Records management is often a reactionary practice. An emergency takes place, or an official sees a fancy new product at a trade show or a conference. Sometimes, it’s in response to a disaster of man-made proportions, such as a data breach.
After spending eight years in records analysis and document management for a mid-sized municipality, I realized that true document management is not a reaction. To be effective, records management cannot be reactionary or piecemeal, as it often is. It must, instead, be prepared on a wide scale and with all stakeholders involved.
Planning a project with zeal is a great way to plan. However, that zeal can overshadow the true preparation that needs to be done. Enthusiasm turns into digitization for the sake of it. Instead of preparing for document management by simply scanning papers and saving them in random folders, start smaller.
This doesn’t mean that proactive document management is simple. Rather, it’s incredibly complex, which is why preparation is key. If your organization doesn’t have proper records managers, it’s best to create a committee of representatives from each department who have purview of archives.
Before your organization even submits a purchase request for a management system, you must determine your records inventory and define your taxonomy. These are two of the most important steps in the records management process.
A taxonomy should be enterprise-wide. Too many records management programs have been torpedoed because each department believes the uniqueness of its records necessitates a taxonomy different from the others. The opposite is the case: the more uniform the taxonomy, the easier it is to implement. It will be recognizable throughout the organization, even if the records look a little different.
Choosing technology for a records program is also more complicated than most organizations think. Just because one of your reps saw a great new piece of tech at a conference doesn’t mean it’s right for the entire enterprise. Document management is as much about making information available to the public as it is archiving it.
It’s also about assessing cyber security threats, and government agencies are lagging in this area, especially the Federal government. Instead of looking to the latest and greatest tech, vet software and hardware that is standard in the records management industry. Reinventing the wheel can be really exciting, but when it comes to securing data, tried and true is a better choice.
All the records planning in the world will come to naught if the business units aren’t on the same page. Along with creating an organizational taxonomy, records standards must be created and applied to all departments.
Use an industry standard such as the International Organization for Standardization’s as a jumping-off point. The National Archives also offer a number of publications on records management. If your agency hasn’t adopted one of these standards or used one as a model for its own, it’s time.
No matter the size or level of an organization, proper records management is about preparation. Working across the business units to build a records infrastructure will make your records management program a great success.