Records management is traditionally associated with archivists and record managers in service industries. Yet the reality is that its prevalent in every business, making it difficult to underestimate its importance.
It’s “the lifeblood of any organisation… [and] the basis on which decisions are made, services provided and policies developed and communicated”, according to The Code of Practice on Records Management but it’s also crucial to meeting record keeping standards and compliance criteria.
Yet despite being a professional discipline in its own right, records management is seldom given the attention it deserves at senior management level and investment can tend to be compliance-led, with procurement left to IT. This can result in solutions being selected for for the wrong reasons. For instance, as records management encompasses a wide range of data, the priority will often be to select a solution based on ease of use and the user experience. While this is important – staff need to be able to use relevant search terms and retrieve records that relate to one another or they will sidestep the process – there are additional considerations.
Users want to automate where possible and integrate with third party products so that the process is streamlined. For them, it’s the access to information that is key, not how that information is classified. This contrasts markedly with the priorities of the records manager who, in addition to usability, needs to also be able to verify authenticity, reliability and integrity (the four pillars identified by the Code of Practice). It’s therefore key that a records management solution provides:
- Migration support: to transition data from legacy systems in addition to scanning mechanisms for the upload of new data
- Classification: a classification system that reflect the needs of the business, as opposed to a standard set of classification rules, and which provides context so that the connection of records to other records relating to the same matter is apparent
- Retention processes: a range of options rather than a single criteria or classification, for example retention grouped by business process
- Disposal: disposal mechanisms tailored to the life span of records in keeping with the organisation’s disposal management policy
- Capture: to be able to manage physical and electronic records together
- Governance: enabling the application of records management and compliance standards simultaneously
- Training: support that trains users on how to use the system rather than solely videos and self-help guides
- Visibility: access to all records so that the solution acts as a resource not a merely a storage facility
Failing to address these needs can make it far more difficult to implement a records management successfully. For example, libraries are not a substitute for a classification build. Setting a retention period and declaring a record is not the end of the process. And records can come in all sorts of guises, from documents to emails, all of which calls for a highly flexible solution that can accommodate and preserve different file types (for example, email data should be kept in a format that enables attachments to be opened and metadata preserved).
While it’s important to recognise that records management does naturally overlap with other areas of the business, such as information security and document management, the pendulum has swung too far away from the core needs of the record manager.
All too often record management doesn’t receive the attention it deserves until a law suit or compliance failure turns the spotlight on the business. This needs to change by raising the status of record managers within the organisation and including these professionals in the procurement process. We need to recognise the value that record management confers through the enforcement of standards and the location and retrieval of reliable information, and its pivotal role in providing the assurance that underpins the business.
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