Information Management

By Carl Weise posted 01-06-2012 13:39


The functions of records management are changing drastically, yet its core duty - the management of the information assets of the organization, remains the same.

I often ask if the change in technology has an impact on records management.  The answer is that it certainly does.  Decades ago, we needed to manage hand-written, and typed, documents.  PCs came along on everyone’s’ desks and we started to get computer created files.  We also have files generated from other computer applications.   The use of email became pervasive as did instant messaging.  Over the past number of years, social media content has become common place and, from a number of sources, is the fastest growing content within organizations.  Hand and hand with this diversity of content is the sheer volume of content that is being created in our organizations.

From the legal perspective, in the United States we have the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures (FRCP) which requires the preservation and delivery of electronically stored information (ESI) relevant to the matter.  This encompasses more than the official records of organizations.  All content falls under the scope of information assets and needs to be identified and properly managed.  Clearly, records management no longer can address only the official records of the organization, but all content. 

Over the past seven years, there has been an emphasis placed on better managing ediscovery and reducing the cost of legal discovery.  Many of us are familiar with, and use, the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) ( which clearly places up front, the proper management of content for faster, easier, cheaper and better ediscovery.

I feel it is important to address the protection of intellectual property within our organizations, along with confidentiality and privacy issues that exist.  The release of WikiLeaks, and the damage that it has caused, has got the attention of an awful lot of people.

In the face of these developments, it has be questioned whether the role of records management professionals is still needed.  Without question, it is exactly because these complexities exist that the body of knowledge and best practices of records management are needed more than ever.

Addressing the terabytes of content within our organizations, we have learned the benefits of breaking down this massive beast into smaller chunks such as records series or content types to apply appropriate controls where they can be applied.  We know that when we have a major project to do, it’s best to break it down in small chunks.

A very important consideration is that we cannot manage all content in the same way.   I wrote an article on the Cynefin (pronounced kun-ev`in) Framework developed by Dave Snowden while at IBM.  It was proposed by Patrick Lambe, in his book “Organising Knowledge: Taxonomies, Knowledge and Organisational Effective (2007), that the cynefin framework could be used as a filter or lens with which to determine whether taxonomies are an appropriate technique to be applied to bodes of content or knowledge.   The framework breaks content into four different categories of: Known, Knowable, Complex and Chaotic with their different characteristics.  Without getting into the details of this framework, the important consideration is that not all content in the organization can be managed in the same way.  Other critical considerations in this discussion include the technologies used to create the content and also where the content is stored, whether inside our organization’s firewall or externally.  Flexibility in management tools and approaches of content is both to be expected and critical for the management of our information assets.

Many of you are familiar with Geoffrey Moore’s concept of systems of record versus systems of engagement which was presented in the 2010 study commissioned by AIIM.  Content from system of records, may be matched with the Known and Knowable categories of the Cynefin Framework, and lend itself to being categorized and having rigid structure and controls applied to them for management and disposition purposes.  This needs to be an ongoing process within our organizations.  Content from system of engagement technologies may be matched with the Complex and Chaotic categories of the Cynefin Framework and not allow rigid controls to be put into place.   However, this content needs to be managed as best as possible (more below).

This diversity in content does not make records management control irrelevant.  It just makes it harder.

One thing that is clear is that the content in our organizations cannot be managed without technology.  We need to have ERM/ECM solutions, and other technology, to allow us to manage the information assets.  With content that allows more rigid controls, ERM/ECM solutions will allow us to manage the information with the benefits of sharing information and managing its lifecycle, along with other benefits.  Through the structure that can be imposed by these solutions, the use of controlled vocabularies, including a metadata model, and the tracking of key words, ediscovery can be made easier and more cost effective.  In the same way, proprietary and confidential information can be properly protected.

Another real alternative is to simply be able to capture the content for later use.  Email active archiving and instant messaging archiving have been around for a long period of time.  Many of us would not consider these to be records management solutions but it is the best we can do at this time.  It is critical to have applications that can capture blogs, wikis, and communications inside and outside the organization.  These are important first steps and there is pressure being applied on the vendors to incorporate more records management functionality, including structure, metadata standards and business rules for disposition.

Many of us are looking for analytical software to help us to manage our content.  Having applications to apply structure and metadata to our vast amount of content would be wonderful.  This is a very complex undertaking as it is very difficult for software to understand the context of the information.  However, progress is being made.  Two considerations are that we will need information management professionals to configure and oversee these software processes.  And, secondly, analytical software made not be appropriate across all of the content in our organizations.  I suggest that where you have somewhat standard content and high volumes, analytical software is appropriate.  Where you have quite diverse content and, perhaps, smaller volumes, the user is the best source of the structure and metadata.  Records management instruments will still need to be developed and managed in our organizations.

These are very interesting and complex times for the management of content within our organizations.

From AIIM’s Market Intelligence surveys, we are seeing that organizations are investing more for staff and technology to meet the demand of managing our information assets.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

 I will be speaking at the following events:

  • January 31st - February 3rd, 2012 AIIM ECM Masters in Silver Spring, MD
  • February 7th - 10th, 2012 AIIM ERM Masters in Dallas, TX
  • February 28th– March 2, 2012 AIIM ERM Masters in Amsterdam, Netherlands


#ERM/ECM #ElectronicRecordsManagement