When records management meets IT

Twenty years ago, filing and IT were separate functions. Now, with many documents existing in electronic form, the two are merging

Records management has always been technology-intensive, says Virginia Jones, certified records manager for the 400,000-customer Department of Public Utilities in the state of Virginia.

Even in 1966, when she was managing microfilm records for the US Department of Defence, Jones relied on computers to keep indexes, which she says would now be considered part of the file-classification methods used in modern data systems. She also recalls she used computers to generate the punch cards that used to be mounted on the microfilm images, just as information metadata tags do today.

As times changed, so did Jones. Now she reports directly to the manager of IT, and she and others like her see records management as a path to IT leadership roles.

Records managers are being driven to IT management out of necessity, because of increasing scrutiny, data privacy regulations and the complexities of managing records data in multiple applications across enterprise systems, says Betsy Fanning, director of standards and content for the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), an international enterprise content management body.

Records management calls for business knowledge about the use of records data, certifications in records management processes and an understanding of the information systems affecting those records, says Gary Wolfe, CIO at consulting firm Source One Management. Wolfe oversees Source One’s IT needs and provides records management expertise to Source One and its clients.

Wolfe took a technological path to his records management career, beginning 20 years ago by constructing drafting and imaging systems for mining companies. He joined Source One in 1995.

Records information could be anywhere in the IT systems that process, store, secure and purge records data, Wolfe says. On a technical level, that makes database management, storage management, access controls, VPN and endpoint security key components of records management, he says.

Although US IT recruitment firms contaced by NetworkWorld could not define technical jobs in records management because they haven’t been tracking this trend, AIIM has posted several, including jobs for documentation and workflow engineers, storage specialists, architects and information/enterprise content management consultants. The AIIM site didn’t list a salary for those job openings, but the national average salary for a certified records manager in the US is US$74,100 (NZ$112,000), according to Salary.com.

For IT and records management to merge, the systems that house and process records information have to understand the structures set around the records, including author, title, abstract, file type, access and document creation, Jones says.

As an example, she points to a file-classification project 18 months ago for a shared drive on a Windows 2000 server. “Before that project, data classification on that server was a free-for-all. There were no naming schemes or conventions, because IT wasn’t familiar with managing records,” Jones says. “I worked with IT to create a three-tiered directory — root folders, set folders and division names. Now administrators know there should be no loose folders hanging around on that server.”

Another key to managing records is knowing when and how to make the data expire, Wolfe says. This would have saved one of his clients several hundred thousand of dollars and several months of Wolfe’s billable time pulling up keyword search records in a litigation case.

“We had to go through some very old tape sets, because emails went back 10 years that should have been expired 30 days after use,” he says. “And they never deleted old email accounts when employees left.”

Wolfe uses this story to train managers, users and IT staffs about records-retention policies in a way they can absorb — which leads to another critical skill that records managers need: the ability to communicate the concepts of records management to every level of the business.

“Everyone in the organisation needs to know how the data they access and use applies to the four values of retention — fiscal, legal, administrative and historic,” Jones says.

Disaster recovery is another set of skills that records managers and IT do well together, says Jones, who is co-author of Emergency Management for Records and Information Programmes.

“We went through Hurricane Isabel a couple years ago, and we have a whole methodology of how to respond. My piece and the whole IT division were closely intertwined,” she says. “We got through it without loss of service or loss of records.”

Degrees of separation

In a 2005 white paper, Records Management and IT: Bridging the Gap, Betsy Fanning, director of standards and content for the Association for Information and Image Management, defines the difference between technical and administrative records management responsibilities like this:

“Records managers have a clear understanding of the importance of the information, the way it is being used in the organisation and the business processes that use the information.” On the other hand, “IT understands the information architecture, including the hardware and software, used to store and work with the information.”

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