Records Management in the Information Age — but how do you do that (Part I)?

As Tina Torres, Microsoft’s Corporate Records Manager, mentioned in her last post, the major challenges for records managers in the information age are: (1) keeping what you need to keep, and (2) avoiding the unnecessary retention of content that you don’t need to retain. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately it’s not so simple, for a few reasons. Firstly, as Tina mentioned, the tools that knowledge workers use to collaborate and to create and work on information have multiplied and become highly decentralized. (And if you think that this problem doesn’t apply to your organization, keep in mind that e-mail is the #1 collaboration tool for knowledge workers.) Secondly, becoming involved in the management of these “collaborative tools/spaces” is outside the traditional boundaries of a records management program, which generally begin from the point in time that the records are acquired/declared/classified rather than how to make sure that the right information is being acquired, and how to manage the information that isn’t.

But here’s the good news – over the next few weeks we’re going to be sharing with you our thoughts on how to approach these problems (and why they’re not as hard or unsolvable as they might seem), and the capabilities in the 2007 release of the Microsoft Office system that will enable you to address these problems directly, so you can implement records management programs that meet the needs of an enterprise in the information age.

And rather than leave you with just a promise that the answer is coming soon, here’s the “20,000 foot view” of how to think about your company’s information infrastructure in terms of records management.

The two types of “spaces”

Your organization’s information infrastructure consists of 2 different types of spaces – “collaborative spaces” where knowledge workers do their work (including creating information, some of which may become records), and “records spaces” where records managers administer the business records that must be retained beyond the period of time when they’re useful to the knowledge workers who created them. Let’s examine each space in more detail:

“Collaborative spaces”

These is where the employees of your organization do their daily work. Examples include e-mail, file shares, Web-based collaboration tools like SharePoint, or line-of-business applications. But independent of the particular tool or application your company is using, all collaborative spaces share the following characteristics:

·         They’re designed to maximize employee productivity: These tools are intended to support knowledge workers and make them as efficient at doing their jobs as possible. This is why so many collaborative resources are decentralized or not tightly managed – because doing so would slow down knowledge workers (or at least cause them to stop using that space and start circumventing the system by using less-controlled tools like e-mail). And because maximizing productivity isn’t aligned with the goals of corporate records management, the decisions employees and IT administrators make here about what to keep or delete won’t be consistent with the company’s records retention goals – so these are NOT the right places to keep business records for any long period of time.


·         Most of the content created in a collaborative space  are NOT records: During the normal course of business, knowledge workers generate a lot of information. Some of this information constitutes business records -- i.e. documents and other information that need to be kept in order to preserve the “corporate memory” of company activity. However, most of the information created in these collaborative spaces is of short-term value and only valuable to the people involved in its creation and does not need to be retained.

So what should the objectives be for a records management program as it applies to collaborative spaces?

1)     Because some of the information created in these collaborative spaces are records, there needs to be a mechanism for collecting those records out of those spaces and into the “records space” (which are controlled by a records manager in accordance with the corporate retention schedule.)

2)     Since the organization isn’t required to retain most of the information in these collaborative spaces for a long period of time, records managers should be ensuring that the non-record information is disposed of as soon as it’s no longer of business value to knowledge workers.
(And while this will be the subject of a future post, it’s worth noting that Information Technology administrators in your organization will be happy to work with records managers on this – because disposing of this content more quickly will reduce their management and storage costs.)

3)     Because knowledge workers are the “kings” of collaborative spaces, records managers have to meet the first two objectives while requiring minimal knowledge worker participation – because anything that slows down knowledge workers in doing their jobs will meet with their resistance and with inconsistent compliance.  

The good news is that, as the above points imply, collaborative spaces do NOT require full-blown records management – you can succeed on all of these goals without needing a long file plan and retention schedule for information in collaborative spaces.

But you will need to figure out an appropriate “record keeping” strategy for these spaces, and you will need tools built into these spaces that can implement the strategy in a way that doesn’t disrupt knowledge workers while they’re doing their jobs. 

