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Laying the groundwork for federated records management

This article appears in the issue May 2008, [Vol 17, Issue 5]
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The case for federated records management (RM) is strong—leave records in their native repositories, but manage them centrally. That way, the records do not need to be physically moved into a single location, yet a single set of retention rules can be applied. Records are "virtualized" so that they all appear to be within the federated records management application, from which they can be searched, placed on hold, or acted on in other ways.

Although few companies have integrated the records management function across all their repositories, many are taking the first steps as part of an overall concern about RM and compliance.

"Records management, archiving and e-mail are all topics of great interest to organizations right now," says Kenneth Chin, research VP at Gartner. "Most companies have their information scattered throughout numerous locations, though, and getting them physically in one place is just not feasible. So there is a very strong pull toward federated records management systems."

Specialty materials manufacturer Rohm and Haas is a global enterprise spanning nearly 30 countries and employing more than 16,000 professionals. Its areas of business range from construction and transportation to household goods and electronics. The geographic and manufacturing diversity brings along a large set of compliance requirements. As a way of streamlining its discovery and audit capabilities, Rohm and Haas sought an electronic records management solution. The company focused initially on e-mail because of the large volume and critical nature of the content, which was not actively managed.

The company opted for a records management system based on IBM software. But much of the important work took place before any of the software was installed.

"We spent a long time creating a standards-based approach that met the requirements of users, records management and IT infrastructure," says Sandra Hostetter, program manager for electronic content management and retention at Rohm and Haas. During that time, Hostetter worked with a variety of stakeholders. "We wanted to make sure we did not break our employees’ current work processes when we implemented this approach," she explains.

The company obtained help from several outside sources in developing its RM system. The Huron Consulting Group, which has expertise in regulatory compliance, assisted Rohm and Haas in identifying regulations that apply to its business operations and in developing a process for implementing its policies in various company systems.

Rohm and Haas also worked with Integro, a consultancy that specializes in enterprise content management (ECM) for IBM platforms, to customize the Lotus Notes template so it could be used for records management purposes. Rohm and Haas subsequently selected a joint IBM/Integro solution from a group of competitive bidders, an option chosen because it met the requirements for the company’s standards-based approach. That technology now manages the e-mail for Rohm and Haas’ 6,000 North American employees.

E-mails are classified by users into one of three groups: transitory, work space and records. The transitory e-mails are deleted after 60 days; the work space e-mails have an indefinite lifetime, but users have a finite space in which to store them; and records are maintained according to their retention schedule. An informational copy of the record remains in the work space for up to 90 days, and afterward it automatically truncates to a link to the official record stored in IBM Content Manager. Integro E-Mail Manager, which is integrated with IBM Records Manager, moves the record through several steps until it comes under the governance of the RM system.

Eventually, Rohm and Haas plans to augment the user-designated approach for records with some degree of auto-classification.

"We would like to move in the direction of building in some information behind the scenes so our employees don’t need to make all the decisions," says Hostetter, "but the business rules can be very complicated for an automated system." In some cases, for example, metadata associated with a document might be insufficient for an automated system to determine if it’s a record.

The next step will be to establish a records management strategy for other repositories, using the federating capability of IBM Records Manager. Rohm and Haas has a vast range of information storage options that are used by its employees, and hopes to bring all of those into a unified RM system eventually.

"For example, we could establish a Lotus Quickr collaboration environment for a project," Hostetter explains, "and then all documents using the project’s template would automatically be assigned the proper record category and corresponding retention period. Just by using the appropriate document template, users would be making a record category decision without having to actually make a conscious choice."

Rohm and Haas has made a major commitment to managing its records proactively, but reaching the final destination will take time. "We are still learning and refining our process," Hostetter says. "This is a long-range strategy."

The major driver for centralized management is compliance, according to Craig Rhinehart, director of compliance and discovery for products and markets at IBM ECM. However, cost reduction is a desirable byproduct that results from not having to manage multiple repositories individually. In addition, the business value of records should not be overlooked.

"Records management by definition has the most important information within a company," Rhinehart points out. "Being able to mine this information across the enterprise can produce enormous value."

Increasing efficiency

In the litigation-intensive tobacco industry, records management has been a major concern for a considerably longer time than in many other industries. "We have been under broad litigation retention holds for many years," says John Reilly, associate general counsel, litigation, at Lorillard Tobacco, the third largest tobacco company in the United States. "As a result, we’ve had procedures in place for a long time to ensure that we retain potentially relevant records and that we comply with our discovery obligations."

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