Records – Do They Matter?

I originally posted this on AIIM’s Information Zen site (now defunct), but thought I’d update it a bit and repost it here…

Leaving legal aspects out of the discussion for the moment, does it really matter whether or not content is a record?  If content is not declared a record, is that content less valid or valuable than if it were considered a record?  I am referring to the business value of content.  I am referring to an organization’s ability to leverage the content in order to reduce wasted effort, to increase customer satisfaction, to drive profitability, to reduce expenses, and to keep everyone’s butt out of the slammer.

If I do take legal issues into consideration, does the “recordness” of content make a difference, provided I can back up everything I say about the content’s use, access, authenticity, and provenance?  Personally, I don’t think it should; I know it does, but that’s just because too many people out there haven’t fully caught on to this new invention called the computer yet.

If within the context of discovery, an organization is told to produce certain content, said organization cannot reply “but we never declared it as a record” as a rationale for not including it in the discovery.  So even from a legal point of view, the “recordness” of content is becoming, in my opinion, less critical.  I believe that as we grow more and more comfortable with electronic content, content’s status as a record will become less important.  The fact is, with the proper tools and procedures we can secure, audit, and authenticate non-record (electronic) content every bit as well as if the content were declared a record.  With the proper tools we can manage the lifecycle of any piece of content very effectively.  Let’s face it; the lifecycle of content is not very complicated: get it, use it, dispose of it.

If the “recordness” of content is becoming less important, do we still need Records Managers?  We do, but I think we need to change their titles, job descriptions, and the amount of authority they have in organisations.  There is some interesting discussion about the RIM profession happening on the ARMA Linkedin group and on the AIIM ERM Community site.


5 Comments on “Records – Do They Matter?

  1. Chris,
    You describe an interesting viewpoint about the validity of different classifications of information – whether records, corporate communications, or some other form of content.
    Another perspective is that the business value of content doesn’t matter either. It doesn’t matter at least to a certain degree when discovery comes into play. A business unit sales forecast or budget might be conceived by some to have more business value than an individual project status report. However, the nuggets of information in that project status report might be more important to eDiscovery based on the context of the need.
    I agree that the “recordness” of content might not make a difference in this case since duplicate records or other sources or information can be discoverable if they are available. They can then be used in situations such as litigation. One thing to consider is applying standard records management retention and disposition rules to these various forms of information for the purposes of safeguarding the information, but also for protecting it from unintended use. Maybe providence comes into play here.
    I believe we will see Information Rights Management tools start to blossom for this use case. I will post again and point to other references I am working on.
    Thanks for sharing.


    • Hey Brent

      I get your point about content’s business value in the context of a discovery request or legal proceeding. However, in order for the content to be used as evidence it must be responsive and relevant to the case. Relevance and responsiveness are tied to context which is tied to the business process.

      The fact of the matter is that if the content had no business value in the first place it should not have been available for discovery. I.e.: it should never have been created / captured or it should have been disposed of (assuming retention criteria had been met).



  2. For as long as there have been records there have been non-records, and the contest between the two. While it is true that all business information is treated by the courts as legal evidence, and that we can manage non-records as if they were records, there will always be at least one difference between the two. In any particular case, it will be something different: the non-record may lack a signature, or a date, it may lack the identifier for the juridical person reponsible, it may lack the content piece which describes a juridically relevant act (i.e. it is incomplete as to content) and so on.

    So, what distinguishes the record from the non-record is that while both may be treated as legal evidence by a court, the record will be given greater weight of evidence because it has all of the characteristics of a record. If, faced with adverse litigation, all we can muster are non-records (however well we have managed them) our position is that much weaker when faced with a litigant whose evidence is better.

    The recordness of content has always been important and always will be. It will only cease to be important if civilization has become so unglued that we are a race of incompetents struggling against all odds to deal with the blunders of our fellow incompetents. File under “Distopia”.

    Long live the Records Manager


    • Hi Scott

      I believe that you and I have had one or two previous discussions on this topic, and that we agree to disagree. Maybe next time I’m out your way we ought to see if we can come to a consensus over a pint or two at Kelly O’Bryan’s.

      My main point is: all things being equal, does an artificial and antiquated declaration of electronic content as a record really matter? I say no. You say yes.

      You’ve inspired me to write another post on the topic. I’ll thank you, others may not. 🙂


      ps. Records Managers – off with their heads! or let them eat cake.


  3. Pingback: Records Are Not The Center Of The Universe | Information Is Currency

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