Creating and Running a Records Management Programme: Case Sharing at KM Singapore 2 September 2011

I will be running a ‘Case Sharing’ called ‘Creating and Running a Records Management Programme’ as part of the KM Singapore 2011: “Riding the Wave of Experience” conference running between 31 August to 2 September. This case sharing will be on September 2nd. I created and managed records management programmes for many years. Take a look at my public LinkedIN profile for my work experience and education.

I’ve prepared some background material about ‘Creating and Running a Records Management Programme’ in this posting and other postings on this blog. If you are interested in attending the case sharing I recommend you read this post before the event. Think about the questions, concerns, problems, issues on the topic of ‘Creating and Running a Records Management Programme’. At the case sharing, I will facilitate a group discussion to share our knowledge on the questions, concerns and problems that people bring along. Just to be clear, I’m not going to give a ‘presentation’ on the topic.

Define Record
To start I want to define ‘record’. You will always come back to your definition of ‘record’ when you are rolling out and managing a records management programme. People will frequently ask ‘what is a record’? Here are three definitions of “record”. All of them are good.

The first is a short definition that could be found in a policy statement. It is short and says what a record is and what a record is not at this particular organization.

The second definition is from the ISO 15489 Standard ‘Information and documentation – Records management Part 1’. It is short and says what a record is with an emphasis on legality and transactional value.

The third definition is from the Association of Records Managers and Administrators. It is the longest and specifies both the physical format and that copies of records are included and it emphasizes the importance of records as evidence of activities and the risk of possible lawsuits.

An organizational definition of a record:
A “record” is information in any form or medium that is within the organization’s control and relates to the organization’s activity or business. This includes both electronic and hardcopy information and other tangible items such as promotional materials. Recorded information that is personal and not related to the organization’s business is not a record under this Policy.

ISO 15489 Information and documentation — Records management – Part 1
Section 3.15 
RECORDS – information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business

ARMA’s definition of record
Records are the evidence of what the organization does. They capture its business activities and transactions, such as contract negotiations, business correspondence, personnel files, and financial statements, just to name a few.

Records come in many formats:

    Physical paper in our files, such as memos, contracts, marketing materials, and reports

    Electronic messages, such as e-mail content and their attachments and instant messages

    Content on the website, as well as the documents that reside on PDAs, flash drives, desktops, servers, and document management systems

    Information captured in the organization’s various databases

When there’s a lawsuit, all of these – including the copies that individuals have retained and any items prematurely deleted or destroyed – may be identified as discoverable. This means they could be used against the organization in a lawsuit.

Records Management as a part of Knowledge Management
I want to place records management within a knowledge management framework. To start with, you should read these two posts I did in October and December 2009.

October 2009 on ‘CM, IM, KM, LS, RM – Is there any difference?’
I was almost finished with a MSc in Knowledge Management and I had been thinking and pondering how Content Management – CM, Information Management – IM, Knowledge Management – KM, Library Science – LS, Records Management – RM fit together. My perspective is they are all inter-related that is it difficult to do one without doing the other.

December 2009, ‘The Knowledge Wheel’
Records management is about managing explicit knowledge artifacts found in the centre top of the wheel, “Paper or Electronic, Documents, Books, Manuals, Videos, Audo, Databases, Systems to Use Them”. To make a records management programme work all of the other parts of the knowledge wheel come into play. You must have a clear idea of ‘how it is done here’ and you must support the skills, learning, training and practicing required when managing records. It needs to be acknowledged and made clear that the records management programme can only indirectly change how knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer is done between people and the programme will not reduce the importance of experience. In other words, records management programmes cannot ‘make’ people share knowledge although they may make it easier to share explicit knowledge artifacts if there is a willingness to do so; nor will records management programmes make it possible to share and transfer ‘experience’ unless there is a willingness on the part of the people to do so. What I’ve noticed is that knowledge managers, information managers and technology vendors will blithely make these claims whereas an experienced records manager doesn’t even consider them to be in the realm of possibility.

What is so special about Records Management?
The concept that records are ‘useful’ and eventually become ‘useless’ and can be disposed is what is so special about records management. For me, this concept of ‘expiration’ and subsequent ‘disposal’ is what separates records management from knowledge management and information management. This is basically of assigning some measure of importance to the records. Those that are more important need to be retained longer. Importance is a combination of organizational/business value and legal requirements. Both are rather difficult to collect and summarize easily on records retention schedules.

Recent research from TAB, a records management services and system vendor, says that 70% to 90% of hard-copy and electronic records kept at organizations over 5 years old are not required for day-to-day operational reasons. My experience with both hard-copy and electronic records confirms this is true. My rule-of-thumb is that people seldom use records that are more than 3 years old. Think about it this way; you are generally working on something that is looking towards the future and it may be useful to know what was done 12 months ago but only seldom is it useful to know what was done 24 or 36 months ago.

