TFPL, Senior Records and Information Management Consultant
Have just read a stimulating post by James Lappin on his blog examining the possibilities of SharePoint for records management. Now, this is the current hot topic (in RM circles at least) and revolves around the question of whether SharePoint 2010 can provide the functionality (or some of the functionality) of a conventional EDRMS. Microsoft claims it can but do not, as James points out, intend to seek certification against DoD 5015.2 or MoReq 2 and while SharePoint 2010 can do a form of records management, it is records management as defined by Microsoft, not as defined by the international records management community.
So exactly what is this Microsoft version of records management? Well, the Records Centre familiar to users of SharePoint 2007 is still there in 2010 and has some additional features. Putting aside the question of how or how well it works, the Records Centre offers the possibility of doing records management the traditional way; that is, moving a digital object identified as a “record” out of the care of its creator or custodian into a secure place managed on behalf of the organisation. However, Microsoft then goes on to present an alternative to the Records Centre by allowing users to “declare” records in situ in a team site. Once declared, the records stay where they are and do not have to be moved to the Records Centre. So, two models of records management are now on offer: centralised vs. dispersed control. How do we make sense of this?
Our answer is…it depends. It depends on what sort of organisation you work for and what, if any, records management you need. If you work for a global energy company and are subject to an immense array of regulations, you will need to pay attention to records management. You will have to deal with the reality that information is created and managed in many different places using a range of different IT applications including line of business systems and probably more than one EDRMS. It will not be possible to put all information/records in one “records centre” and at best you will maintain a map of the repositories you know about and try to set some standards for how these are managed.
If you work for a small public sector agency, a small third sector organisation or a small company or partnership, you could almost certainly get by with using file shares (with some conventions about naming and versioning) and would consider introducing SharePoint as a great leap forward. You might have some records (very few, perhaps) that need the level of curation made possible by the Records Centre and will certainly have many that can be happily managed in a file share or in situ in a team site.
It seems to me that Microsoft is offering alternatives which are not exclusive but which the records management community chooses to position as polar opposites. Irrespective of what it is, there is no sense in arguing for just one model, one system, one corporate approach, today when so many organisations (across every sector) are down sizing, merging, diversifying, splitting, or taking advantage of shared service arrangements.
Just look at the following list of information domains found in most organisations to see what diversity of approaches exists:
- Formal corporate records e.g. legal instruments, committee minutes and papers, policies, annual reports: born digital, managed in hard and soft copy, published to the web and/or intranet, preserved long term in an archive or EDRM solution
- Case records: often managed using a bespoke line of business system where they remain until disposition.
- Operational support records e.g. finance, HR: often managed using a bespoke line of business system where they remain until disposition.
- Project records: complicated assemblies of documents often worked on by multiple members of a project team both inside and outside organisations. Fertile soil for collaborative software.
- Less well defined (unstructured) working documents: the documents filling up file shares and team sites that represent the glorious richness and inconsistency of everyday working life. Often considered a records management nightmare, the majority of these documents do not require long-term preservation and control and might benefit from an in situ records management approach
- Email: a slough of despond for records managers, if you can’t buy an email archive product, leave email where it is. It’s better kept in its native application. Life is too short to drag and drop it somewhere else!
James concludes correctly that “SharePoint is now a mature collaboration system, having gone through several iterations of the product” but I would say that what it offers by way of records management is just that – what it offers. The debate about what SharePoint does and how it does it will properly continue and we are working with a number of organisations who have embarked on SharePoint implementations for a whole variety of reasons unrelated to records management. Records managers, meanwhile, must take a metaphorical step back and think hard about the fact that in 21st century organisations records management cannot remain as it used to be.