Implementing Records and Information Management (RIM) can be a juggling act.
Many record managers are faced with several major issues in applying RIM best practices to their businesses. In this two part blog, I want to go over how I helped implement a seamless records management approach in a mid-sized company using Alfresco, an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. There are four general aspects I would like to address in these two blogs:
- How we structured our vision with company-wide content policy and standards
- How we mapped out what documents we had and the requirements around them
- How we configured the system so that it worked for us
- How we implemented the solution
In this blog, Part 1, I want to start off with how we got organized in order to leverage records management best practices with Alfresco and the Alfresco Records Management (RM) Module. The objective was to meet our complex records management requirements; gain tighter governance on our unstructured data and content silos; and speed up collaboration efforts within the company.
One of the situations we faced, with regards to records management, was the amount of unstructured electronic documentation we had and the numerous retention periods for each type. There were physical records that needed to be ingested into the system as well. On top of that we had several repositories that we needed to “sift through” and migrate to the new system. In a company such as ours, we have many different types of government programs that called for different documentation and retention for each type of program. So the retention schedule was complex and had to cover hundreds of thousands of documentation. We wanted to be sure we could get a handle on our electronic documentation by implementing a retention schedule but we did not want to make every employee into a Records Manager to do so! We wanted every user to be able to upload their documents quickly and let the system handle the life-cycle from there on out! It sounds too good to be true but it can be done!
First let’s dive into the subject of records management and policy. In order to build a castle you better create the blue-prints first. So to build our “castle” our “blue-print activities” were:
1. Defined business policy and best practices for documents, records and emails
- This defined what the different types of documentation we had company-wide; what was an “official corporate record” and what was just “miscellaneous documentation.” It also detailed out how we would manage emails, hard copy files and storage.
2. Defined record retention schedule and disposition policy
- This defined, per our governing bodies, what the laws were pertaining to the retention of each of our official corporate records, electronic or not. It also detailed how long we, as a company, are going to keep non-records and miscellaneous documentation.
3. Defined a record holds policy
- This defined what the protocol was for any necessary “legal holds” or “Freezes” on records, and under what circumstances.
4. Defined vital records policy, disaster recovery and offsite storage policy
- This was a plan that laid out what records were vital for the company, vital to operate on a daily basis. If anything were to happen to these records, this plan laid out a speedy recovery of this information.
In addition to the above activities, for our project, we needed to detail out an additional step: 5. Created a “documents matrix.” This was a simple spreadsheet that tied in all of the RIM and ECM details needed on every document. It listed out every document the company produced and it included:
- The name of each document that will be uploaded to the system
- The document type and any sub document types for those documents/records
- Document status. (Whether it was an “official record” or not. Not all documents are “official records” per the retention schedule, so this matrix can help differentiate the two.)
- Custom metadata that’s needed for each official record (We had at least one “property” – metadata – that was required to be added to a document for retention purposes, which I will go over in more detail later)
- Originating department and “document owner” for each document/record (those positions in the organization entrusted as the custodian of that record and who had disposition authority over them)
- Retention schedule (e.g. “Active + 6 years” or “Permanent” or “Current Year +2” etc.)
- Criteria for becoming an official record (e.g. “when a contract is approved and signed” etc.)
Analyzing and documenting within the spreadsheet simplified the configuration of Alfresco + Alfresco RM plug-in to fit our document collaboration and records management needs into one spreadsheet. By researching and fully mapping out which documents were official records, which ones were not, what to do with the official records, when to do it etc., allowed our project team to customize a seamless records management approach. Moreover, it was important to know: what we have, where it goes and when does it goes there. Otherwise, it is hard to meet both content management and records management requirements. After creating these policies the next thing to do was get them out to the people responsible for implementing them. The general employees did not need to know the retention schedule but they did receive the policy on what was a “official record,” what is not, what to do with important emails etc. To do this we held workshops with the executives and then held departmental luncheons to discuss the basic policies and guidelines that pertained to them. We stressed how employees needed to know which documents were important for the company and which ones are “OK to shred.” (AKA, what is an “official record” [has legal ramifications] and what is just a “document” [does not have legal ramifications]) This concept is nothing new and most employees already know their own documents cold. They know not to shred a contract and they know that the company weekly plan, that everyone got a copy, of is theirs to keep or shred. So learning the new policy was not entirely too daunting.
For full comprehensive tips for starting an ECM implementation project see the Armedia whitepaper on “Creating an ECM Advisory Board and Program Charter” by Ronda Ringo.
In closing: Working on the board of my local ARMA Chapter (Association of Records Managers and Administrators) for several years, I’ve noticed companies were having difficulties implementing records management because they were trying to teach their individual employees records management. This puts all the stress and obligation on an individual employee and adds a considerable amount of time and training. This can be a lot of hours lost that can be used for better investments. All employees should not have to become expert Records Managers to be able to manage their electronic content. Setting it up in this way, the only thing our employees need to know was what they already knew, basic details about their documents, and the system does the rest!
In my next blog “Alfresco Records Management; An Approach to Implementation – PART 2” I will go over how we used Alfresco and implemented this seamless records management approach.