When records are created they are ‘useful’ for some purpose. However, the records become ‘useless’ over time and they need to be disposed. Records management uses the ‘records life cycle’ concept of CREATION – USE – DISPOSAL. USE is split into ACTIVE and INACTIVE where many times INACTIVE means moving the records to some cheaper and less assessable location. Even when the records are INACTIVE they are ‘useful’. Rather frequently people think moving records to storage means they are no longer ‘useful’, which is simply wrong. Sometimes during USE the record is transferred from one format to another format; traditionally paper to microfilm, paper to scanned image and becoming more common from one electronic format to another electronic format, e.g. Microsoft WORD to PDF or PDF to TIFF. A key records management goal is to motivate people to the point of DISPOSAL.

The advantages to the organization of creating ‘useful’ records and disposing of the ‘useless’ records can be broken into three groups:

One – it makes ii much easier to find useful records if the useless record are no longer there. It is easier to find a record if you or more likely the computerized index only needs to look through 10,000 records rather than 100,000 records.

Two – it protects the organization because if the ‘useless records’ are disposed they cannot be used to show what the organization was doing at that time in the past. Many times something done in the past is very difficult to explain when the social and cultural context has changed. Also, bit and pieces of records can be taken out of context to make up a story about the organization that may not be completely accurate. The organization does not need explain ‘why’ if the ‘useless records’ are disposed. The organizational/business usefulness may expire and then these ‘useless records’ may be moved to an historical archive. Remember that records in an historical archive still pose potential risk to the organization.

Three – it reduces the need to re-create work already done if ‘useful’ records are created and retained for as long as they are ‘useful’ to the organization. If records are disposed while they are still ‘useful’ it can be very expensive, very difficult and perhaps practically impossible to recreate the information and knowledge contained in these records.

Some records management horror stories
There are real risks of having to explain past actions based on retained ‘useless records’. For example, the U.S. Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement provides for US$ 206 billion to be paid to 46 U.S. states over 25 years arguably over the past actions of the U.S. tobacco companies. Those past actions were documented in thousands of internal tobacco company records, many of which were decades old when they had to be offered up to law firms working for U.S. state attorney offices and used as evidence against the four major U.S. tobacco companies. We do not know if it was only because of these retained ‘useless records’ that the settlement was made but it seems quite likely that it was a significantly contributing factor.

There are real costs if records have to be recreated because ‘useful’ records were disposed. NASA famously failed to retain the useful record of the original tapes that recorded the first moon-landing, see Kim Sbarcea’s blog on ‘The curious case of NASA lost tapes

There are real costs if records are not created and the tacit knowledge is only held in people’s heads. There was a US$69 million cost overrun because information and knowledge was either disposed in records which should have been retained or the tacit knowledge about ‘how we do it’ was never written down about how to build a component of a Trident nuclear warhead called Fogbank, see Patrick Lambe’s blog on ‘Forgetting’ . I am not suggesting that all tacit knowledge should be written down, but I have a strong suspicion that it would not have been impossible to document the production process for the component Fogbank and retain it. The Fogbank processes are from that part of ‘The Knowledge Wheel – Methods, Way it is done here, Routines, Processes, Standards, Teams & Crews’.

Why create a Records Management Programme?
A records management programme comes about for many reasons but generally these are the main ones I have encountered loosely ranked from most to least important:

  • Improve the ability to find records for operational and legal reasons
  • Reduce risk from keeping records too long
  • Reduce risk from not having records that are needed
  • Control costs for storage or for transfer from one format to another
  • Make the work environment more effective and efficient
  • When creating a Records Management Programme you need to do the following:

      Create a policy document and have it approved by the most senior members of the organization.

      Work with the people who create and use the records to collect the organizational/business reasons to retain/dispose of records.

      Work with in-house and outside legal counsel to collect the legal reasons to retain/dispose of records.

      Create a Records Retention Schedule (RRS) template. Typically there are two kinds of RRS templates. One is a global schedule that applies across the functions or the organization. Another schedule is a department specific schedule. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages.

      Create and maintain RRS that summarize who/where the official records are kept, any physical format requirements, trigger dates to move to storage, to transfer to transfer to another format and to dispose of the record.

      Identify and implement ubiquitous tools that can apply the RRS to records and tell you when to transfer, dispose and which will track these records management activities.

      Hold regular records management events – training, records management days, disposal events, compliance reviews, assess and follow-up with vendors, collect what does and does not work. The purpose of the events is to ensure people know who to use the RRS for their records.

      Create a storage and disposal strategy for both hard-copy and electronic records – off-site/on-site – out-source/in-house.

      Assess on a regular basis what does and does not work and amend the programme’s RRS, processes, templates, training, events and so on.

