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Cutting through the vendor hype of records management software

If you're considering a records management software purchase, this discussion of ECM software and vendors may help cut through the vendor hype.

If you're looking for better ways to properly manage organizational records, you've probably discovered legions of enterprise content management (ECM) companies that promise to equip you for the job.

So how can you identify which records management vendor makes sense for your company?

The answer lies in understanding your current technology and compliance environment as well as the records management software market itself to identify must-have and nice-to-have features and the price you're willing to pay for them.

A lifecycle guide to records features and functions

Business records are like any other content type. They follow a particular lifecycle as they are captured, used, stored and disposed of: 

  • Declare a record. Recognize a record to be a record; identify it as a record.
  • Capture records. Include a record in a system that manages records.
  • Maintain and use records.
    • Organize records. Group records according to a predefined structure to meet business needs.
    • Maintain records security. Protect the integrity of records against unauthorized alteration or destruction.
    • Manage records access. Grant or limit the ability of individual(s) to examine records or record groupings.
    • Facilitate records retrieval. Provide or enable the ability to collect records relevant to a query.
    • Preserve records. Ensure the physical state of records so they remain usable.
    • Audit/oversight. Ensure compliance of agency recordkeeping practices with existing statutes and internal and external regulations.
  • Dispose of records. Eliminate from a system a group of records in compliance with the appropriate records retention schedule so that they cannot be accessed, retrieved or recovered.

Translating these into system features and functions gives you a shopping list that includes these critical capabilities:

  • Classification. This category may encompass file-plan management, taxonomy and metadata management, and auto-classification.
  • Capture. This category may include scanning and imaging as well as the automatic tagging of records that are "born digital" and the server-side filtering of email messages.
  • Security. This category encompasses policy enforcement and access control, as well as admin rights and privileges.
  • Search. This category includes capabilities to review files based on terms and e-discovery support.
  • Archiving and storage. These capabilities aren't merely for historical preservation but also for disaster recovery and business continuity purposes.
  • Usage/access tracking. This category of tasks ensures compliance and (with search) to support the placing of records on legal hold.

Nearly every vendor that purports to be in the records management space will say it supports all these functions. The trick, however, is to discern how and to what degree of depth they do it, and to see how good a fit they are for you. To find out the answer, here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the technology you're looking at go far enough to meet your needs, or does it merely scratch the surface of records management?
  • Similarly, do you need to purchase add-on modules (from the vendor, a partner or someone else entirely) to do the job?
  • Conversely, does it include functionality that you don't really need? One great example is support for DoD 5015.2, a records management standard originally developed by the U.S. Department of Defense that may be overkill for you. If so, why pay for it?
  • How much of the price tag is for software, and how much goes toward services and support?
  • Is the system scalable enough for you to add new records classifications, departments and/or geographies without having to start over?

It is in seeking answers to questions like these that your up-front work to understand your own environment pays off. You now will be able to determine and compare the suitability of the vendors' answers given your circumstances.

For more on information governance

Modernizing records management 

Records management guide

The ECM vendor landscape

With this information in your back pocket, the next question is: To whom will you ask them? The choices are many, and the software products' capabilities are similar. So a quick guide to the market may help you navigate your buying decision.

  • Established vendors. All the established enterprise content management players include records management in their feature set, including EMC Documentum, Hewlett-Packard's Autonomy, IBM ECM, OpenText ECM and Oracle WebCenter. These established players don't come cheap, but they have rich functionality and may appeal to organizations with complex structures and infrastructures.
  • Challengers. Many other ECM companies lack the footprint of the established players, but they may be more than capable of meeting your records needs. These include Alfresco Software, DocFinity, Hyland Software and -- depending on whom you ask -- Microsoft SharePoint (though it claims a substantial portion of the market and may also be considered an established player).
    These products are less complicated than established players, and perhaps less costly (especially after accounting for support and training). But they also may provide less breadth or depth, so consider any tradeoffs.
  • Niche players. Some vendors that focus on records and governance, rather than "content management" as a whole. Many concentrate on a specific set of application areas (accounts payable, e-discovery) or vertical markets that are subject to specific sets of regulatory requirements (like HIPAA in healthcare and Sarbanes-Oxley in financial services). Players here include companies like Access Sciences, Recall and RSD, among many others.

Understanding which vendors offer which kinds of features and services will pay off once you can compare products with one another based on your technology environment, your business needs and your staffing situation.

And that, after all, is the most important buying consideration of all.

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