Information Management, How to Get From 1998-Style Records Management to 2018-Style Information GovernanceAre you still struggling with the records management problems of 1998? You're not alone.

Here are what we might call 2013 and 2018 information governance problems:

  1. The digital landfill problem. We have 50, or 100, or 1,000 TBs of documents all over the place in our various systems. How do we sort through it all and responsibly retain or dispose appropriately within our budget constraints?
  2. The “systems of engagement” problem. How do we do information governance on our dynamic, sometimes chaotic “systems of engagement”? They use social media, mobile devices and the cloud. We’re feeling our way with some deliberate initiatives to move our business forward -- but they’re also growing organically within and outside our organization. So our problem has three parts: a) How do we meet our governance obligations with our internal use of systems of engagement which we use for collaboration, interactive community building, etc.? b) How do we meet our obligations with our use of external SOE beyond the firewall, with customers, vendors and the public? c) How do we meet our obligations in how we’re integrating our evolving SOE into our more mature systems of record, which help to run our core line of business processes?
  3. The discovery problem. How do we prepare for and respond to litigation and other discovery, given #1 and #2 above?

Most of our current information governance technologies and best practices aren't up to addressing these 2013 and 2018 challenges. But I’d say the situation is far worse than this.

Most of our information governance technologies and practices would fail for records management in 1998 -- forget about 2003, 2013 or 2018. Take a look at most of the complaints about SharePoint’s adequacy for enterprise RM. The list includes usability in every RM activity, such as:

  • The dilemma that while a separate records repository -- a “Records Center” -- is untenable for the enterprise, going without one makes it almost insurmountable to get the RM job done
  • The unwieldiness of administering “types” (records series, classes, etc.)
  • The difficulties in getting either humans or machines to reliably declare and classify, etc.

These were some of the big problems back in 1998 for electronic RM. If you were around back then, think about what electronic RM problems you wanted to tackle. They probably included:

  1. Managing the electronic analogues of the documents your paper RM program had been managing. These were the high value, high risk, highly manageable documents you were already managing in paper according to your retention schedule.
  2. Managing the electronic documents, some of which were records, that were authored or modified by knowledge workers using MS Office and email.
  3. Managing electronic documents that were of lesser value, risk and manageability than #1 above, or were of possibly high value and risk -- but were mixed in with a lot of lower value and risk documents. So part of the challenge was sorting the haystack.
  4. Managing email, particularly the email messages and attachments that qualified as records, being of high value and risk.

These are all 1998 RM problems. They all increased in magnitude by 2003 -- with more records, desktop-authored documents, junky documents, and email -- and there were some additional problems.

Some of these additional problems were caused by the solutions themselves. Most of the email management solutions that were deployed in the early 2000s weren't able to scale or provide fast reliable access to the archived emails and attachments. So many users defected and redoubled their efforts at squirreling away messages and personal email archives, thus rendering disposition impossible. Other new problems arose because of new technologies -- like the internet.

The good news is that I believe with proper strategy and attention to execution, the better ECM/RM systems (like SharePoint) can tackle the problems of 1998 -- and probably 2003! I think most of the failures to successfully address the problems of 1998 are in execution rather than in a collective lack of knowledge in what to do well or a lack in today’s ECM/RM technology.

But most “best practices” for RM and information governance are not up to the task of addressing RM in 2013, let alone 2018. Or some of them are, but we aren’t thinking creatively and clearly enough to wield them effectively.

Most of the technologies relevant to 2013/2018 RM and information governance -- I’m talking about technologies like content analytics, content classification and RM for social media and mobile content -- are not exactly production-ready either. So we need additional creativity and rigor in thinking about how to address information governance during those periods when there are yawning gaps between what we’d like to do in information governance and what we can probably succeed at doing.

3 Ways to Get Beyond 1998

Here are 3 ways -- dare we call them “best practices”? -- to help you get beyond 1998 in RM and information governance, so you can address the information governance and discovery challenges associated with 2013 and beyond, particularly the digital landfill and systems of engagement.

1. Be clear about what problems any “Best Practices” were designed to solve and were actually successful in solving.

For a first approximation, we might divide history into five problem periods: