Discussion Point: Records Management Influenced by Cloud, Collaboration Technologies

17 minute read
Stacey Harnish-Zinck avatar

The world continues to evolve and as it does so too do the tools and technologies we work with every day, including those that records managers must use. We gathered a group of experts and asked them whether or not the advance of these technologies changed the way they work. Their answers will certainly get you thinking.

The Question

Has the advance of cloud computing and increased number of collaboration technologies used by organizations changed the way records management must work?

The Responses

Mimi Dionne - Owner of Mimi Dionne Consulting

Mimi Dionne is a records and information management project manager and Consultant/Owner of Mimi Dionne Consulting. She is a Certified Records Manager, a Certified Archivist, a Certified Document Imaging Architect, a Certified Information Professional, and a Project Management Professional. She currently resides in Seattle.

Yes and no. The framework of records management best practices is unchanged. However, the way in which the Records Management function communicates with the organization as a whole and also provides records declaration support is becoming more business process document-focused.

For example, consider DocuSign. DocuSign is a third-party cloud-based solution that enables organizations to corral digital signatures from partners’ signing authorities. Provided there is an internet connection, the parties may sign uploaded templates anytime and anywhere. Once these documents are signed (DocuSign, get it?) a unique record is created. DocuSign stores these records in its cloud on behalf of the client for a set amount of time.

It is in the client’s best interest to dictate to DocuSign that its documents should be stored no more than 30 days in the cloud -- just long enough for the Records Management team to pull completed documents from DocuSign and declare them as records into their organization’s own repository.Records Management should outline this short-term retention in partnership with the business unit leveraging DocuSign, of course. In fact, because Records Management is a stakeholder in the project, it should hold a weekly check-in meeting with the DocuSign team to ensure ongoing quality.

Think of business process documents flow as half of the records declared into a records repository. These records are declared by Records Management, as opposed to the end user community. Ideally, business process documents flow will be the larger of the two categories. Thanks to cloud computing awareness, this is a wonderful moment for Records Management to establish good rapport with internal customers and facilitate records declaration on their behalf. Good luck!

Joe Shepley - Vice President and Practice Leader at Doculabs

Joe Shepley is a strategy consulting professional living and working in Chicago. In his current position as Vice President and Practice Leader at Doculabs he focuses on helping organizations improve how they manage information using technology and processes.

Cloud computing and collaboration technologies have profound consequences for records management, but in two different ways.

Cloud computing represents a sea change, a seismic shift in how organizations store and manage information, the total implications of which are not yet known. In the short term, we suspect the cloud will make it cheaper to do so and more scalable (and in many cases, more secure and stable). In the long run, however, we just have no idea what things like switching from one provider to another or pulling content back on premises, or of doing e-discovery or records management, will look like, i.e., How would we do these things? What they would they cost? So in terms of the impact of cloud computing on the way records management must work, the biggest one for me is the introduction of nearly complete uncertainty of how to proceed.

Collaboration technologies, on the other hand, represent not so much a sea change as an extension of capabilities we’ve had for some time now. They allow us to do things we’ve always done, but more effectively…and unfortunately one of the implications of this is that they allow information to grow even faster than it has been and in new forms.

What this has done to records management is to increase the strain on an already strained function at most organizations. Let's face it, most records management teams are doing a pretty good job keeping up with paper and a pretty poor job keeping up with what we might call Enterprise 1.0 electronic content (ECM systems, shared drives, document-centric SharePoint sites, email, etc.). So when you add collaboration technology into the mix (Jive, SharePoint plus NewsGator, Connections, Yammer, what have you), it becomes altogether too much for records management to handle at most organizations.

To me, the impact this will have long term is that it's going to force records management to evolve past its paper-based beginnings, which prevent it from being effective in an electronic world, to reach a new way of doing records, one that allows it to manage the full range of electronic content, from documents to conversations and actions (likes, shares, etc.).

