Enterprise Software

Record Management 101: Create an action plan

The point of a record management program is to give users the ability to retrieve records. Here are some general guidelines on how to structure your RM program and plan for both a successful records policy and technical implementation.

By Sean Haeberlin

It’s a huge undertaking, but all firms, large or small, should have a record management (RM) program in place to help users retrieve records effectively and efficiently. Given the complexity of most enterprises these days, this may seem like an insurmountable task. But these guidelines will get you on your way.

Answer the question: Who owns the records?
TechRepublic Vice-President Bob Artner recently wrote an article about record retention policies and factors that can complicate their implementation within an organization. One key question is exactly who owns the information. Records belong to whoever signs the paycheck.

Informing stakeholders that they do not own the records can take a little diplomacy. Generally, your argument begins with “Do you own the chair you sit in at your desk?” or “Do you own the computer you’re working on?” and ends with “Do you own the projects you’re creating using that desk and computer?”

It’s the role of the record manager to elicit the total support of management and the participation and agreement of all stakeholders. Once employees recognize that, in return for remuneration, they’re giving up ownership of their work, the task of a record manager becomes a little easier.

How do you create an RM program?
Files, paper, photographs, books, and e-mails are all variations on the same theme; they are simply media that has captured some activity. In short, they are records.

Every record fits into a classification scheme as being either active or inactive. Within the classification scheme, the record belongs in a particular series, such as progress reports, presentation materials, or design specs. The series belongs to a particular category—historical, or administrative, for example—that determines whether the records are to be retained or thrown away. Figure A shows the basic structure of a record management program.

Figure A
A record management program is structured by functional categories.

An active record necessary for the normal operation of a program or area. These records normally are referred to at least once every couple of months. The underlying criterion is frequency of use, so the last modified date of a file is a very poor guideline for this category. Sort the records on the last access date and you’ll get an overview of which records are truly active and which records are inactive. You may find that records that were created years ago are in constant use, while records created in the last few months are never accessed. Inactive records should be moved to another storage area that duplicates the folder structure of your active records.

A record manager’s looks at inactive records and determines which records are vital or non-vital. Generally, you determine if a record is vital by identifying it according to the following categories: historical, legal, research, fiscal, and administrative. You create a few forms or other data capture devices to tag documents with this information, and then you’re ready to undertake an action plan.

An action plan for a small company or network would incorporate these four key steps.

1. Involve the firm’s decision makers
It’s impossible for an RM program to succeed without the involvement of the firm’s decisions makers. These key stakeholders are the ones who frame the record-management policy. Your role is to provide them with sufficient information so they can make smart policy decisions.

You have two primary goals in involving decision makers. First, since they’ll have a broad view of the firm, they can objectify records, meaning that they can get people used to the idea that there is no personal ownership of information. Second, you want to establish the necessary authority to conduct a record management program. Having decision makers assign RM team members will allow you to assume the role of coordinator and establish your authority.

2. Define the scope
The scope of record management for the IT manager will be all electronic files. Don’t try to extend the program to paper records and designate e-mail as a separate project. However, data on local hard drives will have to be part of the RM program.

If you discover that employees have active files stored on their local hard drives, you must take remedial action, like moving the files to central storage or encompassing the local hard drive as part of your central store scheme. You must document any exceptions to this rule for reasons such as insufficient network bandwidth for video editing. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself awash in files that lay outside your classification scheme.

E-mail will be difficult to classify. You’ll have to have a separate record management program just to provide the framework to review these vagaries. For example, attachments that are technical drawings or an e-mail confirming a contract do not belong in someone’s inbox.

3. Develop a classification scheme
Your classification scheme is your folder hierarchy and should group similar records either by department, project, or some other underlying gathering principal. This is, in record management parlance, profiling your record series. For instance, the following series may stand out immediately:
  • Progress reports
  • Presentation materials
  • Fiscal files
  • Design specifications
  • Project details
  • Proposal files

Depending on your company’s unique activity, other clear record series will become apparent. The key is to examine produced records and start compiling a list of independent record series.

It’s a good idea, at this point, to present the record series to the firm’s decision makers. The purpose is to educate them as to record management principals. When they see that records belong to a series and not to “their project,” they won’t object as much when it comes time to delete records.

Once you have your record series in place, your RM program is under way. You can now turn your attention to active and inactive records so as to arrive at an RM program’s final stage, Record Retention (RR).

4. Index your records for easy retrieval from inactive state
When it comes to storing inactive records, space is a concept, not a boundary. Your only real concern is retrieval.

You’ve heard the old expression that in real estate the most important considerations are location, location, location. In the case of a record retrieval system, the driving forces are index, index, index. Creating a database of inactive records is essential. You must make multiple access points available to end-users. Fortunately, additional access points outside the database are becoming available in modern operation systems and applications.

Become familiar with the indexing systems and review the record management capabilities of your applications. For example, Microsoft Word lets you apply a wide variety of custom document properties, from the document’s destination to who typed the document (to check out this feature, go to File | Properties and click the Custom tab). Pay attention to these features, and the retrieval of inactive records will become less daunting.

Your network’s data is now structured by a classification structure, the files in each folder belong to a record series, and you have two large chunks of data—active records and inactive records. At this point you must deal with inactive records through the use of a record retention schedule. I’ll discuss how to do that in part two of this series, "Record Management 102: Develop a record retention program."

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