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  • January 1, 2011
  • By Gordon Hoke CRM, IGP, Certified Records Manager and Information Governance Professional
  • Features

Records management evolves to information governance

It’s not your parents’ records management anymore. Old-fashioned library services, full of retention schedules and version control, recede into the wallpaper. Now new media, hosted solutions, e-discovery, contextual analytics, cloud computing and more converge, transforming records management into information governance.

ARMA International, which convened in San Francisco in November, reflected that evolution. New technology and new applications of recent technology took center stage. ARMA’s generally accepted recordkeeping principles (GARP), launched last year, strode to the forefront as the primary interpreter of the developments and everything that used to be called records management.

GARP defines the discipline of records management. It is a codification of thousands of years of evolving records practices. For ARMA, it has become, as intended, a primary branding mechanism designed to relate to professionals in legal, finance, IT and other areas. ARMA promotes GARP’s accompanying maturity model as a tool for measuring risks that derive from shortcomings in organizations’ records programs.

Approximately 2,700 attendees (a substantial rise over last year) filled meeting rooms for 80 presentations. Additionally, poster sessions, industry roundtables and a bustling expo floor reflected practitioners’ keen interest in the information governance evolution.

Befitting a new stage, questions related to the latest technology abounded. These questions and untold others echoed across the conference:

  • How can we build alliances with IT?
  • How can we harmonize record retention schedules across many continents?
  • How can we manage records in the cloud?
  • How can we produce Facebook correspondence for e-discovery?
  • How can we control derelict collaboration sites?

Not surprisingly for a new development, successful case studies/war stories were hard to find. Steve Nelson, business process manager at St. Jude Medical (sjm.com), explains, “If it’s not SharePoint-easy, people are not adopting it yet. There are cost issues (the big vendors do not make it easy to start off small), and there are ease-of-use issues. The problem is the short-term focus. The rewards [of the new technology] are on the back end. If the whole focus of a company is on quarterly earnings, and you’re trying to do something that will reap rewards in five to 10 years, it is a hard sell to management. They don’t see the long-term gain.”

Traditional records management is still a significant challenge, and its practitioners struggle to find, retain, dispose or archive records. New media present challenges, as the records managers strive to corral not just proliferating e-mail, but also Tweets, VoIP, hard drives on multifunction printers and much more.

At ARMA 2010, the atmosphere was positively encouraging. Lurking in the wings, however, is the threatening issue that almost no one mentions: long-term preservation of digital records. While the bulk of business records are ephemeral—with a lifespan of six months to five years—there are few strategies for preserving records that require long-term storage.

Fortunately, two factors offer hope. First, the discipline of records management is medium neutral. It values and manages information based on its content, not its form or format. Second, neither paper (with its 1,000-year storage potential) nor microform (predictively viable for 500 years) is going away. ARMA’s expo floor featured both banker box manufacturers and fresh initiatives in microforms from Kodak, Fujifilm and others.

With GARP and its maturity model, specialists in records and information governance appear ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with leaders in law, IT, finance and others to meet the challenges of new technology. Information governance, using GARP, apparently offers the best opportunity in recent memory for the discipline of records management to make major contributions to organizations’ success.

The vexing challenges

Industry leaders and strategists see information governance offering solutions to some of the public and private sectors’ most vexing needs:

  • Corporate counsel wants comprehensive, cost-effective e-discovery.
  • Information technology leaders want relief from the exponential growth of storage.
  • Operations officers want rapid access to business and customer documents.
  • Compliance officers want to lighten the burden of regulations.
  • Security officials want assurance that valuable or private information is safe.

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