Inventorying electronic records - part 1

By Jesse Wilkins posted 10-04-2010 10:17


This is the first in a series of posts on the fundamentals of electronic records management - and few topics are as fundamental to effective information management as the inventory. There is an old truism in management that you can't manage what you can't measure. Most organizations have an intimate understanding of how much money is in the bank and what it is used for, how many people they employ and what they do, and even what intellectual property they own and how they put it to use. Yet so few organizations have a real handle on what information they have and how it is used, reused, and abused - and even fewer have an understanding of what electronic information they routinely create and use. 

An inventory is a process used to determine the current state of information management. It attempts to answer a number of questions, both for the organization as a whole and for particular divisions, work processes, and individuals: 
- What does the organization have?
- What media is used to store information?
- What formats are used to store information? 
- Where is information located - physically and/or logically?
- How much does the organization have and what is the growth rate?
- What information is unique and which is duplicative?
- What information retains value to the organization and what can be retired?
- Who uses the information and how?
- What information is essential to the ongoing work of the organization or would be expensive or difficult to replace if lost?
- How often is particular information updated?
The inventory provides the foundation for effective information management. In particular, it is used to inform the records retention schedule, records and information management-related processes, and information governance policies and instruments. It is also a key step in ensuring efficient effective responses to litigation or public records requests; without knowing what the organization has and where it is makes it exhorbitantly expensive to respond to those requests. 
Electronic records present some unique challenges to the inventory process. It is easy to determine where paper records are - in fact, in some cases it's too easy. And while records stored offsite are sometimes "out of sight, out of mind", there is nevertheless a regular reminder of their existence in the form of a monthly or quarterly storage invoice or in customer service requests for retrieval of particular information. 
Not so with electronic information. Since it is not visible to the eye and doesn't take up much physical space, it's more difficult to locate and inventory. And it can be anywhere: on organization-wide servers and networked file shares; on any of hundreds or thousands of instances of SharePoint; on departmental or home-grown applications; on users' individual workstation computers; on backup tapes or archival media; in the email server or archiving application; on a plethora of removable or mobile devices and media; and even on users' home computer systems. 
In future posts on this topic I will describe different ways to conduct an electronic information inventory, with examples of what specific questions to ask and what information to gather. I will describe some of the pitfalls and strategies for avoiding them. And I will provide links to a number of resources available online to make the inventory process less painful. 
Do you have good links or sage advice to contribute to this discussion? Post them please!

#Records-Management #inventory #ElectronicRecordsManagement #information #records