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3 keys to effective records management programs

Successful implementation can be found in three simple letters—PPT.

In my previous articles, I have talked about cleaning out unnecessary electronically stored information (ESI) and developing an effective records retention program. Now, I’d like to turn to execution. A records management policy and records retention schedule are worth little more than the bits and bytes they are made up of unless you actually implement them. And the key to successful implementation can be found in three simple letters—PPT: people, process and technology.

1. People

Yes, records management would be a whole lot easier if we could just eliminate the humans. But people are going to continue creating, saving, sending and deleting ESI for now, so the success of your records management program requires that you get them on board. People are important in two key respects: First, they have to understand the records management program and their responsibilities under it. Second, their role has to be as simple and undisruptive as is possible if you want them to comply.

Understanding and acceptance come through training. Formal training is important not only to help employees understand the records management program, but also because it reinforces the fact that the program is a priority. Employees should be trained when they are hired, whenever the program is significantly updated and on a periodic basis thereafter. If possible, the training should be interactive and include a testing component to increase the likelihood that information will be retained.

Compliance, however, requires more than simply understanding the program and its expectations. If the expectations are unreasonable, the result will be equally bad. Therefore, it will be important to simplify the process for individual custodians as much as possible by simplifying records classifications, reducing the number of decisions to be made and leveraging technology where possible.

2. Process

Before you can properly train people, you need to develop and document your processes. A policy provides overall direction. Schedules provide guidance for specific records. Process enables execution.

The records management process must include detailed procedures for how individual employees will execute the records management program as well as necessary reference materials. Among other things, you will need to have a file plan for unstructured data, including email. You will need to establish procedures for individual custodians to follow when categorizing records within your information systems. IT stewards of non-custodial data repositories also will require procedures for managing data in such systems.

The complete set of processes and procedures will be dependent on your business’ information environment, and is far beyond the scope of this article, but it is a critical component of success. As I’ve mentioned before, don’t let the sheer scope of the endeavor stop you from starting. Begin, if you need to, with a single information system, and move on from there.

3. Technology

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here again: technology is not a panacea. There is no easy button, so don’t think you can dump records management onto the collective lap of IT and walk away. That being said, technology will be a critical, indispensible and unavoidable component of the program. The mantra for technology should be: Leverage what you have, acquire what you need, and retire or repurpose what you don’t.

The technologies that we use each and every day (such as the email system that delivered you notification that this article had posted on InsideCounsel) are fabulous and have far more powerful records management capabilities than we tend to use.

Still, it is quite possible that you’ll at least consider new technology to support your program. There are many excellent technologies in this rapidly developing space, and, happily, vendors are being increasingly creative in how technology is delivered and partnering with customers to help reduce the overall cost of ownership. Cloud-based solutions are just one emerging example of this.

You also are likely using technologies that you either don’t need or shouldn’t be using. Sometimes these are “rogue” applications such as IM clients employees have downloaded and legacy systems no longer in use but still housing data. What you have remains to be seen, but it is there and you should get rid of it.

Conclusion

I have come to believe that people, process and technology are central components of the solution to just about every business problem, and records management is no exception. The success of your solution will depend on the attention you give to each of these components.

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Dennis Kiker

Dennis Kiker is a partner at LeClairRyan in Richmond, Va. He works with corporations and government agencies to facilitate and improve information management and discovery response...

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