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Developing and enforcing a robust compliance program is the cost of doing business for organizations that want to avoid legal and regulatory hassles. There's nothing like a crisis to make organizations true believers in the importance of this discipline -- but a proactive compliance strategy offers a better chance of improving efficiency and thereby providing return on investment.
Compliance is the act of ensuring an organization's content management practices abide by relevant guidelines, regulations and laws. It encompasses developing and enforcing policies for records retention and disposal, as well as ensuring the company's reporting and auditability practices will keep legislators, opposing counsel and industry oversight bodies happy.
In practice, this often translates to retaining documents for a mandated period of time and ensuring they can be retrieved, as needed, to prove that a given company has followed the rules.
Compliance is an important motivator for records management initiatives.
But, sadly, these efforts tend to gain traction only when executives are either under threat of sanction for noncompliance -- such as fines or jail time -- or believe they may soon be. The result is a sense of urgency that encourages shortcuts and leaves business value on the table.
A proactive compliance strategy is a better approach. Begin compliance and records management initiatives before trouble arises to go beyond simply meeting regulatory requirements. Consider the potential benefits of extending records disciplines to all company data. This big-picture approach should start with records management, and extend into content management and information governance. A well-considered plan that incorporates these disciplines should set you up for some admirable operational payback. Here are a few examples:
- Improved retention and disposal policies can lead to lower e-discovery costs by culling outdated information, thereby reducing the amount of data that must be sifted through as part of a legal proceeding.
- Reduced clutter can enrich search and find capabilities, which speeds retrieval of relevant account data to improve customer service. It can also support improved decision making, by retaining only relevant information for business intelligence calculations.
- More effective reporting can enable increased productivity by providing telemetry regarding potential -- and actual -- process bottlenecks, whether they're of the human or technical variety.
- Better auditability can illuminate issues related to improper internal access to information, external threats to system security, areas that require additional staff training -- and yes, records policy compliance.
The news gets even better when you consider that two of the most critical technologies needed to realize these benefits are mainstream -- and likely already in your organization's possession to one degree or another. In my book, I call attention to the importance of metadata management and workflow/business process management. The first applies the descriptors needed to search for, find or retrieve the information in question, and the second gets that information to the people who need it to do their jobs.
This is another example that shows plans are best made with a bigger picture in mind. Otherwise, you can end up like clients that have installed some combination of OpenText, EMC Documentum and SharePoint, but haven't activated the metadata and workflow functionality or haven't interconnected them to enable a more unified information strategy. The result, in these cases, is that compliance becomes more complicated and true information governance becomes impossible.
But, when companies capitalize on the true benefits of records management -- such as alerts and workflows that make processes more automated and efficient, and knowledge management capabilities that enable workers to find the right information in context -- records management gives way to true operational efficiency and, possibly, cost reductions. This is where the real action is for companies that embark on records management. By rationalizing processes, automating and reducing steps, they can reduce costs, get access to information faster and create more streamlined processes.
In On Beyond Zebra, Dr. Seuss encouraged young readers to think beyond the seemingly fixed parameters of the conventional alphabet. That mindset can also yield benefits when it comes to compliance-oriented records management. Certainly important in its own right, the discipline really takes flight when you apply it to the rest of your organization. And, you might be surprised at the business benefits you can achieve by applying a fresh perspective.
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