Formally declaring a piece of electronic content as a record is antiquated, artificial, and unnecessary. Based on the accepted definition of a record, if an invoice is sent we already know that it’s a record by it being proof of a business transaction. When I send an email indicating a course of action I want taken, we already know it’s a record based on the context, content, and sender of the email. The only thing we really need to do is to determine how long we need to keep these items for. Assuming that we’ve implemented our technical infrastructure and business systems correctly, we can even assure the principles of authenticity, reliability, integrity, and to a degree, usability. Formal declaration will have no effect on any of these principles. For the record (pardon the pun), I do include ECM and E2.0 tools in infrastructure and business systems, since they do facilitate the execution of business functions.
From a retention management perspective there are three types of records:
- Permanent / Archival;
- Long term temporary (=> 1yr < forever);
- Transitory (< 1yr).
I’ve chosen the time frames for long term temporary and transitory for the sake of example only. The retention bucket we put the record in depends only on the business context and the business and/or historical value of the record; the origin and format of the record don’t matter.
We can argue that all business content qualifies as a record by virtue of it being business content. If we accept this approach we accomplish two important things: 1) the distinction between record and non-record is removed; 2) life is simpler for the average user (they no longer have to decide if something is a record or not). We can further simplify things by providing the user with a function based classification model.
Users know what business process they’re involved in, and they’re usually involved in only a couple of business processes in an organization. There is no reason to ask an average user to make a determination of how long something should be kept. At most the user should decide whether they’re working on a draft / work-in-process or they’ve finished whatever it is they are working on. That’s it.
I am not implying that users do not have the intelligence to make RIM-type decisions; they don’t have the training, focus, or need to make these decisions. We need to let people focus on the jobs they were hired to do in order to add greater value to their organizations. If they wanted to be RIM professionals they would let us know and we would help the poor buggers on their way (or send them for counselling).
What we need to do is to provide users with the education, tools, and support to do their jobs effectively in the information ecosystem. We don’t need to burden them with responsibilities and accountabilities that distract them from their core competencies without adding value to their goals or to organizational objectives. If we want organizations that perform better and manage information to its full potential, we need to build environments that encourage and reward collaboration, focus on value rather than rules, support knowledge workers with education, use appropriate tools, and work towards achieving organizational and individual objectives.
So I’ve changed my stance; records do matter, for without business records we don’t have businesses. However, there is no point in formally declaring content as a business record since if it isn’t a business record it has no reason to exist in the business.