Capturing the Elusive Record

Last week I delivered a Webcast (Collaboration: New Challenges for Electronic Records Management) on behalf of ARMA International (industry organization dedicated to the record management discipline). Historically, record managers have focused on paper-based records.

Last week I delivered a Webcast (Collaboration: New Challenges for Electronic Records Management) on behalf of ARMA International (industry organization dedicated to the record management discipline). Historically, record managers have focused on paper-based records. Today, most records start as electronic-based and new paper-based records are scanned and digitized.

I became interested in records management about seven years ago when the U.S. Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) decided to enforce record-keeping audits of financial institutions. Because the majority of business communication occurs through email, information found in email messages and message attachments often became the "smoking gun" -- potentially bringing down a firm. (Enron comes to mind.) In 2003, the SEC included instant messaging (IM) messages as an auditable source of potentially damaging evidence. As an IT industry analyst covering the messaging space, I soon found myself becoming compliance-savvy.

The tenent of records management is "a record is a record" -- based on the content and context of the information. The media which holds the information is irrelevant. However, each type of electronic information has unique characteristics. For example, an File Juiceremail takes a different path across the Internet than does an IM. Information may change electronic formats at different junctures in its travels.

In doing research for the ARMA Webcast, I started to think about the growing variety of new communicative, collaborative and social media toolsets that are being used in organizations. Often the toolset is a free, beta downloaded from the Internet, which gets circulated in the office and soon becomes the core of a business process. This is exactly how consumer IM (e.g., AIM and MSN Messenger) entered businesses and why the SEC said, and I paraphrase, "Thou shall manage IM as thou manages email and other document types."

The mundane certainties of business are glitz clouds judgment and history repeats itself. Blogs and wikis are "all the rage," much like IM was a few years ago. Can the business embrace the inherent social nature of ways to communicate and collaborate without breaking the business rules of records management that protect the organization? I believe that the answer is "yes," but that means cultural change in the business; new (or modifications to existing) technologies to manage new forms of electronic information and, most importantly, promoting workforce innovation while protecting workplace records. 

Sounds like utopia, but there is time to chart a path. Companies need to be aware that a serious risk is brewing. Record managers need to become more new technology savvy. IT needs to become more business savvy. Product and services vendors need to "get" these relationships, before they market themselves as experts. 

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