Automation Should Get The Job Done And Be Defensible In Court

By Jim Merrifield posted 01-28-2014 12:37


When is automation going to deliver the promises we have been hearing for years?  Automation is software that automatically classifies records, starts the review cycle automatically, notifies reviewers by email, escalates to managers when reviewers pass deadlines, and presents content for review on the desktop of the reviewers so they don’t have to print and circulate reports (just now, I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of trees suddenly cried out in relief…).  This real automation means that we Records Managers are not doing the clerical work anymore.  Instead, we are managing the process and the policies and enforcing their implementation.  This automation is here and is changing records management.

Today as a solution to the information explosion, organizations have decided to adopt a document retention policy and schedule. The purpose of adopting such a document is to ensure:

1)      Orderly access to and retention of important documents

2)      Routine and appropriate disposal of such materials that is no longer necessary for the organization to meet its business, ethical or legal obligations.

3)      Full compliance with the organizations legal and ethical duties, including, but not limited to, any duties that may arise as a result of any litigation

If your organization has a document retention policy, this is usually the time of year when you review the retention schedule and attempt to dispose of the information that has satisfied the end of its document lifecycle. I say “attempt” because most organizations fail at the monitor and audit stage in the lifecycle. They have a clear document retention policy and schedule which outlines how long to keep certain documents, but the process is not followed. One reason is that no one in the organization wants to be held responsible for disposing of the information. Another reason is that mergers and acquisitions happen all the time and people are constantly moving in and out of roles and responsibilities.  Today with the right automation these processes are handled by the software, no one can stop the system from reviewing and bringing to the attention of the stake holders the items that need to be destroyed or on hold or need to be placed on hold. This is automated policy enforcement.

What usually gets lost in the shuffle? You guessed it…Records Management. Now, if you’re fortunate enough to still have a Records Manager on staff, they will do their best to move the process along. However, they will not be the ones to pull the trigger and dispose of the information. The reality is that it’s actually worse to have a document retention policy and not follow it, than not have one at all. On the other hand, it’s not good practice to keep everything forever, just because you may need the information someday. This will just compound your disposition problem and make matters worse when you finally decide to start disposing of information.

Think about what would happen if you never got rid of anything in your home and you lived in it for years and years. Every time you purchased a new item, such as a piece of furniture, toy, etc., you just tossed the old item in the attic. What would happen when you ran out of room in your attic or decided to move to another location? It would take forever for you to go through all your stuff. How much better it would have been to dispose of the old items when you purchased the new ones.

The solution to this problem is to automate the disposition process and that automation forces action to take place. Actionable Records Management and Compliance enforcement. This needs to happen to be successful and insure that all that up front document retention development work doesn’t go to waste.  But what does “automate” really mean.  Many of my peers talk about the drudgery of using their automation solutions.  Sure, the software calculates destruction dates.  Sure, the software allows them to place holds on content.  But, many are still printing out reports, screaming for people to do reviews, then entering holds and approvals from the marked-up report.  A few lucky souls have workflows that provide a little more “automated” solution.

And if you are not yet in a galaxy far, far away, here are a few radical concepts that could change our lives.  Real automation lets me control the automation; it gives me actionable dashboards so I can react to the processes that are in front of me without further searching and evaluation. All this based on policies and retention times that were decided, approved and made policy previously.  Some content is important and disposition needs to be signed off explicitly.  I want to trim my workload by making the disposition reviews for other types of content simply optional –it is gone if it has no value and there is no review.

In summary, organizations need automation that enforces their policies. We need to stop hoarding all of that information. The more information we have, the harder it will be to find that “needle in a haystack” and produce during the discovery process. As Records Managers, we need to stop hiding behind our boxes and take the lead on this initiative and make our companies aware that there is automation that finally meets these previously unattainable goals that we have had for years. The software is there to make our life much easier; we just need to embrace it. And that’s the bottom line, because this Records Manager said so!!!

Jim Merrifield, Director of Information Governance at FileTrail, Inc.

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1 comment


02-05-2014 12:47

Jim your comment "Automation is software that automatically classifies records, starts the review cycle automatically, notifies reviewers by email, escalates to managers when reviewers pass deadlines, and presents content for review on the desktop of the reviewers so they don’t have to print and circulate reports..." suggests that there is a silver bullet to all this information out there. Perhaps there is, but I've yet to see it.
I think that automation can happen, but needs a "good" process before it can happen. I was once told that if you automate a bad proess, your results will be bad. Similar to the garbage in, garbage out saying. Before we can get to the process that is automatically driven through the software, agreement with the process has to be given. I mean that everyone involved has to agree, not just the records manager and the end user, but legal, compliance/risk, organizational leaders need to agree.
Once you get that agreement, then you have a process that can work and be automated. Once fully automated it needs to be applied and here is where the sticking point is. Do you apply the automation on a go forward basis and handle the legacy unstructured material in a different manner? Or do you apply it to all of your unstructured information? Your process also needs a way to handle exceptions or change in people etc.