Five Reasons Why Records Managers Need to Care about Content Management

How can you tell the difference between an introverted records manager and an extroverted records manager?  The extrovert stares at your shoes when they talk to you.

That’s actually an old accounting joke and the subtext here is that records managers are boring because records management is boring.  The last thing that people doing cool knowledge management, dynamic content, or search projects want to consider is records processes.  Boring!

The topic brings to mind the old days of file rooms and file clerks.  But these are not the old days and there are reasons now for all information management professionals to care about RM.    Records are created by everyone, everywhere, on all kinds of devices.  A record can be anything that is used in the course of executing a transaction, performing day to day work tasks or that is created in support of a transaction.  That means that we are all creating records.  Records processes are distributed and ad hoc and in most organizations not well managed due to the fact that evolution of technology has happened more quickly than processes can keep up with. 

Here are five reasons why you need to adopt a records management perspective:

  1. RM projects are mandated by legal compliance issues – if you are not maintaining vital records that support business transactions your organization is open to major liability issues
  2. RM projects force organizations to maintain content management discipline – RM is a subset of content and document management.  By maintaining good records management hygiene, you are forcing the organization to consider content processes
  3. Good RM will go a long way to cleaning up your content – Most people are information packrats; they keep everything and don’t like to throw things away.  If content continues to pile up and you have shared drives and intranets filled with out dated trivial and redundant content (the so called R.O.T.), then it is that much harder to locate valuable content and your shared drives and search results will be overloaded with junk.  Throw out the trash and you’ll make content management that much easier
  4. RM can pay for Content Management projects – at one client, we found overt $1 Million in cost savings by eliminating over retained information. This included physical files that were past their retention periods as well as an enormous amount of electronic documents that no one every looked at, cared about, or needed for anything.  By freeing up all that drive space and eliminating fees for physical records, the organization was able to justify staff to manage content, new applications and consulting services. 
  5. RM projects will save money in the long term and reduce legal exposure – legal discovery requests can cost organizations tens of millions of dollars per year.  By having good records processes in place, you are reducing the costs of responding to discovery and getting rid of information that could cause problems when opposing counsel goes on information fishing expeditions. 

But most importantly, a records management project can help with the development of taxonomies, metadata and information architecture.  File plans are the equivalent of Information Architecture in RM and can be developed with multiple purposes in mind. One can develop a file plan for legal compliance that can also be used for retrieval of information assets in the context of a work task.  So RM programs can be knowledge management programs. 

One of our projects for a major oil company in Canada had just this purpose in mind.  They did not want the records retention and file plan details to be visible to users.  They only wanted them to tag and organize their documents according to their department’s business purpose.  While doing so, the classification was set up in such a way that behind the scenes, documents in specific categories were automatically classified as records with the correct retention schedule and retention period. 

In summary, a records management perspective will add value to your content management initiative.  Take a records management perspective in throwing away the things that are not needed.  If a piece of content is not needed for a business purpose, and is not needed for a legal purpose, then eliminate it.  More importantly, an RM perspective helps identify what is important from one very valuable perspective – the legal and regulatory compliance perspective. This can save your company a boatload of time, trouble and money. 

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Seth Earley

Seth Earley is the Founder & CEO of Earley Information Science and the author of the award winning book The AI-Powered Enterprise: Harness the Power of Ontologies to Make Your Business Smarter, Faster, and More Profitable. An expert with 20+ years experience in Knowledge Strategy, Data and Information Architecture, Search-based Applications and Information Findability solutions. He has worked with a diverse roster of Fortune 1000 companies helping them to achieve higher levels of operating performance.