Is it a Record? – Take 2!
In response to my previous blog “Is it a Record, Who cares?” @DoD501502STD twitted: “Let’s just ignore the laws we don’t like??”. It’s a very valid question, but I think it slightly misses the point I was trying to make in my post: “Who Cares?” wasn’t a flippant remark, it was a literal question…
I want to be very clear: I am not at all disputing the need to manage records. My discussion point was on the issue of what constitutes a record that needs to be managed as the law prescribes. And I guess there are two points I’m trying to make here: (1) The distinction between a record and a non-record is becoming a moot point, and (2) that the paradigms we use today to manage records are no longer relevant. Let me explain…
Today, all electronic information is potentially discoverable, in the legal sense, regardless whether that information has been declared as a record or not. Today, the information relating to a business transaction (the “record”) will be spread across multiple media and formats – paper, electronic document, database entries, email, website interaction, instant messaging, telephone transaction, SMS text and potentially even Twitter. The current paradigms for records management, which would effectively require you to electronically “staple” all these bits of information together in order to archive them in a folder, in a volume, in a category of a fileplan, is using an outdated model that has been designed for the constraints of the paper archiving world and is no longer relevant.
Arguably, existing RM practices, are effectively constraining organisations in defining the most appropriate RM strategy by prescribing management paradigms which no longer align with today’s information management practices.
The WHY, which is the law requirement, is the secure preservation of information for a defined retention period, and the audited exercise of disposition schedules. HOW we go about implementing this today, is what I’m questioning here. Not the requirement to manage records, but what is a record and how we manage it.
So, to follow through from my previous blog, I would suggest that it is the desired behaviour and context of these information entities, that defines whether they are a record or not, and not their physical medium or simply their content.
So my suggestion would be: Focus on the WHY – The spirit of the law: The need to reliably, transparently and accountably protect all relevant information, for a given period of time. In today’s IT and social networking environment, designing an environment that delivers that capability may need alternative paradigms that are effective and efficient, but may be far removed from our current rigid definitions of records, fileplans or what an RM implementation is “supposed” to look like.