Essential Guide

A guide to modern records management challenges

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Records management software wish list: The 10 must-have features

Well-designed records management software has key features. An expert outlines the 10 must-have capabilities that should be on your 2014 wish list.

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A guide to modern records management challenges

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As we close out 2013 and look toward 2014, our attention should turn to our technology must-haves and wish lists.

Steve WeismannSteve Weismann

A wish list for records management software may include features that can facilitate handling regulatory changes that force policy revisions, corporate acquisitions that necessitate policy reconciliation, and mobile workers who require a broader sweep of monitoring and control.

If you're one of these, then here are 10 capabilities, grouped into three categories, that records managers should put on their wish lists for 2014.

Categorization

One of the functions most important to records management is categorization, or the grouping of similarly purposed documents into predefined "buckets" to facilitate their control and disposition. Accuracy and consistency are the watchwords here, and several features are available to help achieve these goals:

  • Easy indexing. Efficient search has become core to the records management function. This feature facilitates the proper and consistent tagging of records, which is key to effective records search and retrieval.
  • Auto-classification. Solid records management shunts documents into categories automatically. This feature expedites the identification of incoming documents as specific record types.
  • Metadata management. As business changes, metadata may need to reflect new categories or other descriptors. This feature enables instant updating and migration of records descriptors and categories in case a merger, acquisition or other business change requires it.

Management

Management is where the rubber of policies and procedures meets the road of compliance and accountability.

The heart of records management, as denoted by its name, is management, which in layperson's terms can be defined as the "care and feeding of organizational records." Here is where the rubber of policies and procedures meets the road of compliance and accountability. Among the core features here are the following:

  • Policy creation, revision and versioning. Companies need to adopt rules regarding their records; this capability lies at the heart of governance. These procedures outline how records are governed. Critical specific capabilities include the ability to place records on legal hold and to respond to e-discovery directives.
  • Retention/disposal schedule development. These features are critical to storing the right amount of data for the right amount of time. Such schedules codify the lifecycle milestones of hard-copy records and documents and those that are electronic, including multimedia files (e.g., call center recordings) and social media postings (Tweets, blogs, texts, etc.). All formats (doc, PDF, MP3, AVI, etc.) should be addressed, and adoption of an industry or corporate standard (say, PDF/A) may be desirable.
  • Tracking and auditing. Another key feature of records management is about tracking documents' status as well as those who interact with them. Tracking and auditing features keep tabs on specific records, who touched them, when and why. Part business intelligence and part workflow, the objective here is to be able to reconstruct the activities that affect any record or record set.
  • Archiving, disaster recovery, backup and restoration. Making copies of records on a regular basis in case something happens to the originals is a smart and well-established practice. But many organizations surprisingly still overlook the need to ensure that these backups are stored in a secure off-site facility so business can resume quickly should a natural disaster -- or a misfiring automatic sprinkler system -- destroy the primary repository.

Implementation

Implementation may be considered the "muscle" of records management; with it, the system enforces the policies and procedures in effect. Here are the must-have features for this category:

  • Security and access control. One cannot underestimate the importance of security provisions for records. These records management software features protect the integrity of records  and their associated metrics and metadata.
  • Interoperability. Increasingly, records management needs to work with other corporate content repositories, such as enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and human resources systems.
  • Usability. Finally, a common hurdle to effective records management is poor usability. This feature ensures that the system is straightforward to use and navigate by administrators and users alike. Otherwise, people will work around rather than through the system.

Many of these features are not unique to records management, and that's precisely why they're on the list. Too often, the discipline of records is treated as a second-class citizen. It doesn't produce revenue, it doesn't streamline workflow and it isn't "next-gen" or sexy. But if a lawsuit or high-profile audit emerges to expose records-keeping flaws, watch how quickly it gains visibility -- and how freely the IT dollars suddenly flow.

Best practice is to incorporate the features outlined above into your chosen records management software, and sooner rather than later. The good news is that many of these features are likely already in place as part of your organization's other IT stacks. If they're not, or if they haven't yet reached the records group, be sure to put them on your list for 2014.

This was first published in December 2013

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Essential Guide

A guide to modern records management challenges

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