    Finding Aids and Retention Schedules
    The retention schedule is a key output of the records management programme. It tells the organization how long to keep the record. It tells the organization when to dispose of the record. The actual disposal event becomes an important record for the organization to keep since it proves the records were disposed and it means people can stop looking for the disposed record. The schedule may tell the organization when to move the record to another location.

    Collecting the organizational/business reasons is not easy. On the ‘The Knowledge Wheel’, “Methods, Way it is done here, Routines, Processes, Standards, Teams & Crews” is where you will find these reasons. Facilitation tools that get a group of people to talk about how and why they are doing something will help elicit these reasons; knowledge café, open space technology, knowledge audit, positive deviance, future backwards are all worth considering. Remember to include and ask many people at different levels in the organization what are these reasons to retain records. The opinion of the senior manager is most likely very different from a line worker. A senior manager is likely to say ‘we don’t need this’ while a line worker will say ‘we use this every year-end to cross check the annual sales numbers’. Frequently people will say that they need to keep records for ‘legal reasons’ but it turns out their reasons were inaccurate regarding length of time and format.

    Collecting legal reasons for record-keeping is not easy. You can ask lawyers but the off-the-cuff response is likely to be along the lines of ‘ideally keep everything’. This is not what you or your organization wants to hear. You can ask ‘professional service firms’ and they may have some answers but my experience is they only focus on financial records and even then may miss some of the requirements. Almost always the work is going to be out-sourced to outside counsel; it is unlikely that in-house counsel have the time and/or expertise for this type of question. Take a look at this template letter with some guidance on the review process. It is very unlikely that the first and second drafts will answer the questions you need answered. I have several times had to do my own legal research and give it to outside counsel to correct the erroneous information they were giving me on length of retention, format and so on. However, the final document is very valuable when it is shared widely and summarized on a records retention schedule.

    I do wish people would use the general term ‘finding aid’ first and then the more specific terms of classification, metadata, thesaurus and taxonomy. They are all different kinds of ‘finding aids’ and within each one there is a lot of variation. I guess I will have to keep hoping and wishing. The records management programme needs to have tools that help people find the records so they can manage them. Improving ‘findability’ is shared with both library science, knowledge and information management. Therefore, records managers spend a lot of time developing finding aids (see how easy that is to use) linking records to retention schedules. If you are lucky you will be able to work with a well-trained taxonomist and metadata specialist as you develop these finding aids. If not or even if you do have a good person to help you, I recommend you read these two excellent books:

      Patrick Lambe’s Organising Knowledge: Taxonmies, Knowledge and Organisational Effectiveness 2007
      Heather Hedden’s The Accidental Taxonomist 2010

    You may also want to join the Yahoo Groups/LinkedIN Groups ‘Taxonomy Community of Practice’.

    On a records retention schedule there can be categories, which define how long to keep a record. This category is one kind of metadata that can be attached to a record. A descriptive classification is another kind of metadata which may help you find the record but it won’t help you decide how long to retain the record. These two needs to be linked together on a records retention schedule. If you come to the case sharing on 2 September I can share some of my experience with creating, maintaining and applying record retention schedules.

    Here are some examples:
    Retention Categories
    Defines how long to keep the records. There only needs to be few of these retention categories. They must be centrally controlled and only changed if absolutely necessary. There must be a clear definition with examples and a retention period assigned to each retention category.

      Date Compliance

    Descriptive Classifications
    Helps you find the records. The bold and italics terms are only for navigational purposes; the descriptive classification which is assigned to a paper folder, electronic folder or a single document is under them. There can be hundreds or even thousands of these descriptive classifications. A central control authority must exist to ensure they are being used and that they meet the requirements of the people applying them to records.

      Human Resources

      Benefit Plans
      Educational Allowances
      Incentive Plans / Stock Options
      Pension Plans
      Relocation Files
      Retirement Plans
      Passage Allowance
      Home Leave


      Human Resources

      Personnel Administration

      Business Conduct Policy
      Employee Records
      Employee Tax Files
      Job Descriptions
      Organizational Announcements
      Organizational Charts
      Performance Appraisals
      Orientation / Training
      Work Permits/Visa

      Salary Administration

      Salary Administration

      Advancement Planning

      Advancement Planning
      Career Dialogue

    Records Management Organizations
    If you need information and education resources about records management then the place to start is with your country’s professional records management association. Here are a few of the biggest ones in the English-speaking world to get you started.

    Primarily North America with some outposts around the world:
    ARMA – Association for Records Managers and Administrators

    Primarily Australia & New Zealand with some members in the South Pacific and Asia
    RIMPA – Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia

    Primarily the United Kingdom & Ireland
    IRMS – Information and Records Management Society

    More on the technical side and they like to emphasize ‘content management’ but they have a strong records management perspective and it seems to me more of an international presence than those above:
    AIIM – Association of Information & Image Management


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