Mike Alsup - Sr. Vice President at Gimmal Group

Thumbnail image for MAlsup.jpg
Mike Alsup is a Sr. Vice President and the founder of Gimmal, a leading ECM and RM solution provider.Gimmal has developed industry leading products for SharePoint content governance, including the only DoD 5015.2-certified records management products inside SharePoint.He spent his early career with Accenture and Booz, Allen.He was a co-founder of two successful integration companies, BSG and Align Solutions. He was a 2008 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the South Texas area.He recently completed his second term on the Board of AIIM International and is an AIIM Fellow.He is a Rice University graduate with an MBA from the University of Texas.He blogs in the AIIM Communities in SharePoint section.

Enterprise records management has become much more challenging with advance of Cloud computing and increased use of collaboration technologies, because records management policy needs to be consistently applied in more repositories.Everyone recognizes the need for governance to extend to all of the required repositories, but many organizations are still looking for a single governance “ring to rule them all”.That is, a single platform to own the enforcement of information policy across multiple platforms.Wrapping all of these environments into an enterprise records management solution is a horse race between several alternative approaches marketed by Cloud-based file sharing vendors, the legacy ECM vendors, newer federation vendors and Microsoft.

The Legacy ECM vendors have all of the needed records management capabilities within their products, but in the Cloud they are mainly SaaS-only, meaning they are single tenant, hosted applications without the features generally associated with the Cloud, such as multi-tenancy, self-service provisioning, etc.EMC and OpenText provide full RM capabilities when integrated with their Cloud-based file sharing solutions, Syncplicity and Tempo.

The Cloud-based file sharing vendors, such as Box, Dropbox and Syncplicity, clearly understand what it will take to do Cloud RM.What these platforms currently lack are the rich object models and applications that Documentum, OpenText and SharePoint provide that allow for the application of retention policy.This is important because the richer object models allow for the construction of solutions within the platforms that enable them to be so much more than Share Drives in the Cloud and address the full set of requirements for records management.

It seems unlikely to me that governance can be federated into all of the required platforms, because we've tried this in years past with solutions like Venetica and Documentum.The legacy records management systems we were trying to connect with have not changed that much, nor has our ability to connect with them.Federated RM transfers the control over retention away from the repositories, which may be problematic for many repositories.Newer federation vendors like RSD are everywhere convincing buyers that they can do it all. I am looking for some case studies of successful federated Cloud RM implementations.

The introduction of SharePoint 2013 blurs the distinction between Cloud and Legacy ECM, because SharePoint in Office 365 provides a scalable, multi-tenant solution that enables records management to scale to millions of users within a single solution.The new App model that Microsoft enforces in Office 365 may be more difficult to connect to than it was in on premise SharePoint for Legacy ECM vendors.If you can’t link from an Office 365 site to an on-premise or SaaS repository of record, how will your enterprise information lifecycle get enforced?

One of the conclusions from several recent AIIM studies has been that buyers expect hybrid content governance to persist in their organizations for the foreseeable future.That is, they expect some of their processes and documents will be stored in the Cloud, but their archiving and records management will mainly take place on-premise in their data centers.

This is important because organizations will need processes and tools to manage the lifecycle of content across multiple platforms in the Cloud and on-premise.This requires simplifying assumptions because the task is too big and too hard to address otherwise.How to achieve hybrid content governance is a high priority architectural question in many of our clients, especially in the largest organizations.How to integrate Cloud and on-premises ECM environments into a single, simpler enterprise solution is a question these clients are asking us.

Cheryl McKinnon - Principal Analyst at Forrester Research

Cheryl McKinnon is a Principal Analyst, serving the needs of Enterprise Architects, at Forrester Research. Cheryl’s research focuses on records management, information governance and eDiscovery. Before joining Forrester, Cheryl was founder and principal consultant at Candy Strategies Inc. where she provided content management advisory services to both public and private sector clients. Cheryl has served as VP of Marketing for AIIM, Chief Marketing Officer at Nuxeo, and held senior management roles with OpenText and Hummingbird. She has been a member of industry associations AIIM and ARMA for over a decade and remains active in the associations at local and national levels. Find her on Twitter @CherylMcKinnon.

Until very recently, the records management (RM) technologies of the past 20 years have struggled to make the leap to the cloud. The “file and declare” approach to capturing electronic documents has failed to scale as information volumes have grown, the sources of records have become more diverse, and the channels of communication have become fragmented. Information managers can no longer assume business records are generated only in a mainstream office suite product installed on a corporate desktop PC. The continued advance of cloud computing and diversity of collaborative applications that generate business records will compel a rethink of how digital records are captured, categorized and managed.

