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The 8 Most Important Things a Records Manager Must Know to Be Smart About Information Governance

“No one puts Baby in the corner.”
Dirty Dancing, 1987

Am I the only one who is bothered by organizations’ tendency to dismiss records manages as nothing more than glorified librarians? (Never mind; I know I’m not.)

The truth is, the precepts and disciplines they adhere to extend far beyond simple classification, and in fact are linchpins of successful information governance as well.

If you’re a records manager seeking to break out of the corner you’re so often put into, then here are a few pieces of painfully-gained wisdom that you might use to your great advantage:

  • Establishing records management as an integral part of a governance program must be a collaborative exercise. Issuing diktats and expecting people to obey is a great way to get nowhere in a hurry – especially when the senior management team isn’t backing you up.
  • At the same time, steps must be taken to ensure that the reins of governance power are centrally held. Allowances can and should be made for departmental variations in, say, vocabulary or administrative business process. But these should be baked into the overarching program, not left to evolve on their own, lest they corrode the order and discipline you are seeking to install.
  • Complicating all this is the fact that no one in your organization – aside from the people in your department and, perhaps, your legal counsel – has ever really thought about records or governance. So don’t be surprised when people don’t instantly enthuse over the protections and benefits of classification, retention, and the like.
  • Information doesn’t have to be on paper to qualify as a record, nor does it have to be in a particular format (PDF, etc.). Rather, the content itself is what determines its records- and governance-worthiness. (Sounds obvious, I know, but I am continually amazed by how many people are surprised by this.)
  • Having said that, it is possible – and definitely preferred – to use electronic tools to manage paper records. Just replace the hyperlink with a box location, and voilà!
  • Magnetic media – hard disks, backup tapes, etc. – degrade over time and eventually become unreadable. (In my experience, younger folks in particular seem less familiar with this concept.) If the content they contain isn’t or can’t be migrated, they’ll not pass muster in a legal discovery process and should be destroyed before they set you up to be fined or otherwise sanctioned.
  • To which point: records destruction is an important component of a healthy governance program. Besides representing to a legal liability, “keeping everything forever” leads to an ever-increasing demand for systems and financial resources as the information pile grows.
  • When destroying records, keep in mind the need to create a record of the records’ destruction. (Yes, that’s written correctly.) That way an audit trail is created that can validate the date, time, and means by which they were destroyed.

These are my top 8 – what would you add?

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