In our next posting, we’ll complete the picture by looking at the role of “records spaces” in this overall model (which includes all of the traditional duties of records management), and over the next few weeks we’ll “zoom in” on this picture to talk about the tools available in the 2007 Office system to manage both these types of spaces, how records managers should work with IT to help plan and manage these spaces, and much more. 

Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager

Comments (11)
  1. I’m not sure I agree with the comment that "collaborative spaces do NOT require full-blown records management", particularly in highly regulated industries such as pharmaceutical R&D. This space is where many legal discovery teams have had a field day due to lack of RM control! In fact, there is a sense in which records created in collaborative spaces need greater control due to the potential risks to the organization if not managed correctly.

  2. Hef says:

    Some very interesting work has been done in the state of Victoria, Australia addressing long term retention issues with electronic records.     Please look at Other states aren’t as advanced, and the Commonwealth government is usually well behind the technology curve (still fighting against the replacement of the abacus in some departments 🙂 ).

    One of the problems with records – they’re many things to many people, usually important to records sections, legal sections and auditors, but last week’s news to executives with short attention spans, which can be a problem in government departments that lurch from crisis to crisis.  One national government department I worked for had considerable crisis management skills – they let everything wait until it became a crisis.

    Also, there is an international standard IS 15489.  Being able to tick off against it would be a marketing edge with many governments.



  3. Rammell Consulting,

    Sorry, you’re right… I guess we missed the word “generally” in this post… the sentence should read “collaborative spaces generally do not require…”

    And you’re absolutely right that collaborative spaces need some RM control, especially in regulated industries.  I think this point is important enough that it’s worth elaborating on in our next post (so please read on there…)  

    Thanks for your opinions & feedback. This level of discussion is exactly what we’re hoping to foster in this blog.

    – Ethan Gur-esh, Program Manager

  4. Frank Big Hat says:

    The challenge is posed by the point at which something that exists in a collaborative space becomes a record.  This depends on the cutltural and administrative heritage of the organisation.  In the UK the Public Records Act, 1958, defines what constitutes a "public record" as anything that conveys information in any form(at) whatsooever from the moment it is created or received.  There is no requirement to declare something to be a "record".  The concept of declaring something to be a record appears to have its origins in guidance issued by the Dominions Office in the 1930’s, hence the Australian practice.  The situation in former British colonies tends to follow the UK practice more closely. That’s history for you! Any RM software must have a switch to cope with these differing traditions.  When it comes to retention periods these can be anticipated  for most records (documents, electronic objects or whatever you label them)but for some it is less obvious.  In the paper world the appraisal process often involves recognising not only the originator of a document or comment but also assessing the significance of their contribution; that is its tone and content.  You have apologised for the omission of the word "generally" but omitting or including "not" from a sentence can be disasterous!  Perhaps the Center for Natural Language Processing at Syracuse University could contribute to this discussion.

  5. Since "corporate memory" also has a value to the organization, it also need to have some type of management applied to it.  Without making some effort to organize and preserve corporate memory, the value of the work done by knowledge workers will be lost and the lessons learned will not be passed on.

    Organizations need to recognize the value of that information and develop processes to at least distill it from both successful and unsuccessful ventures.  This is a grey area for records management at this point because it comes under the heading of "operational value" which is very subjective.

    Somehow this middle ground needs to be examined as well.


  6. Anne says:


    Your comments re the Victorian and Australian Government policies on retention of electronic records are a little uninformed.

    The National Archives of Australia’s epermanence project is world-class, and is an effective way of ensuring records will be accessible for many decades to come, without Victoria’s reliance on proprietary software.

    The Archives website is at

  7. Finally! After much patience on the part of this community, we can now talk about the next big area…

  8. Raul Ribeiro says:

    SharePoint 2007 – General information SharePoint Server 2007 – Hidden gems Microsoft Office SharePoint

  9. What a week! Most of the Records Management team is now back in Redmond from the ARMA International Conference

  10. There are many challenges in getting an RM department and an IT department to work together: cultural

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content