There are three possible approaches an organization can take to quickly adapt its records management strategy to the world of social, mobile and cloud content generation. The first option is to stretch the capabilities of current RM applications by capturing cloud-generated records into an existing on-premises records repository. The second option is to consider a separation of “rules from tools” -- and assess records management or policy engine applications that can set retention schedules or other rules on content where it resides (an “in-place” approach). The third option is to consider an end-to-end cloud strategy for content and its lifecycle.

  • Approach #1 -- Integrate cloud content into an on-premises archive or ECM platform. Several records and retention management tools have evolved to keep pace with cloud-generated information. With increased adoption of Office 365, Gmail, Chatter, among many other cloud or SaaS applications, several vendors are aggressively developing integrations and capture tools. Vendors such as ZL Technologies, OpenText, EMC, among others have released integrations to capture and classify cloud-generated content - including Office 365 and social media content - into existing archive or ECM repositories.
  • Approach #2 -- Separate the rules from the tools and apply policy to cloud-generated content. Vendors that offer strong policy-driven, repository-agnostic approaches to records and retention management have developed connectors for many major cloud content platforms. Vendors such as HP/Autonomy or RSD provide strong policy-driven retention and lifecycle management capabilities that can manage content “in-place”.
  • Approach #3 -- Consider a holistic cloud-based information governance approach. Full records or retention management in the cloud is far from mainstream, but vendors have emerged to address the need. Offerings from vendors such as Proofpoint or Archive Systems (who acquired RM vendor OmniRIM in 2010) offer strong capture, categorization, lifecycle management and records classification capabilities in a secure, private cloud archive repository. Cloud vendors, such as these, are innovating in areas of security, encryption, performance as well as broad analytics and dashboards to help RM administrators keep on top of their workloads.

While 45% of surveyed records managers in 2012 claimed to have “no interest” in cloud-based RM, the trend to cloud and modernization of IT infrastructure continues to be driven by IT and business leaders. Many of the long-standing ECM and archive vendors with strong retention/records capabilities are quickly moving to launch cloud, SaaS or managed service editions of their own suites. EMC, IBM, OpenText, HP/Autonomy, Symantec and Microsoft have all either made acquisitions or invested in organic R&D to help leapfrog their offerings into the cloud.

Laurence Hart - Chief Information Officer for AIIM

Laurence Hart joined AIIM in 2012 as the Chief Information Officer where he is working to bring the Information systems supporting the AIIM Community to the leading edge of the industry. Prior to joining AIIM, Laurence spent nearly two decades as a consultant helping organization develop and implement strategies for managing their disparate information. He has led a wide-range of efforts including content digitization, Records Management, BPM, and Collaboration for both the commercial and public sectors. More recent efforts focused on when and how best to move Information systems to the cloud.

Nothing has happened that changes how Records Management must work. What the continued proliferation of new collaboration technologies has done is make us realize that we never knew how Records Management must work in the digital age.

We have tried to implement Records Management for years with mixed success. Adoption has been spotty. Efforts to replace existing records systems with new ones continue to take place on a regular basis.

Learning Opportunities

What has changed is that the “viral” adoption of the newer cloud-based collaboration tools has made us realize that we need to simplify Records Management for the everyday person. We now realize that we have just taken the paper records process, digitized it, and pushed the classification work out to the organization.

We have to design our records systems to reach out and classify the records for the consumers. We need to take the reactive e-Discovery technologies and use it for proactive retention and records management.

Then we will have productivity tools that also protect the needs of the organization.

Mike Ferrara - Senior Associate at Duff & Phelps

Mike Ferrara is a Senior Associate in the Legal Management Consulting practice at Duff & Phelps. He has over 12 years of experience with information systems integration, and he specializes in the Microsoft SharePoint and Autonomy WorkSite platforms. Mike is actively involved in the SharePoint community, and he is an editor for SharePointReviews.com, a respected source for SharePoint 3rd party product information.

