This blog series will address the role that SharePoint can play in Records Management within an organization and the abilities and functionality that can be leveraged from the platform. The blog consists of four posts:
1. Introduction to Records Management, and Definition of Terms (this post)
The blog presents my views as a SharePoint expert into the vast and complex world of Records Management. It must be noted that, even in the space of a four-part series, there is not enough time to even scratch the surface of this multi-faceted, deep and complicated issue, and so this series presents an overview only.
Part 1: Introduction to Records Management, and Definition of Terms
SharePoint is an excellent platform that covers a multitude of scenarios and functions within a business. Key to enabling many of these is the ability that the product exhibits around document management.
Given this ability to manage, store, collaborate on and dispose of documents, SharePoint naturally extends into the world of Records Management. Records Management concerns the storage and deletion of content (usually, but not limited to, documents) according to fixed schedules and policies.
With so many companies using SharePoint for the creation, maintenance, collaboration and dissemination of content such as documents in their day-to-day working, it is useful to define how SharePoint can offer integrated functionality that extends to Records Management.
Wikipedia defines Records Management as “the practice of maintaining the records of an organization from the time they are created up to their eventual disposal. This may include classifying, storing, securing, and destruction (or in some cases, archival preservation) of records.” Unsurprisingly, ERM (electronic RM) deals with the concept of RM in electronic systems.
In a nutshell, ERM is the (usually long-term) storage, administration and disposition of documents and other electronic items according to internal or legislative requirements.
Records Management Forces
There are a lot of drivers and forces that cause an organization to adopt a Records Management strategy (part of which will usually be a Records Management System, although this forms only part of the overall RM process which encompasses the workflows, processes, people and external organizations that make up an RM strategy). Since the maintenance, review and disposal of records during and after their ‘normal’ lifecycle is a costly business, organizations must have strong motivations for wanting to retain records.
Generally, organizations have internal and external motivations for wanting to implement RM.
Internally, records may need to be retained as part of the business processes – for example, if the possibility of future litigation looms, for auditing purposes or for the future value inherent in large and long-running stores of data.
Externally, legislative causes are the main influence in RM within an organization. The more regulated an industry, the more likely it is that organizations within the industry will be required to implement a strategy for retaining records. Industries such as defense and banking are prime examples of this.
It must be said that, from experience, generally the legislative requirements for records management are so comprehensive and total that it is rare for an organization to be 100% compliant. In mitigation of this, most industries will pass an audit if they show sufficient progress, or more specifically can demonstrate plans, to move to towards compliance.
Definition of Terms
Records management is a complex and evolving topic, and it is often difficult to keep track of the terms and concepts. The below is my layman’s definitions of the terms used in RM, and how they apply to ERMS. The terms will be used in the next parts of the blog series, so feel free to skip them and return when you encounter a term in the rest of the text.
Note: I am a technology expert, not a RM expert, and these definitions reflect my understanding of the topic!
Manage in place vs. Record Move
Traditionally, when a document is declared as a record, it is copied or moved to another location (usually a Records Centre) where the correct security and retention policies are applied to it.
A relatively new trend in records management relies on “manage-in-place” records management, which leaves the document in its current location but declares it as a record and applies the appropriate security, retention and disposition to it. This is called a “manage-in-place” strategy.
A Records Centre is a central location for the administration and management of records. A company may have several records centers, each for different type of records, but usually a single records centre exists. If a manage-in-place strategy is being used, the centre is a location from which eDiscovery is performed, the process of discovering and administering distributed records.
Stubbing is simply the process of leaving a small “stub” in place when a document or record is removed or destroyed. It serves to indicate that a document or record was present at some stage, even though it is no longer present. This can be useful in cases where is necessary for legal reasons, for example, to prove that a record was disposed of or that it once existed.
A record usually refers to an article such as a digital or physical document that needs to be retained for a set period of time and then disposed of in a certain manner. A record can also be a physical item such as a flash drive or DVD, but usually refers to IP retained in a document.
Although in ERMS a record generally refers to a document, often (and more correctly) a record constitutes a set of documents that all share the same purpose, and therefore must be retained for the same time and disposed of in the same manner. For example, when an employee leaves a company, the company is required to retain all documentation relating to that employee for a certain period of years. The set of documents is often stored in the same folder in the FilePlan and that folder is referred to as the employee record.
The FilePlan refers to the structure and location of records in the records centre. It is often hierarchical and resembles a folder structure, although it can be more taxonomical and multi-faceted. Regardless of the organization, a File Plan is often comprised of hierarchical, embedded folders which contain either other folders at the root level downwards, or records at the leaf level.
How the file plan is structured directly affects how easily records can be maintained and administered. This is a critical consideration given that even the smallest records management sites usually exist for many years, allowing thousands of records to build up.
The Retention of a record refers to two things: (1) The time period that a record must be retained for after its trigger, and (2) the trigger that causes the retention period to begin. Retention time periods are usually specified in years and will conform to legislation and/or internal policies, and range from one to one hundred or more years.
Triggers are usually event-based. Events can be system-based, automated events such as “when record is declared”, or external event-based such as “when the employee leaves the company”. Events can also be based on dates or periods, such as “close of the financial year”.
A disposition refers to what happens to a record when its retention period expires. The name is misleading, as a disposition instruction for a record could be “Review and retain further”. A single disposition instruction refers to an action that can be applied to a record, and a disposition usually is a sequence, or workflow, of disposition instructions.
Disposition is usually the same for, and applied to, a record in the sense of a collection of documents, and as such is often defined and applied at the folder level.
The cutoff of a folder or record refers to the closure of the folder to accepting new documents. For example, a folder that is accepting documents relating to a project can be cutoff at the end of the project, which will close the folder to any new additions and (often) trigger the retention period for those documents. Cutoffs are often automatically performed based on a time period, for example folders can be cut off at the end of the financial year.
Often with time-based cutoffs, a new folder is automatically created and named for subsequent records to be moved to.
With records management systems that automatically move records into the correct location in the file plan, a Router is responsible for examining the properties of the document, determining the correct location in the file plan and moving the document to that location in the file plan. Where this is not possible a router may alert an administrative user or records manager that information is missing or incomplete, and the administrator can request further information or manually move the record to the correct location.
Routers often relieve the job of records managers that must manually move or declare all records, and are essential in environments where the number of records to be declared per day is above a few tens. Routers most often work by comparing the metadata properties of a document to a set of pre-defined property mappings, or rules, to determine the final location of the record.
Having examined the forces on RM, the definition of RM and the key terms used in its discussion, Part 2 will examine the role that a vanilla SharePoint Installation can play in RM out of the box.
Peter Reid has recently left Microsoft to travel. However, as his post series on RM is so good, we thought we should publish it! This blog post was published by James Kemp and written by:
Microsoft Consulting Services UK
Click here to see my bio
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