The Automated Information Lifecycle Management Model: Part 3 – The Records Manager’s Challenge

Pogo PossumWe have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo (by way of Walt Kelly)

To make the Automated Information Lifecycle Management model work – and it must work – some serious challenges must be overcome by the three groups most affected by it: Records and Information Management professionals, Enterprise Content and Records Management product vendors, and records and information management services customers.

In this article, I’ll discuss the challenges those of us in the Records Management profession must resolve to successfully implement the Automated Information Lifecycle Management model. In subsequent articles, I will address the issues which the AILM model create for records and information management services customers and ECRM product vendors.

Records Management – really the effective management of recorded information through its lifecycle – has been a noble profession for thousands of years. For the vast majority of that time, we were tasked with maintaining, safeguarding and disposing of eye-readable information recorded on some form of physical media – whether carved in stone, painted on papyrus or printed on paper. But those few millennia are behind us now. Information recorded on paper is quickly becoming a novelty. In fact, for many organizations, it is already a liability.

Unfortunately, like any other profession that has existed for centuries, the methods we employed in the past have become deeply rooted in our culture. We have become so good at managing paper records that it is part of our collective DNA.

During the mid-90s, when the volumes of electronically stored information were first beginning to dominate physical records, and it became clear that this would be an irreversible trend, records managers were some of the first to address the changes this would require. But though our motives were pure, our deep seated culture biased toward physical records management wanted us to manage this electronically stored content using the same procedures we used for so long with paper-based records.

Thus began a twenty-year period of explosive record growth, cost prohibitive discovery requirements, lost institutional knowledge and a generation of information workers over-burdened by poorly defined and ineffective records management requirements.

So this is the challenge we now face. If records management is going to succeed in the 21st Century, those of us in the profession must be willing to remove ourselves from a physical records mindset and fully embrace the notion that technology provides us unique ways to manage the lifecycle of electronically stored information that are exponentially better than how the same information was managed in a paper format.

In practical terms, this means:

  • We must accept that the massive volumes of information created with modern technology mean that no records management solution will ever be perfect and a well-documented solution, planned and maintained in good faith, is good enough.
  • As more and more information traditionally created in an unstructured format moves into databases, the lifecycle requirements of structured information must take on an increasingly greater records management focus.
  • We must massively simplify our records management processes. Big Bucket retention schedules must be implemented enterprise-wide. Burdensome legacy file plans must be substantially streamlined. Multi-stage retention requirements, originally necessary for managing paper records, must be dramatically reduced or even eliminated. And content analytic tools must be leveraged to provide auto-tagging and auto-classification at every opportunity.
  • And we must make every effort possible to eliminate manual processes from the information lifecycle. End users must no longer be required to ‘declare’ and classify a record. Requirements for the manual approval of routine records management procedures, such as disposition and transfer, must be reduced to only a small number of the most critical records series. And the information lifecycle requirements of transactional material produced by routine business activities must be baked into the process itself, becoming completely transparent to everyone but those few people focused exclusively on records management.

The stakes could not be higher. Over-retention and over-preservation of information is the IT challenge of our times. It is the root cause of every other information management problem our organizations face. And only trained, experienced professional records managers using the latest technology to automate information lifecycle management can solve it. But first we have to free ourselves of some very old, very powerful cultural bias.

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