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5 trends are reshaping records management

This article appears in the issue November/December 2013, [Vol 22, Issue 10]
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Enterprise architecture and records management professionals must be open to collaboration, working cross-functionally with business users and jointly developing their technical roadmap for the identification and exploration of new sources of corporate records. Technology has evolved (see http://solutions.forrester.com/disruption) since the first wave of records management tools entered the market more than 20 years ago. Regulations now cover the broader spectrum of electronically stored information, e.g., video, social media or instant messaging, not just the images or office documents that have traditionally been called "records." Information governance is emerging as a term that better describes and supports a holistic, life cycle view of the creation, use and protection of digital information.

Trend #1: Records management shifts to information governance.

Enterprise architects and analysts continue to focus on business architecture, information architecture, more agile technology road maps and the adoption of standards. However, many businesses continue to lack confidence in the progress of their electronic records management programs, compliance initiatives and e-discovery preparedness—the traditional practices and tools used to manage electronic records are changing. New vendors are taking fresh approaches to addressing compliance, categorization and retention requirements. The shift to a more comprehensive and proactive management of information across its entire business life cycle—rather than just at the end—has begun.

  • Digital-first is framing the go-forward approach to records management-not the paradigm of paper. The concepts of file plans, folders, file parts and cutoffs have imposed constraints on how electronic information is organized and managed. The vocabulary of the paper records center is no longer relevant in a digital-first organization. Today, an information worker can compose an agreement in a cloud application, such as Google Docs, share it with a colleague, edit it on a tablet device and push revisions to a customer collaboration site-even while on an airplane. But, business records continue to be generated outside traditional desktop applications.
  • New vendors approach governance of information beyond the "record." Technologies with strong roots in search, archiving and retention management offer the capabilities to manage many forms of electronically stored information, such as social activity or rich media, even when such information is not formally flagged as a record. Work-in-progress documents, structured or semi-structured information all require governance, including protection from unauthorized access, use, deletion or disclosure across their life cycle. In other words, the frequently changing data in your financial system reflects your business activities just as much as the official quarterly financial statement. Holds and discovery to meet litigation, audit or freedom of information requirements need to be available regardless of the item's record status or storage on-premises or in a cloud service.

Trend #2: Cloud and social platforms render "file and declare" ineffective.

The cloud market represented $41 billion in 2011 and is projected to reach $240 billion by 2020. Business productivity tools available as software as a service (SaaS) represented more than half of that market ($21.2 billion) in 2011. They include document sharing sites, social platforms for internal and external collaboration, marketing platforms, customer relationship management systems, and accounting and expense management tools. Established enterprise application providers are aggressively "building their SaaS portfolios through acquisition and evolution of their existing products," and few new solution providers are developing exclusively on-premises offerings. To adapt to this new world, enterprise and information architects must be aware of the following:

  • Traditional records management tools are slow to make the leap to the cloud. Records managers may be at risk of holding obsolete assumptions about importing or filing business content into an on-premises records repository. Enterprises are planning more aggressive adoption of cloud services for archiving and storage, yet only 8 percent of records managers reported adoption of a SaaS approach to records management in 2012.
  • Records and compliance managers remain wary of cloud and social platforms. Enterprise architectures and their peers in records management practice groups are not aligned on cloud computing benefits. Cloud providers are increasingly supporting content segregation, security, privacy and data sovereignty requirements to attract regulated industries, and they are offering service-level agreements designed to reduce risks. In spite of that, records managers still cite security, legal and privacy risks as the top three reasons to stall adoption of cloud services and SaaS. That contradicts the comfort that developers, business managers and IT decision-makers have with those services.
  • Current records management systems are already missing many forms of electronically stored information. Older types of electronically stored information, such as images, e-mail or office documents, are often captured into traditional records management applications. Newer content types are less likely to have policy-driven life cycle or retention rules applied. Mobile messages, social media posts or websites are important sources of discoverable information, but application of legal holds to that content can be difficult.

Trend #3: Digital preservation forces itself onto the governance agenda.

Digital records that have a long-term retention schedule are at risk when hardware devices, software applications and file formats decay or become obsolete. Research performed by archives institutions shows wide swings in the lifespan of common archive and long-term storage media. Software file format obsolescence is also a significant area of research for archives and academic institutions, now that many first-generation business and personal productivity tools are retired, and the inability to retrieve or view older digital records is becoming a reality. As organizations continue to evolve, the following issues have begun to arise:

  • Organizations are slowly waking up to digital preservation concerns. Migration, conversion and adoption of open standards are accepted approaches to solve the problem of accessibility over time. Those approaches, however, are not widely adopted at this time.
  • Decisions to retire older enterprise applications raise content preservation concerns. As organizations begin infrastructure renewal projects-particularly as new SaaS and cloud-based applications become viable alternatives to big footprint legacy systems-architects, IT and records professionals must assess the risk of losing information in those older systems. Decisions to maintain older systems in read-only mode, to migrate data into newer systems or to dispose of older systems all together must be made in accordance with business, legal and compliance needs.
  • Institutional memory risks relegation to the digital dark ages sooner rather than later. Organizations are already discovering that digital information from the latter part of the 20th century is unreadable or inaccessible due to hardware obsolescence, disk/tape decay and software format loss. Even large, stable vendors such as Microsoft appear to have neglected to preserve source code for file formats and specifications for older products like PowerPoint 4.0.

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