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Information governance tips for 'paralyzed' records managers

Records managers now confront a growing -- and daunting -- volume of information. Get tips for navigating the storm.

Records management is rapidly becoming a necessity for many organizations, but it's also an intimidating prospect. Many records managers are" "kind of paralyzed" and are unsure of how to begin, according to Steve Goodfellow, the president of Access Systems Inc., an IT services firm in Manlius, N.Y., and a speaker at the ARMA Live 2013 conference.

Records managers often have hundreds of boxes of physical records as well as digital information that they need to store, manage and back up. They also need to make that information searchable and accessible, especially in the case of legal action requiring e-discovery proceedings.

According to Goodfellow, the problems that records managers face today stem from the rapid pace of technological change and an age-old problem: Managing physical and digital records -- while completely possible -- requires a solid, cohesive system that can encompass both universes.

Steve GoodfellowSteve Goodfellow

Many organizations have processes in place that stand in the way of successful records management. For example, some organizations regularly copy data and store it on local hard drives as well as centralized servers. Duplicative archiving creates problems by jeopardizing the single authoritative, or golden, image of a record. In other situations, companies have brought in new technologies that don't suit their business processes well. As a result, users may flout processes and manage records improperly or not at all. So, overall information governance strategy is also critical.

SearchContentManagement talked with Goodfellow in advance of the ARMA Live conference to discuss the latest trends, including the impact of mobile and social technologies, and how records managers should really think about information to create a solid records-management strategy.

In the digital age, [records managers] have even less control. It's easy to create a digital record.

Steve Goodfellow,
president, Access Systems Inc.

Why do you think that records managers are paralyzed?

Steve Goodfellow: Even in the old days, when it was just paper records, it was challenging for people because the records manager didn't have oversight or control over all areas of an organization. Now in the digital age, they have even less control. It's easy to create a digital record. We have more devices [and] we are storing [information] in more places -- both inside and outside the organization.

And it's not just one person within IT who will have the answer. It also involves the legal department and others. But when you have multiple people involved, you likely have more formats and more people storing files in all these different areas. We also have a lot of data and it's only growing. They don't know where to start.

How have trends in IT such as mobile and social changed the records-management landscape?

Goodfellow: It has created more repositories out there. Going back to the mainframe days, these companies had the glass room with the mainframe and all the information [was centralized]. And then it went to the distributed model with desktop PCs, both in the data center and locally. Now we have mobile devices, which expand the universe even more.

What's happening is the realization that we need to consolidate where this information is being stored.

Steve Goodfellow,
president, Access Systems Inc.

But what's happening is the realization that we need to consolidate where this information is being stored. The data center may believe it has the golden copy, but the data also resides on smartphones and tablets in addition to the golden image. People also don't trust the backups, and they have saved local copies as well.

When you are faced with an e-discovery event, everything is discoverable. So you need to manage records and non-records [such as when employees make copies of official records]. When you make a copy, there is an official record placed in a repository but also a copy stored on a local drive. The organization may be managing that golden copy, but not the local copy. Even after the official copy is destroyed, a local copy could be sitting there and that information is discoverable. If opposing counsel wants to be aggressive, they could say your retention schedule isn't valid because you are keeping other copies.

How do tools help create a more cohesive records-management strategy?

Goodfellow: It's not just one tool. The easy answer would be an enterprise content management system. But that is more of an umbrella term. That is where you take in other modules that would plug into that, such as records management, compliance and greater search capabilities. Many organizations will go out and buy something. But often the cost of the system is only a fraction of the total cost.

We're involved in a project now, where a company wanted an enterprise content management system. We asked which records and documents they wanted to store there, and they pointed to [a basement full of records]. That is usually a recipe for failure. You want to capture all this information [digitally, not just leave it on paper]. You also want to integrate it into the way people work today as much as you can.

What was your recommendation to this company?

Goodfellow: What we're doing now is reviewing what is down there and purging what can be thrown away so we have a smaller population. But their initial thought was [to put all of the information into the same records-management system]. But that usually doesn't work as smoothly as you would expect. All that information created years ago may be created differently today. Scanning is time-consuming as well. There is no sense printing out an email and putting it in a folder to be scanned later. Why not capture that while you're working in Outlook now rather than later?

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Or consider invoices. A finance department files by invoice number. But departments that purchase the equipment want to file by project, vendor name or some other method. What happens now is the finance department files and a copy is made and it is stored in another department via another method. The ideal is to store that invoice once and retrieve by all this different criteria.

How can poor records management affect the cost of e-discovery?

Goodfellow: When you're involved in discovery, it's extremely expensive because you have to pull resources that are assigned to other tasks to find this information and then lock it down. And someone or a group has to go through all that information. Usually the outside counsel is doing that; and as we know, attorneys are expensive, so paying for that time can get costly.

Should records management be more centralized?

Goodfellow: Yes, but it all comes down to trust. You need to have a trusted system, and all parties have to believe in it.

For more on records management, see part two of this interview.

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