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Roundtable discussion: Records management

KMWorld recently hosted a roundtable discussion about records management that included Lynette Downing, records and information manager, HLB Tautges Redpath; Rich Medina, principal analyst,

Doculabs; and Cheryl McKinnon, product manager for government solutions, Hummingbird. Judith Lamont, KMWorld's senior writer, led the discussion.

Lamont: How has records management changed over the last decade?

Medina: Until the mid-90s, record keeping was mostly paper-based, even when the documents themselves were electronic. About that time, people began to see the need for the electronic management of electronic records. But with a few exceptions, the software companies out there that could address this were the ones that used electronic systems to track physical files. Some of the document management companies were integrating with records management, but overall, the records management solutions of that time were not great performers. Besides, there was no pressure from Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations, so RM was really de-prioritized. After 2001, companies became more interested because they were more conscious of mitigating risks, and "defensive" requirements such as compliance and disaster recoveries were moving up as priorities. Vendors such as Hummingbird, Open Text, Documentum and IBM began acquiring records management software products that had emerged as leaders in the late 90s and were much more powerful than the earlier ones. Now with a new set of regulations, records management has really taken center stage as a critical component of compliance.

Lamont: While the software technology for records management was advancing, what was happening on the staffing side?

Medina: In the early years, there would be a records manager who was a professional, who had expertise at classification and filing. In the electronic environment, folks who were creating the records and files now had to declare them as a record and classify them properly. There was a burgeoning need for records management expertise, but the end users were not necessarily prepared for the job.

Lamont: At what point did HLB Tautges Redpath begin looking at records management for its electronic records?

Downing: Our experience really paralleled the history that Rich just described. Our paper records program was in wonderful shape. We had spent almost 10 years getting that streamlined and operating well, but our electronic records were still managed in a Windows Explorer environment. Our users could create folders and subfolders, name their documents anything, name their folders anything and delete documents at any time. Really there was no control in that environment. Everything electronic was considered work in progress--at that time, paper was the official medium, so we printed out everything, stored it as paper files and managed it that way. We saw the inefficiencies of that approach, and saw the potential benefits of being able to get information to our customers in electronic form. We started looking at the market much more seriously in 1999 to find a solution for managing our electronic records.

Lamont: How did you arrive at the decision to select Hummingbird's solution?

Downing: Hummingbird was in my opinion one of the frontrunners in that they had acquired a very high-quality document management system with a good history. And putting that together with a records management package that was highly customizable provided a "one-database" solution for us. That was one of the biggest sellers--we wanted to control our electronic side and still be able to implement and use all of our records management practices that we had developed, apply retention to the documents and destroy them on schedule. Hummingbird could provide the front-end portion with document management, as well as the back-end portion with the records management.

Lamont: Did this integration affect the way records management was viewed by the firm's partners?

Downing: Our partners already realized the benefits of records management even though at that point in time they probably still viewed it as an overhead cost. That was a few years ago, and they don't think that now, necessarily. But when you introduce the document management side, which is really the creation and use portion of the document life cycle, and sell them on the benefits of being able to find information, being able to exchange it quickly, they saw the active use of documents as a real benefit.

Medina: This is a good example of integrating the "defensive" use of records management with the "offensive" use. It's great to be in compliance and address litigation needs and so on, but you still have to run the business. You need to set up a records management system that doesn't interfere with your ability to make money--how do you knit together the records management system with document management and with the rest of your infrastructure?

Lamont: What is Hummingbird's perspective on the tie-in of document management with records management?

McKinnon: The document management part of our business came from the legacy company PCDocs. We had partnered with some of the standalone records management vendors back in the middle nineties, because we played quite heavily in the market geared toward government organizations and regulated industries where records management had always had a fairly high profile. Our customers were looking for an integrated solution for document and records management, even before compliance was front-page news. This has served as the basis for how we developed our enterprise suite over the past few years. We wanted to streamline the day-to-day work for knowledge workers and make sure the critical elements of corporate history were kept while the transitory information was safely disposed of.

Lamont: What is the role of compliance in your records management system?

Downing: We do have to comply with regulations in our industry of course, but since we do not audit publicly held companies, Sarbanes-Oxley requirements are not a key issue for us. Our driver is really the desire to have good business practices. Records support our business and our product, and because of that we are focused on information needs—having the information organized and stored on a timely basis—as a corporate asset. Using it and leveraging it as a strategic advantage is very important to us.

Medina: Right now a lot of money is being thrown at compliance with respect to Sarbanes-Oxley for solutions that don't fit in with the rest of the business. This happens at every level, from the end user who might be indifferent or hostile to the requirements, who now has to open up yet another application and fill out a dialog box. It didn't immediately make them productive; in fact it detracted from the work. You have to maximize participation and accuracy with end users. That's why a system like the one HLBTR has is good—it meshes with the overall flow of the business.

Lamont: How have the users reacted to the new records management system? Have they found it easy to work with?

Downing: The users do not know that they are records managers, because the function is hidden from them, but they really are. In the design of our system, we made sure that the front end that our users view is matched to the back-end system in terms of how we are going to file, classify and retain records. Every time a user saves a document and chooses a client matter, a client project, they are determining where it is going to end up in the file plan. They don't see the records management but they are doing it. The system allows the employees to practice more of the accounting and to improve their knowledge, instead of worrying about pushing papers around. We also think it attracts new employees who are technology-savvy and enjoy an environment that makes good use of technology.

Lamont: How has the document management portion affected the way that HLBTR interacts with clients?

Downing: When a client calls in and wants information, it's a matter of seconds finding it in the database. All the employees like having information at their fingertips, but those at the higher levels who are interacting with our customers find it particularly helpful. Sometimes a client will ask for a copy of something, and since we have integrated faxing technology from our desktops, we can either fax the document or e-mail it. The client often receives the information before the phone call has ended.

