Records and Information Management: At The Forefront Of Seismic Change

by Gretchen Nadasky  

Musty archives and long-winded corporate policy statements can give people the impression that records management is staid and boring when in fact, 2015 is packed with dynamic changes and fundamental shifts that will make the discipline and profession exciting and—dare I say—cutting edge. As we speak, major seismic changes in the business landscape highlight the critical imperative of records management. Organizations that fail to see the importance of these changes will be at the peril of legal, competitive and talent risks. There are three major trends in place that have affected and will continue to impact the records and information landscape:

1) Legal: Changes to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) effecting litigation expected in December 2015.

2) Big Data: The way organizations are gathering and transforming information into innovation is being repurposed as a competitive weapon. Advances in technology mean that information is being collected and stored on a broad array of devices from mobile apps to watches. Raw data sets, visualizations, dashboards and ‘truth-based decision making’ are tools that drive success in today’s competitive marketplace.

3) The Role of the Records Manager: The importance of having a professional Records Manager participate in business decisions has never been more critical. The role even has its own federal job occupational series codes—a signifier that the demand for records managers is expected to increase. The requirement for knowledge and talent in the field will continue to grow and competition for top talent will escalate.

The time to understand these changes is now!

Legal Change

Up until now, the law has not matched the pace of technological development. The ubiquity of electronically stored information (ESI) has not prompted serious and concerted effort by the Supreme Court to change the regulations around how information must be shared in the course of litigation.  Litigators, custodians, and records managers generally agree that current protocols around e-discovery and the definition of spoliation (not producing information as requested) are outmoded and impractical, and have recently formed committees to re-write the rulebook. If approved as expected in December 2015, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure will be amended to balance the need for parties in litigation to produce evidence, taking into consideration the massive volume of information that must be managed.

Organizations should consult legal counsel in anticipation of how changes to concepts such as “proportionality” and production of evidence to support “issues at stake” will affect them and their current procedures. During this evaluation process, companies may also find it opportunistic to adjust outdated policies that have lead to an over-retention of records due to a “just in case” philosophy.

Big Data

It seems like just yesterday that “business intelligence” was the hot buzz phrase describing how companies compiled information into decision-making strategies. Today, “data analytics” more accurately defines how companies are working to digest the tsunami of information collected by sensors, web crawlers, data aggregators and even video feeds. Given the importance of the source data and processes that go into collecting, processing and analyzing what’s popularly referred to as Big Data, policies and procedures around its protection and security are paramount. In addition, with growth rates of data collection increasing exponentially, now is the time to strategize on a retention and disposition policy before the volume of data becomes unmanageable.

The Role of the Records Manager

When computing became ubiquitous, it was believed that computers would automatically self-organize information and that the need for human intervention to manage ESI would be negligible. Records Managers, archivists and librarians were shown the door and a period of digital anarchy ensued, thereby resulting in the information chaos that most organizations are struggling with today. While computers are great at creating and storing vast quantities of information, they neither understand the relative value of information nor have the ability to put information in places where people can readily find it again. The vast amount of information that companies collect and track can be an invaluable tool, but if left unkempt, it becomes a costly liability. Suddenly, organizations are looking for Chief Information Officers and other well-trained professionals to help them deal with the disarray that has become digital information.

Even the US Government has acknowledged that it needs help with its own records and has created both a new role for Records Managers as federal employees and insisted that all government agencies defer to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to help them manage their information. (This is a big deal considering NARA’s annual budget in 2013 was a paltry $391 million compared to another independent agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $7 billion.) As the role of information in our economy and society increases, the importance of having a professional records manager will be significant. Companies should be proactive in hiring and recruiting talent.

Preventing Mishaps in the Future

As the pressures and opportunities pertaining to the production, analysis and storage of corporate records and data increase, executives must get up to speed on the discipline of information governance. Policies and procedures for handling information must be incorporated with a company’s overall business strategy and planning. A clear understanding of the laws for records production helps frame an organizations responsibilities. Putting policies in place now in foresight of the creation of ever-more data will prevent mishaps in the future. Recruiting talent and placing experienced managers in roles of responsibility will position companies to leverage information and data for competitive advantage. These changes are happening fast and the time to react is today.

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