The Challenge - Should Records Management Be Centralized or De-centralized?

By Mike Clarke posted 07-01-2010 11:29



We all know that, finally, organizations are going paperless.  A major effort ongoing in many departments as old paper records need to be scanned and stored is imaging and digital storage.  What is done with the images after they are scanned varies greatly from one department to the next.  Add that to the huge volumes of digital content being created on a daily basis from source and you have a "mushrooming" issue that is becoming visible from the executive offices across even the largest organizations.  One question that is surfacing is whether to manage records centrally or in a distributed manner.
There are many types of strategies and technologies for holding digital files but one high level issue brought about by all of the digitization of paper records, not to mention the existing masses of digital copy is how to manage records across the organization and what impact it may have.
What information you ask?...  Here is a brief summary of potential sources of unstructured information such as documents, images, diagrams, PDFs, video, graphics, reports, invoices, contracts, etc. that may be found in a typical large organization.
Types of Unstructured Information Storage
  • Electronic copy
    • Distributed on desktops
    • Stored on shared network drives
    • Stored in departmental or enterprise applications
    • Stored in repositories
    • Email
    • Backups and archives
    • Stored in cloud:
      • Applications
      • Storage/archive services
      • Social media
    • Point in time snapshots of reports
    • Log/Audit files (who logged in - when, etc.)
    • Stored on mobile devices
    • Stored on websites and portals
  • Paper copy
    • Stored locally in desks, local file cabinets
    • Stored in central filing systems
    • Stored offsite in remote storage locations
    • Published and distributed
    • Disposed of
      • Shredded
      • Intact

The complex picture that emerges when getting one's head around the complexity of records management at an enterprise level should give rise to an occasional wave of panic in most information management professionals when they consider the risks involved.  One of the the major risks is that employees or contractors are presented with incomplete or incorrect information or the inability to find it in a timely manner at some point causing catastrophic harm to a company or individual.  Lawsuits result which cast a spotlight on an organization's ability or inability to quickly identify and produce pertinent information.  Less urgent but even more important is the risk that a company cannot react in a timely manner to change because it is difficult for individuals to find information in a timely manner.  Compliance is another critical issue but slightly off topic.

A centralized strategy has advantages and disadvantages.  Most organizations display the symptoms of the disadvantages such as expensive after the fact eDiscovery strategies where the company outsources eDiscovery which has major costs and impacts across the organization.  Some organizations have a pervasive and encompassing enterprise strategy that enables them to proactively manage information so that they can plan for the eventuality of eDiscovery and manage it in a reasonable and cost effective fashion when it occurs.
Centralized Requirements:
  • Enterprise-wide information analysis and strategy identifying the records in an organization and related classification, business process and improvement, stewardship, retention, disposal, storage, uptake, attribution, search, archival and disaster recovery.   This is initially painful, contentious and will take much longer than you or the organization expects, but has the potential to transform the organization into a highly agile, relative to it's size, and information savvy unit.
  • Complete management buy in, budgeting and planning with facility to monitor metrics and ROI and update strategy on a long term basis
  • Investment in information infrastructure, either in-house or outsourced, to accommodate the information, processes, retention, archival and disaster recovery.
  • Adoption of a service oriented central IT policy with SLA agreements for departments as clients.
  • Streamlining of the process for adapting to changes or new requirements in systems.
  • Massive an ongoing change management efforts related to information handling and creation
Centralized Benefits and Disadvantages
A centralized approach will have and upside and downside:
  • Easier information management enforcement
  • Economies of scale for infrastructure
  • Control over technologies and strategies
  • Centralized records management resources and technologies
  • Change management can be more easily managed
  • eDiscovery is more easily managed
  • Shared taxonomy, classification, attribution and search helps people find information across silos
  • Business processes across departments or units can be more easily automated
  • Less flexible ability to meet departmental or unit needs
  • Long and expensive implementation of solutions for departments
  • Inability to meet some departmental needs
  • Larger systems are more resistant to change
Since most centralized IT departments try to find a compromise solution or balance of centralized vs decentralized you still find records scattered across the various departments in a variety of systems.  Having a centralized set of guidelines for information management which is issued to departments and business units, providing a standard set of taxonomy, classification, attribution and search does help.  The problem with that is in the enforcement and implementation of projects within departments where the larger enterprise needs are not included in the scope and solutions are put in place which create silos of information and multiple points of records management administration.
This, imho, is the greatest challenge to CIOs responsible for enterprise information.  Records Management falls naturally under the responsibility of the CIO.  While there is cross over into compliance and legal issues it needs to be a core responsibility  of information management.  The challenge is to find a way to meet departmental needs and still enable an enterprise view of records within the organization within a single point of records management administration.  The technical challenge is to find a way to do it without vendor lock-in or horrendous services costs for integrations.  The records management challenge is to manage to see the taxonomy and classification from the perspective of all the organization stakeholders and find a way to present it in an intuitive and technically feasible manner.
How does your organization manage this balance?

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