Records Management and the Cloud

imageIt should be obvious to you if you’ve spent any time on this blog that I firmly believe the cloud is the future. It solves so many of the stumbling blocks and time consuming tasks that people face during implementations and ongoing growth that it is silly to think of a different future in the face of overwhelming volumes of information.

Still, things aren’t perfect in the world of the cloud. As of this writing, there is no system with solid Records Management (RM) capabilities. Sure, some older vendors offer hosted solutions but those aren’t cloud solutions, merely hosted.

The reason for this is two-fold. The first is that the current crop of cloud vendors are growing fairly quickly without RM features. The second, the calling card of vendors like Box is simplicity and Records Management is traditionally not simple.

The first reason is going to fade over the next couple of years. Before that happens, how do cloud vendors address the second issue? How do they make it simple for the users?

By changing the equation.

Records Management Today

I’ve spent a lot of time in my career implementing systems for the US Federal Government. To say that they have RM needs is an understatement. I’ve also tackled this problem in the commercial space, mostly to meet Sarbanes-Oxley and e-Discovery requirements. In both environments, the Department of Defense (DoD) 5015.02 standard was used as a one-stop checklist.

Which is the problem.

There is so much focus on file plans and the how of RM that the business purpose is essentially lost. What is that purpose?

  • Retention: Insure that important business documents are kept, in an unaltered state, as long as needed to meet business and legal requirements
  • Disposition: When it is time to dispose of documents, they are properly disposed
  • Hold: If a set of documents are required to be kept due to a pending legal action, they can be protected until no longer needed

When you get down to it, that is it. Why then is RM so complicated? Because that first bullet is hard to automate and the other two bullets have to be executed with a very high degree of confidence.

Rethinking Records Management

Even before cloud solutions, RM was too complex. The need to simplify has been obvious. New solutions in the cloud provide us with the opportunity to start with a clean slate. Of course, the question of How? remains.

How can they do this? Quite simply actually…

  • imageBig Bucket: Organizations need to simplify the rules so it is easy to classify them. This is a current trend.
  • Metadata: There needs to be 1-2 user editable fields that help define the type of document. Simple lookups with less than 8-10 terms should suffice.
  • De-Duplication: If one copy of a document is declared a record, other copies need to automatically identified and consolidated. This likely already happens on the storage level.
  • Auto-Classification: This is the trick. There are some advanced e-Discovery tools out there. These can be used to look at the dates, metadata, and users and then determine the retention or set a hold. These tools also have the ability to learn, becoming smarter and more effective. Plug those engines into the cloud services behind the scenes and life is good.

How would this impact the normal user? When saving a document, they name it. Same as now. The system tries to auto-classify the document. When sharing the document, any needed fields would be shown and users could either confirm or change the setting.

They could also ignore the field and risk the ire of the records department. A minimum retention period for all shared documents can help minimize the risks of this happening

Everything else happens behind the scenes. There will be some work for the records department, but they have a lot of work now that this would help alleviate. If they know that records are being managed correctly, they may also sleep well.

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