Let’s start this admittedly provocative post with a question: Anybody out there actually doing records management in SharePoint?

And before you answer, let me emphasize that I mean real records management, like, with actual, system-enabled automated disposition according to your retention schedule.

If you answered “yes” to this question, please jump immediately to the comments section and let us all know (and while you're at it, give us some indication of how on earth you're doing it), because based on my experience, I’d be willing to bet the answer to this question is going to be “no” in 99.9% of all cases.

And while I’m in a betting mood, I’d also be willing to bet that if you answered “yes,” you 100% aren’t doing it with out of the box SharePoint, because out of the box SharePoint can’t do records management at the level the vast majority of organizations require -- it just doesn't, people, no matter how much Microsoft claims that it does, or trumpets that fact that they themselves use it to. But don't just take my word for it, ask Bruce Miller.

Gauntlet – Thrown


And lest you think I’m heaping blame on already blame-laden records managers out there, let me say right off the bat that the real problem with records management in SharePoint is that Microsoft doesn’t really understand records management or what it takes to enable it with an enterprise content management (ECM) system.

Exhibit A

SharePoint 2007, was supposed to be “records management ready,” but required users to put all their records in a separate area (the records center) to manage them. Getting users to work in two different sites, one for records and one for the rest of their stuff? Say it with me: never, gonna, happen. And never did happen.

Exhibit B

SharePoint 2010 didn’t get much better. True, you could now manage records in place, but 2010 drove records retention and disposition using content types, which, if you had a few hundred of them, were incredibly cumbersome to work with from an administrative and architectural perspective; which is precisely how many most organizations need at a minimum to support their retention schedules; which is why I haven’t seen a single organization using SharePoint 2010 to do real records management (i.e., with actual, system-enabled retention and disposition according to the retention schedule), and I run into a few hundred Fortune 1000 companies a year between projects, sales calls and events.

The Problem is Bigger than SharePoint

Now before I get accused of bashing SharePoint here, let me let you all in on a dirty little secret: 99% of organizations are not doing automated records management on an enterprise scale. And this is true whether they have SharePoint, IBM FileNet/P8/CMOD, EMC Documentum, OpenText, Hyland OnBase -- whatever. In the end, it doesn't matter: for a whole host of reasons, some of them technical, some of them organizational, so few folks are actually doing automated records management that we could accurately say that no one is.

Let’s look at some anecdotal evidence for my claim and then turn to some of the reasons why before exploring how we might turn this around.

First, at every ARMA, AIIM, EFM or other ECM-related event I speak at, I always ask the audience, “who’s doing retention and disposition on electronically stored information (ESI) according to the retention schedule?” and I never get more than a hand or two in response … and then I ask a follow-up: “Even on shared drives and hard drives?” and all the hands go down.

Second, no client I’ve ever worked with (somewhere north of 120, all Fortune 1000) has managed to do automated records management on any significant basis. And if you widen the sample to all the Fortune 1000 clients my firm has worked with (somewhere between 400-500), there is only one, a North American bank, that is doing so.

In addition to this lone firm, I had one person speak up one time at an event to say that their firm (a global construction company) was doing automated records management on all ESI…and she stuck to her guns even after my follow-up question about all ESI.

So that’s two organizations out of 400-500 my firm has directly worked with, which is about a half a percent -- not good numbers considering we've had automated records management software in some form since at least the turn of the millennium. And the number gets worse if you include the 1000+ firms I've informally polled at events or talked to as part of the sales cycle.

The Final Word

So SharePoint or no, we are terrible at automated records management across the board, irrespective of industry or platform -- I think that’s an indisputable fact. If you disagree, by all means jump in and let’s get a good argument going.

In the next post, I’ll move on from the problem to a discussion of why we might find ourselves in this mess and suggest some ways that we could move forward -- ways that some forward-leaning organizations are already exploring to fix their records management problems.

Image courtesy of johnbraid (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Joe will be following this post up, but in the mean time, read his SharePoint Applications: Communication, Training and Go Live