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Surveying the state of ERM

A focus on content. Dependence on technology. Changes in media types. Cross-functional records management teams. Those are some of the key trends that have emerged as a result of a sea change in records management (RM) as reported in a new survey regarding the state of electronic records management (ERM) in 2005. The survey was prepared by Cohasset Associates and co-sponsored by ARMA International and AIIM—The Enterprise Content Management Association.

The industry is crossing the chasm from paper to electronic, and the challenges for records managers to retool are great. They can no longer ignore the IT element; they must embrace it to survive. And those that excel will be richly rewarded. The process is moving from one controlled physically by humans to one controlled invisibly by logical information held in computers. So, not only are IT skill sets important, but also so is the ability to communicate and work with the IT department.

What key factors have fueled this change and brought RM to senior management's attention?

  • regulatory changes--especially Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA,
  • court decisions--such as Zubulake v. UBS Warburg and Perleman v. Morgan Stanley,
  • increasingly robust and integrated ERM technology solutions, and
  • the growing realization that sound ERM is the basis for compliance and governance.

The survey provides a compelling case for senior management to evaluate how well their organization currently manages electronic records. As the study states, firms that have not undergone such a self-assessment must do so promptly; and those that have must make a commitment to continuous improvement of their ERM capabilities. The survey renews the call to action of a similar 2003 report from Cohasset, ARMA and AIIM, and expands the call to include the new business reality: For an organization to manifest good governance there must be compliance; and to achieve compliance, there must be effective records management.

Survey highlights

  • Nearly one-third (32%) of respondents evaluate their program as "marginal" (11%) or "fair" (21%)--the two lowest categories.
  • 43% of the organizations represented do not include electronic records in their retention schedules. That is only a 9% improvement from 2003.
  • 49% of the organizations have no formal e-mail retention policy. 
  • 57% of the respondents do not believe that their organization's IT staff realizes it will have to migrate many of the organization's electronic records in order to comply with established retention policies. 
  • 68% do not have a records migration plan in place--reflecting only a 3% improvement since 2003. 
  • For 35% of organizations, the records management department is responsible for the day-to-day management of electronic records. That is a major (21%) increase since 2003
  • 99% believe the process by which their electronic records are managed will be important in future litigation.

Conclusions From its findings, seven conclusions are proffered:

1. Although significant progress appears to have been made on many of the key issues associated with successful ERM, a great deal of further improvement is needed in the life cycle management of electronic records.

2. While many organizations "have their act together," the research indicates that, for an alarming number, the job of records management simply is still not getting done.

3. For traditional media-centric records, many significant performance shortfalls continue; for content-centric electronic records, the problems are greater--in both number and significance.

4. The majority of organizations are not prepared to meet many of their current or future compliance, legal and governance responsibilities because of the deficiencies in the way they currently manage their electronic records.

5. A majority of organizations still are not doing what they need to do now regarding digital preservation--to ensure future accessibility to their electronic records.

6. The collective knowledge and expertise of three professional support areas (legal, IS/IT and records management) are required to successfully manage electronic records. Shifts in perceptions and attitudes about where oversight responsibility for electronic records management performance is best placed have occurred.

7. The outstanding challenges associated with the management of electronic information assets have the potential to be devastating in terms of costs, professional careers and even corporate reputations.

The survey, which was conducted via the Web and drew 2,053 respondents, provides valuable feedback and documentation for records managers, legal teams and IT departments to garner greater resources for, and attention to, the challenge of managing electronic records.

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