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Records Management Needs a Refresh

September 22, 2022 Information Management
Siobhan Fagan
By Siobhan Fagan

The inextricable link between information management, governance and records management means the health of one can drag down the health of the others. In that light, AIIM's 2022 State of the Intelligent Information Management Industry report should serve as a call for companies to take preventative measures. While the report shows clear signs of progress, it’s nowhere near enough to tackle the increasing velocity, variety and volume of information on hand.

As often happens in the enterprise world, attention is easily shifted to the shiniest new toy (read: metaverse, Web3, trend du jour) while the workhorses of the workplace go neglected. For example, despite 65% of respondents identifying document management as the most important digital workplace technology in our recent 2022 State of the Digital Workplace Report, only 34% report that it "works well."

These foundational elements need to be in good shape before companies can add on new layers of tools. Note that the issue is not always the technology itself. Just as often it is the processes and the fundamental attitudes towards that area that are as much in need of a do-over.

Records management is one such case in point. 

Records Management in 2022

Reading the AIIM report and conclusions, you might be inclined to think not much has changed in the world of information management for a long time. When the non-profit industry association surveyed its community members last year, it found most gave their organizations — on average — a "C" grade for their information management efforts.

This year's follow-up survey points to a widening gap between the ideal state and the current when it comes to executive alignment of information management/governance strategies and business strategies. Four main findings of the 2022 research stood out:

  1. Despite good intentions, organizations can’t seem to get out of their risk/compliance comfort zone. That takes a commitment to embracing change and look for new ways to accomplish goals.
  2. An information management/governance program focused on risk/regulations/compliance fails to move the needle in the right direction.
  3. Using better information for improved customer (internal and external) experience is key to getting improved information management/business alignment.
  4. A holistic approach is ideal, but offering better data access and better process automation is the best way to win over users, be they internal or external.

Of course, not every company is the same. Organizations that are adopting a data-driven governance, compliance and records management program are more likely to succeed with digital transformation efforts, the research concluded. 

Related Article: Information Governance Is Boring, But Necessary

Does Records Management Still Matter in 2022?

If you're wondering if records management is still relevant today, turns out the issue may actually be more important than ever before. The practice has remained in the shadows for years, as more glamorous fields such as analytics garner widespread attention, but ZLTech president, CEO and co-founder Kon Leong believes records management is undertaking an evolution that places it at the epicenter of digital transformation. 

Records management is evolving from managing only traditional business records to managing critical information that lies in a myriad of sources, including instant messages or Zoom recordings, he argues. In essence, it's a move from records management to records and information management, otherwise known as RIM.

Scott Francis, technology evangelist at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Fujitsu Computer Products of America, said in today's digital workplace, the dual needs of securing confidential information and supporting a decentralized workforce are “must have” capabilities for businesses of all sizes.  

The next wave of information technology, he said, is supporting this by utilizing artificial intelligence to automatically classify records, identify confidential information for redaction and by automating records management workflows. AI is also being used to power intelligent searches to quickly locate information. New products on the horizon, including Microsoft Purview, will further expand the reach of this technology.

Related Article: Should Information Management Focus on the Customer or Risk?

Record Management Solutions

One problem is companies are managing records using a broad range of solutions or, alarmingly, not at all when it comes to their electronic records, said Rich Hale, CTO at Reston, Va.-based ActiveNav. The truth is, he said, the records management discipline has historically struggled to assert significant influence over information and records management practices and new technologies, even when the bulk of information and knowledge work has shifted away from paper.

There's no lack of available technology solutions; some focused on streamlining the overall management process for records, whether physical or electronic (retention schedules, disposition policies, legal citations, etc.), while others seek to apply records discipline to electronic repositories (such as SharePoint or Box). 

“The difficulty now is organizations who didn't keep up effectively lost control of their electronic information many years ago,” Hale said. “Yet, they are now required by new regulations to apply records management practices across a multitude of diverse data repositories, as well as to huge accumulations of what I call dark data — unknown, unstructured, opaque, digital data found in places like file shares or audio files — that is risky and worthless in its current state."

Records Management Starts With People

Businesses shouldn't fall into the trap of believing technology alone can solve the problem. "People tend to adopt a technology-first approach to these kinds of problems, when they ought to be starting on the people side of it," said John Mancini, president of Herndon, Va.-based Content Results. 

Records management suffers in part because of a long-held belief that it was up to individual workers to uphold records management standards — an approach that rarely, if ever, worked before but has now become untenable given the decentralization of information, Mancini said. He sees automation playing a part in ensuring compliance, but before automation can kick in, records managers themselves need to step up to a more diplomatic and strategic role. 

Mancini cites the disparity between how an IT leader and a lawyer views records management: in the case of the former, they'll set an arbitrary timeline — 30 or 90 days — before deleting the record. Legal sees red flags wherever records are retained, so they push for deleting on a frequent basis. It's up to records managers to arbitrate between these differing views to clearly articulate the value records management provides.

"Information is the most critical asset we have in a digital age, and we have to adopt consistent strategies and policies to protect it and make it secure and make it private and make it accessible," Mancini said.

The key, he said, is a change in mindset from it being an activity done in retrospect because it's supposed to be done to it being a critical driver of the organization's future success. When records managers can successfully make that leap themselves and then convince others to view them as the information stewards they are rather than gatekeepers, only then will they be able to push records management forward.

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