The short answer to this question is yes, it absolutely has changed the way customers are tackling records management issues. While historically a stigma within many organizations, cloud technologies are becoming more ubiquitous, even within government circles. A key differentiator with current cloud technologies are ones that are private as opposed to ones that are open to the public. If your organization has serious compliance requirements or strict internal guidelines, public cloud technologies may never be a fit. But private cloud technologies are proving to be an incredible way to increase employee efficiency while decreasing long term costs.

The cloud has certainly posed some new challenges for records management. The most obvious change is the storage location itself. Whether we’re talking about public or private cloud, the data is no longer sitting in a box on a shelf. New strategies are required to deal with digital storage and compliance requirements. One of the biggest challenges records managers face is dealing with the usage of public cloud services for content storage and sharing. The murky waters of data ownership, when storing content outside of the firewall, can have serious repercussions for an organization.

Organizations are more than ever before taking records management seriously. In today’s content management market, records management functionality is as necessary as the ability to check-out a document. The cloud helps promote increased access to traditionally hard-to-access records, while at the same time ensuring that a proper records lifecycle can exist. I think in this light, the cloud can really improve records management in certain scenarios.

Concerning collaboration software, simply put, it is everywhere. And when adopted by an organization, it quickly becomes clear how an explosion of digital content can be cause for concern. Social interactions, chat logs and multimedia files are becoming as important as traditional documents and e-mail. In this sense, records management technologies must have an answer for not only incorporating these file types into a records plan, but managing them in an effective way. This means the proper interface for these kinds of file types as well as the cataloging of new kinds of related metadata.

Ellie Kim - Records Management Specialist at Collabware

Ellie Kim is a Records Management Specialist at Collabware, where she is responsible designing requirements for the user-centric content lifecycle management product for SharePoint, Collabware CLM. Ellie also serves the ARMA Vancouver Board as Programs Committee member. She holds a Master of Archival Studies from iSchool at the University of British Columbia.

Public as well as private organizations are starting to adopt some form of cloud computing and collaborative applications. As these tools expand how records and information are created, transmitted and stored, changes in the records management field are occurring as well. The big question is what's changing?

The records management (RM) profession is changing. Records Managers now require more knowledge in different areas with the use of cloud computing and collaborative tools. There are varying degrees of cloud computing in terms of storage and infrastructure that records managers must understand in order to identify risks and implement corresponding RM plans.

A similar understanding of collaboration management tools is needed, particularly when their record-byproducts are not supported by existing records management systems. Without some knowledge of the technologies, records managers would not be able to fully control records and information in the organization both for regulatory and practical purposes. Knowledge of traditional records management alone is no longer adequate to perform RM jobs.

As business technologies that organizations adopt evolve, so does RM technology. The electronic records management system (ERMS) was developed in the 1980s out of the need to secure, organize and dispose of electronic records in a systematic and traceable manner that guaranteed the authenticity and integrity of records. Organizations cannot simply divorce the management of current records from the IT evolution. The RM technology has been dependent on network infrastructure, operating systems and leading business applications from where records are created and received.

As we move towards cloud computing and collaborative technology, electronic records management systems (ERMS) need to support these technologies and bring solutions for related RM issues that arise as a result. There are technical challenges such as the transfer of records from one system to another, protecting the record form (the link between the content and the metadata) throughout its lifecycle, executing dispositions and the central management of records that can be stored across multiple-farms. 

In addition, there are usability challenges. As users become accustomed to cloud computing and collaborative tools, their ways of working also changes. Along with this, their expectations of how other tools, including ERMS, should interact with the user and work together are evolving. We are starting to see end users favoring RM solutions that recognize this gap and provide tools that interact seamlessly with other applications.

While the fundamental concept of records management -- systematically managing records and information -- remains unchanged, I believe there are more changes in records management to come with cloud computing and collaborative applications, as well as other forms of information technologies.

There is certainly more room for improvement in records management solutions. We have yet to experience the iPod period of records management (Remember how iPod revolutionized the way we purchase and organize music?) Perhaps cloud computing, collaborative solutions, and a few highly publicized spoliation cases will accelerate the course.

Image courtesy Zbynek Burival (Shutterstock)