Edges Moving Toward the Center
Records and Archiving Join the Information Management Table

Once upon a time there was a records manager, who managed records. And there was an IT group, who managed archives. And there were knowledge workers, who carried out their daily jobs. And there were legal officers, who made sure all the above didn’t get the company in trouble.

And I’ll bet that at the Christmas party, most of those people didn’t talk to each other much. They had, after all, never formally met.

But those firewalls between departments are collapsing. They still have their titles, and they still do their thing. But a subtle change has occurred: knowledge workers classify documents into records management systems; records managers support KM efforts by developing file plans and taxonomies that allow faster and easier access to corporate information. Legal teams work with IT to balance risk against cost.

It’s a crazy mixed-up world. But it just might work.

The Holistic Mantra
"We are getting RFPs (requests for proposal) that include email archiving, e-discovery, knowledge management and records management...all in one RFP," reports Johannes Scholtes, president and CEO of ZyLAB. "People are beginning to understand these things all work together."

I know what he means. We at KMWorld have long been challenged with the increasingly difficult task of segmenting the vendor landscape. There are still a few companies that declare themselves in "search" or in "discovery." But they’re becoming rare. It’s the era of the "holistic" nature of information, and the compulsion to get a "360-degree" view of one’s organizational knowledge assets. And it’s damned complicated.

"There was a period of time during the transition from mainly-paper processes to mainly-electronic processes that people let it get out of control," says Sean Regan, marketing manager for the Symantec Enterprise Vault. "So, a hype phase occurred. That phase has now passed, but the hype DID help companies realize they need to get a grip on their electronic information."

Johannes and Sean are helping me figure out the records/archive/e-discovery—heck, I don’t even know WHAT to call it—market. And, more importantly, how organizations are implementing these tools into their overall information management strategies.

"One thing they are NOT afraid of are so-called ‘smoking guns,’" insists Johannes. "We tell people all kinds of horror stories, and they say ‘Sure, yeah...call me back when I’m in trouble.’ And after they get in trouble five times in a row, then they start cleaning up their back offices. I’ve seen companies get into an expensive discovery situation, and have the entire legal and IT departments devoted to it. Then when the case gets settled, they forget all about it," he says.

But they’re neglecting to see the problem as something systemic; they have been trained to think of legal actions taken against their companies as occasional nuisances, costly and resource-consuming though they may be. Not part of a larger information management condition.

"E-discovery is just a symptom," continues Johannes. "A symptom that you have too much data. Every discovery request begins a long, painful process. People are just starting to realize the only way to avoid those painful processes is to start solving the problem at the source."

"Compliance and records management were once used as an excuse to NOT look into better information management or knowledge management," explains Sean, "because companies felt that if they weren’t a bank or a financial institution, they didn’t have to worry about regulatory requirements." So they let their information stores get out of control. "But now people realize that regulatory problems and discovery demands exist in every company." In large part, the daily business news has brought awareness, of course, and changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) regarding electronically stored information have been a wake-up call, too. "If you don’t maintain your information in any organized fashion, it’s open season on your information. I can search for anything you’ve ever created. If you don’t have information management disciplines in place, your employees may be keeping information far longer than they need to," says Sean. "And that’s just part of it," adds Sean quickly. "Storage costs are also a huge driver; companies can’t afford to just keep everything forever. IDC says more storage shipped last quarter than any time since they’ve been tracking it! So Exchange administrators and storage admins are buying more storage all the time. Pretty soon—unchecked—that trend will consume your entire IT budget," warns Sean.

How did we get to this point? And how do we get out? Everyone agrees: we forgot that information touches everybody, and everybody touches it. Information management is not a discrete "job function," it’s everybody’s function. "The knowledge worker should be the first place where data is organized, by having him archive it properly," insists Johannes. "But you can only do that if you’ve all agreed on the repositories that are important to the business. And understand that everything else is unimportant, and unless there’s a legislative reason to keep it, it should be destroyed.

"Email is a great distribution tool," notes Johannes. "But it’s the worst archive on the planet. People need to learn how to use that black ‘X’ on their Outlook screens."

Learning to Cope
I remind my friends that this is, after all, a "best practices" white paper, so I prod them for advice and tips they offer customers who suffer from information fatigue.

"You should start with a high-level overview of the types of information you have," says Johannes. "But people don’t and they try to fall back on technology. If you try to automate something, but you don’t understand the basic organizing principle, that effort is going to fail. Sure, you can go a long way with search, but unless someone is devoted to organizing the data, search alone cannot solve the problem."

And who is that, pray tell? "You can assign people to organize data, but they won’t do it as well as the employee will do from the start. Employees who care about the company also care about their archives. They know that five years from now, the ability to find something will help the company. But you also have employees who don’t expect to be around in five years, so they don’t care. It’s really hard to get that kind of person to file documents and emails," says Johannes.

"That’s something we, as a market, learned the hard way," adds Sean. "A lot of information management systems in the ‘80s and ‘90s required employees to declare an item as a record every time they interacted with it, and to move it to a special location. That was workable...until the email tidal wave crashed upon us. The average knowledge worker sends 135 emails per day. No employee I know will ever tag or designate 135 emails a day."

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