What is a Record? The Old Rules No longer Apply

By Mark Mandel posted 09-07-2010 13:28


For many years Records Management has been built around records retention schedules, File Plans, Records Declaration, and so on.  Defining what is a record, what type of record it is, how long to keep it, cutoff rules, and how to declare a record has kept us up at night and consumed our days.

In this model many documents or messages are considered "non-records."  These non-records consist of personal/non-business items, copies, drafts, working versions, and so on.  This model includes a Records Declaration process that turns a document from a working version to the official record copy, and locks that final copy down so that it cannot be further edited and so that access is tightly controlled.  At this time the clock starts on how long you keep it before it is destroyed.

This model includes careful study and implementation of records retention schedules, combined with processes around implementation within business processes.  It is often unwieldy and cumbersome, but that's what we get paid the big bucks for ;-)

Many records management software applications include automation of these processes, including workflow to modify a document's status when a business process shows that it is a final version.  For example, a contract's retention clock begins when the contract has been completed, and the contracts business process includes a trigger that is started when the process reaches that state.  Reducing the manual records declaration process becomes a real time saver when these workflows are in place.

E-Discovery and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tell us that ALL electronic information that is available to a litigation is discoverable.  This changes the game for Records Management principles, software, and processes.  This means that all those personal documents and emails, Facebook and Twitter updates, audit logs, security cameras, etc. are all discoverable.  Are these Records?

I think the answer to this question is YES.  They are all records, and our systems must manage them as such.  Also, the question about how long to keep them is a moving target as well, and we may have to throw out those old retention schedules.

We can target both paper and electronic records for destruction after the retention period has expired.  However our ability to locate and manage copies on flash drives, PST files, personal PC hard drives, the Cloud, and backup tapes is very weak at best.  Therefore we cannot be sure that something we destroyed still does not exist somewhere.  If it does exist, it is discoverable, and therefore it is still a Record as defined by the courts.

This is a very disruptive change to our way of thinking, what do you think?

#records #electronic #ElectronicRecordsManagement