ECM system from the time of creation. “If a document must be indexed when it is created, that process is more likely to be viewed as an integral part of the job,” Mandel says. “This approach is much more effective than declaring the document as a record later.”

Behind the scenes, the ECM system can determine whether the document is a record based on the originator, the department, subject matter or other criteria. The classification process is transparent to the user, and if the document is a record, it can transition into the records management system at the appropriate time. If the information is transitory, it should be eliminated early in the process to reduce unnecessary volume.

Outside the ECM system
In reality, much content, including content on a shared drive or local hard drive, is not managed in an ECM system, and therefore cannot be transitioned into a records management system through that means. Auto-categorization tools that analyze text and extract information from them are increasingly being used to identify information that should be managed as records. “When categorization is automated, the system can be trained to recognize and declare content as a record based on a variety of factors,” says Datskovsky. “For example, it could ‘learn’ that only the HR department can declare HR records.”

The Autonomy Intelligent Data Operating Layer (IDOL), which was incorporated into the HP TRIM 7.2 records management solution in December 2011, automatically applies the appropriate records management policies to content. In addition, it creates an index of content in any repository, allowing management of information that is not in an ECM system. IDOL can also analyze information within ECM systems and determine if content that has not been declared as records actually should be.

“The user should not be a de facto records manager, now that methods of doing it automatically are available,” Baron says. However, he emphasizes that people must be trained in how to code the documents from which the system learns. “When initial errors are made in coding, the effect will be multiplied during auto-categorization,” he says. “Conversely, the use of subject matter experts will result in a much higher rate of correctly recalling documents during a search.”

E-discovery is one of the most important drivers for records management. According to a recent survey by AIIM, legal fees, fines and damages could be reduced by 25 percent if companies applied best practices to records management, security and e-discovery. However, only 13 percent of the respondents believed their organizations were following best practices.

Records management simplifies e-discovery by improving search and reducing the amount of unnecessary information that is retained. The metadata that is applied during the records management process, whether by user decision or automatically, increases the probability of locating relevant information quickly and easily. Similarly, if content is managed in an ECM system, litigation holds can be applied even if the document has not been placed in a record management system.

If the content is not managed, organizations become vulnerable to sanctions resulting from failure to disclose discovery information. “In the discovery process, everything is discoverable, not just records,” says Mandel, “so even if content is not declared as a record, it needs to be governed.” In such cases, the unmanaged content should be indexed and searched. For the typically large volumes of information subject to e-discovery, the need to index, analyze and classify documents in a short time frame can turn what might have been a routine process into an emergency.

Legitimate approach
In a recent court case, Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe, the option to use computer-aided review (CAR) in e-discovery was approved. That ruling, from the Honorable Andrew J. Peck, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York, issued an opinion that “computer-assisted review is an acceptable way to search for relevant ESI [electronically stored information] in appropriate cases.” The court did not order or require CAR to be used, but now that the ruling has been made, CAR can be considered a legitimate approach to reviewing documents for e-discovery.

In that method, experts review and code a training set of documents and then the software codes the remaining documents predictably, which dramatically reduces the number of documents that must be reviewed manually. Because the review process accounts for an estimated 60 to 90 percent of litigation costs, any savings in that area are well leveraged.

Those major issues in records management are all interrelated. Datskovsky says, “Records management should be part of an overall strategy of information governance. Auto-categorization allows large amounts of information to be classified properly, which otherwise might be misclassified or unmanaged. The search process in e-discovery can be more directed when the contents of documents have been analyzed in a rational, repeatable manner.”

The roadmap forward
Even in sluggish economic times, the value of records management appears to be strong enough to prompt continued expansion. The global market for records management is expected to grow at 10 percent per year from 2011 through 2015, according to TechNavio. AIIM’s study indicated that 50 percent of respondents were planning to increase their expenditures in records management, versus 14 percent who planned to reduce them.

Records are maintained for business, historical and legal reasons, among others. Without an organizing framework, valuable documents will be buried in the digital landfill. “The time for preventing the digital Dark Ages is now,” Baron says. “The government is pushing for openness and availability of information, and to support this we need a strong commitment to managing our records properly, as well as the right tools to analyze and search them.”

Ensuring a legacy for future generations
The Presidential Memorandum — Managing Government Records, issued on Nov. 28, 2011, recognizes the dramatic increase in the volume and diversity of information that government agencies must manage, and calls for effective use of technology to ease that burden. The memorandum states that “improving records management will improve performance and promote openness and accountability by better documenting agency actions and decisions.” It also cites the cost savings and increase in efficiency produced by properly managed records.

Each agency was required, within 30 days, to appoint a senior official to coordinate with the agency’s records officer, CIO and general counsel in a review of the agency’s records management program. The memorandum called for particular attention to be directed toward the management of electronic records, including e-mail and social media. The resulting report from each agency identified plans for improvement, regulations that might pose obstacles to improvement and policies that would facilitate improvement.

By March 27, 2012, a directive was to be issued by the Archivist of the United States at the National Archives and Records Administration requiring each agency to take specific steps to reform records management policies and practices. The focus of the directive is to create a more efficient government-wide framework for records management, increasing open government and appropriate public access to government records, and transitioning from paper-based to electronic records.

Sometimes records are viewed in a perfunctory light—they are maintained because regulations require it. Sometimes records are seen as a resource for business purposes—to check a fact or prove a point. But the Presidential Memorandum references the larger, historical importance of government records as a means by which “future generations will understand and learn from our actions and decisions.” In this respect, the importance of maintaining records that are effectively managed cannot be overstated. Records management, a process that has all too often been an afterthought, is increasingly being understood as mission-critical.