Lamont: Are your clients aware of your system?

Downing: Yes, they are, and it helps create a very positive relationship. They appreciate what we do, and it lends a trust factor and a confidence level, knowing that we are a frontrunner in the industry. But it also makes them stop and think about what they are doing. We get a lot of inquiries on how they can do better records management in their environments.

Lamont: Will Hummingbird be offering any records management tools that are specific to the requirements of particular vertical industries?

McKinnon: We look at records management as a practice, a discipline, rather than a technology or a product. We want to make sure that the toolset we offer to our diverse client base is flexible enough so that it can be used with whatever kind of regulatory requirements that industry happens to be facing. So we are looking at a fairly broad-based approach to information management, but also providing the records management-specifics tool so that you can apply the retention rules to a particular business for both paper and electronic formats, including e-mail.

Lamont: How do you handle e-mail in terms of records management?

Downing: E-mail messages can definitely be records, depending on their content. We allow users to either save them in native message format (.msg) or in a text format. Attachments are saved separately into the document management system using a common naming structure so that we can tell that the document is related to the message, or even use a reference in the profile. We do that so that the attachment and message are both full-text searchable.

Lamont: How did you develop the taxonomy that your employees use to classify records?

Downing: I did that with help from my users. I guided them as I have over the past years with different management systems. Our business is very cyclical, so our indexing is based on a year, and then the type of service, such as personal taxes, that we are providing for our clients. The delivery of the tax return in this case is what kicks off the retention as part of the records management.

Lamont: What would you say was the most challenging part of implementing the Hummingbird system?

Downing: Nothing specific from the records management perspective. Document management was new to our users, so that was a cultural change. We were making a big change from a paper-based firm to an electronic-based firm. It affected the whole process of how we capture our information and how we retain it. The change to the electronic approach brought something of a culture shock.

McKinnon: In some of the municipal government implementations of records management that I'm familiar with, change management is by far the one aspect that organizations wish they had paid more attention to. Understanding the impact of not only introducing the record-keeping concept to typical users but the impact of altering some of their technology habits as well.

Lamont: Does your company have any concerns about the legality of using the electronic format for retention?

Downing: The IRS (irs.gov) has put procedures in place that are very favorable toward electronic formats. Even though the validity of electronic formats has not been proven in court, we had the IRS behind us being very proactive with their records storage.

Medina: People are still being somewhat cautious, and one of the primary challenges is not the acceptance in principle but in practice. That is, if you are going to go the electronic route you have to really follow through. Some organizations end up with a hybrid situation for some period of time and the ball gets dropped, or they have different policies for paper vs. electronic records.

Downing: We had a very short window between when we introduced the system and when we converted completely to electronic format. We kept it to a three-month window because we did not want our users to revert to practices that we wanted to phase out.

Lamont: Has HLBTR integrated its records management system into a portal?

Downing: No, we have not. That is actually something that is on the idea board for a year or so down the line. Now that we have this wonderful repository of records and documents, we are thinking about other systems that produce information. We capture that information into the document management system so it can be declared a record, which provides a picture of how our business operates that is useful both internally and for our clients. But there is other, more real-time information that we would like to have at our fingertips that doesn't really constitute records per se. So gathering that information into a portal environment is something that we are looking at.

Lamont: What functions might be included in a portal?

Downing: Business intelligence tools could help us pull information out of our databases to keep our finger on the pulse of our business. Information as simple as knowing when we are nearing our budget ceiling on a particular client project would be useful. We don't need to document that as a record--we just need to know it. We are also thinking about using some kind of collaboration feature with our clients, using an extranet to share information in the most efficient way.

Lamont: What trends do you see in records management going forward from today?

Medina: The latest trend is the ECM (enterprise content management) foundation layer, including the hardware storage management infrastructure. Actually, input storage and output vendors are starting to become that part of the stack. So you have EMC (emc.com) first coming out with Centera for fixed content management and then forming partnerships with 50 or 60 ECM vendors and then buying Legato and Documentum. Another example is HP HP buying Persist for repository management, and so on. The next piece of the puzzle is rather than just tossing the records management responsibility over the fence to the storage guys and having them manage the discs, there is now a much tighter vendor and technical integration with the storage level. Everyone from EMC to StorageTek, NetApp, Hitachi, Fujitsu, IBM and HP are forming relationships—either by buying or integrating with the ECM layer—to offer records management capabilities.

Lamont: What impact does Hummingbird expect emerging standards to have on records management?

McKinnon: We see that standards and guidelines are shaping how the market is unfolding, The DoD standards have been in place for quite some time now, but there are also some interesting international standards that apply to both records and other forms of electronic knowledge. The U.K. National Archive Standard as well as the guidelines coming out of the European Commission are things we are looking at as we push our product line forward.

Lamont: And how about the records management industry at large?

McKinnon: The entire records management industry has taken an inward look and is re-evaluating its role in the marketplace. It is becoming a champion of information management practices within the organization, and kind of shaking off the cobwebs to take a step forward in terms of leadership. It is exciting to see.

Downing: I agree. I have been a longtime member of ARMA ARMA and AIIM AIIM, and am really seeing the crossover now between technology and records management, and it is quite exciting.

HLB Tautges Redpath, an accounting and consulting firm, serves individuals and organizations—including businesses, local governments and non-profit organizations—in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area. It offers business planning and consulting, tax planning and preparation, monthly and quarterly accounting, and international tax services. The firm, ranked in the top 15 largest CPA firms in the Twin Cities, is headquartered in White Bear Lake, Minn., and is a member of HLB International, a worldwide organization of midsize accounting firms.

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