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Records management must evolve into retention management, expert says

Traditional records management has failed given the explosion of information in the digital era, says expert and AIIM conference speaker Nick Inglis.

Many practitioners agree that traditional records management has failed to meet the challenges of the digital era....

With its principles born in a paper-based, manually driven age, records management has struggled to move into the realm of true information governance. While records management has created a secure, centralized repository for documents with an audit trail, tracking and workflows, it needs to broaden its scope to incorporate new content formats, and be more readily accessible, more searchable and easier to use.

If problems with the platforms weren't enough, new challenges have swept in to compound the already difficult transition. An explosion of information from new sources and formats, mobility and the consumerization of IT -- as well as cloud computing-- have put additional pressure on records management to step into the modern era.

Nick Inglis, founder of LeftGen, partner at Optismo and AIIM speaker, sat down with SearchContentManagement to talk about how records management can evolve into information governance and retention management. He also gave a preview of some of what he will discuss in his session, Governance in the Midst of Chaos, at the AIIM 2014 conference.

Trends like cloud, social and mobile have changed the requirements of enterprise content management (ECM) software, as well as users' expectations. It's no longer just about storing content in a repository; it's a different way of interacting with information. How have these developments brought new challenges to records and information management?

Nick InglisNick Inglis

Nick Inglis: One of the themes for me at AIIM, and the sentence you will hear me repeat is, 'The records management experiment has failed,' because of all these trends converging at the same time. Because of the sheer volume that we're being charged to manage, records management and its core tenets are no longer working.

Why has the traditional mandate failed?

Inglis: Back in the simpler days, we would get a piece of mail and we would look at the content. If it was something we wanted to retain, we could declare it as a record, put it in a folder, and put it in a file cabinet.

We have kept that same model going for the past 80, 90 years, except that we moved it into a digital format. At this point, that model in itself is no longer sustainable because of the volume of information. And, we have now delegated operations to our users. So we say, 'Mr. Employee, you decide what's a record and what's not.'

And now we have gotten to the point where we are great at disposing of paper records in our records management system. Chances are there is another copy of that on the employee's laptop, desktop, mobile device, their cell phone. So we're disposing of things, but we're not disposing of things from the enterprise. We're not reducing risk for the organization, we're not ensuring compliance -- we're not doing anything if the information still resides in the organization, despite disposing of [records] from the records management system.

We need to move the model. If we had the chance to start over, what would this look like? It wouldn't look like records management. It would look more like retention management.

What do you mean by retention management?

Inglis: Instead of the core of our focus being declaring information as records, look at the core of our function in reducing risk and ensuring compliance as classifying all information within the organization, and then applying retention around that classification. We had in records management the big buckets, if you will. Instead of applying that to the narrow focus of records, we need to apply across all organizational information.

How does your proposal get us on the path to retention management, deal with the massive amount of information, and make decisions with guidance about what to retain and manage?

The records management experiment has failed.

Nick Inglis,

Inglis: Everything needs to be retained and managed. The focus is on length of disposition and how we form our taxonomy and classification schemes. Rather than focus on differentiation between records and non-records, which doesn't serve us, say, 'Here are the different types of information that exist within our organization and how long should each be retained for?'

The most logical way forward for the retention management shift to work is to do it based on a classification scheme. If a user fills out this set of metadata, we identify it and categorize it.

Are there integration issues with aggregating this data when we have information residing in all these different places?

Inglis: Right now, you can't get systems to talk to each other. There are a couple of vendors -- Nuix and RSD, for example -- that are trying to change this. They are applying rules to multiple repositories. But they are still taking the records management approach of, 'How do we apply retention rules to our various categories of records?'

In the next five years, we'll have vendors that are changing their scope, and we'll also see some new vendors cropping up that focus on this core problem.

Do you see ECM vendors getting into this game?

Inglis: It would make a lot of sense for them to. I don't see a lot of them recognizing the problem yet, though. Because they're focused on information management and content management, a lot of them, their thinking is to take on the behemoth -- SharePoint. Their management capabilities are making RM [records management] an afterthought. Let's have the vendors fill the space with third-party apps and add-ons. I don't think they recognize it as a problem.

We started by talking about how the technology might need to mature. But how do people fit into this equation?

Inglis: Records management folks have been seeing the writing on the wall. At last year's ARMA conference one of the themes was the ongoing marginalization of records management professionals. They're moving from records management to information governance -- that's a really strong step to stay ahead of what could make them obsolete. But after that, move from information governance to information governance and retention management. It's still information governance. It doesn't incorporate all the different kinds of information that have been left by the wayside.

Someone has to manage this stuff. It's not like we can just leave it to IT.

Inglis: God, no. I think that would be a disaster.

Or do users play a role in this process?

Inglis: It's probably not the users. We've done all this work in delegating records out to users, and it frankly hasn't worked. We have to bring it back inside of the information management space. The most valuable people will be those building taxonomies and those building retention rules.

I'm not sure who ends up taking up the disposition rules -- my assumption is records managers. It's the same core function, but applying that across all enterprise information. But, at this point, are they up for the challenge? Most of what I have seen from that space has been, let's hold on to these core tenets and just try to broaden their appeal, but not actually change the way information is managed.

For more, check out SearchContentManagement's coverage of the event. You can also follow the Information Chaos conversation at #AIIM14 and #infochaos.

Lauren Horwitz is executive editor of SearchContentManagement and SearchCRM. Laura Aberle is the site editor of SearchContentManagement.

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