February 03, 2012 - 2:38 PM
One of the most important elements in gaining control of your records is the records and information inventory. Simply put, you need to know what records and information you have before you can manage it. This ties in directly with one of my favorite general management principles – “you cannot manage what you don’t know about”.
An inventory is a systematic process for identifying all of the records and non-record information in your organization, who creates, uses, or receives the information, and where users store it. A completed inventory provides a complete picture of the information environment. This picture is very helpful for assessing the needs of your RIM program.
It is also of tremendous value if your organization is involved in a lot of litigation. In the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures (FRCP), there is the requirement for parties in litigation to make initial disclosures including the description of ESI (electronically stored information) by category and location that is relevant to the case. How much easier would this be after having conducted a records inventory?
The primary purpose of the inventory is to identify your organization’s information holdings. This can include both records and non-records and both physical and electronic documents. The inventory serves to identify how information is created and used by your employees and by individual groups and users. And it identifies where all that information is stored. This is especially important for electronic records – with physical records it’s usually pretty easy to tell where it is stored and when it starts getting out of control. But with electronic information, too often it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”
The inventory also helps to identify inconsistencies in how information is created, stored, accessed, and managed. The benefit in doing the inventory is that it serves as the foundation for your records management program and is the basis for many of the other instruments required to manage records effectively. For example, the inventory will have a direct impact on the organization’s classification schemes, including taxonomies, thesauri, file plans, and records retention schedules.
The objective of the inventory is to locate, identify, and describe ALL of your organization’s information holdings. Once this is done, you can analyze the findings to identify obsolete and/or duplicate records or documents and begin the process of consolidating them and/or disposing of them.
It can be used to identify those holdings that are critical to the continued operations of your organization and enables you to manage them in the manner most likely to ensure their continued access and availability in the event of a disaster. And it can be used to identify current and future storage requirements.
Before the inventory begins, it’s important to get senior management support. The inventory takes time, energy, and effort and impacts every area of the organization that is within scope. If management in those areas do not support the inventory it will be difficult to conduct it properly and gather all the necessary information.
One way to do that is to identify and communicate the purpose of the inventory to those managers by providing answers to the question, “What’s in it for me?” There are probably specific examples of poor information management that can be cited to different managers and departments, and this can be a powerful approach. For example, if your organization had to settle a lawsuit because it could not find the required information. Or for the sales group, citing examples where sales were lost or delayed, or additional costs incurred, because the paperwork could not be located can be pretty effective.
It is also helpful to identify liaisons from the various different areas of your organization within scope. After all, they are the subject matter experts who know where information is accessed from and stored. That said, there is a case to be made for “trust but verify.” In other words, further along in the inventory process, the liaisons should be able to identify all information-related processes in their area and where that information is stored. This may reveal locations that were inadvertently missed.
And, of course, there will be a need for technical liaisons for two reasons. First, the sheer number and variety of systems in your organization is such that no one person will know where everything is. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the IT staff will not appreciate someone coming through their data center and playing with their systems looking for information. It is likely that the inventory team will have to work closely with IT to determine what is stored, how it is stored, and whether systems are creating records which will need to be managed. It is valuable to know if your ERM solution can be integrated with the business applications to more easily capture the records.
It is also important to determine the scope of the inventory. Will it cover all business units across the entire enterprise? That’s a massive undertaking for a large organization. How about all physical locations? Again, this could be quite expensive and effort-intensive. How about all information types? If not, perhaps there is some prioritization that can be done. Email is always a good starting point because it is so often a major pain point, particularly for litigation and auditing. Network shared drives or individual users’ PCs are also good starting points.
And, what about all systems? Again, it might be more helpful to prioritize and do the important, or urgent, systems in the initial phase and catch the other systems in subsequent inventories.
It is very important to determine who will be on your inventory team. This should be a small, dedicated team that will act as a cohesive unit for the duration of the inventory. Members should be technology-savvy (but need not be computer experts themselves) and senior enough that they have the support of the organization to gather the necessary information.
Again, “You cannot manage what you don’t know about”. Carrying out a records inventory is a critical step in identifying and documenting the current-state of affairs with the management of your records and information.
What has been your experience in carrying out records inventories?
Have you any tips on how you can make this project even more successful?
I will be speaking at the following events:
· February 7th - 10th, 2012 AIIM ERM Masters in Dallas, TX
· February 21st – 24th, 2012 AIIM ECM Masters in Las Vegas, NV
· February 28th – March 2, 2012 AIIM ERM Masters in Amsterdam, Netherlands
· March 6th – 9th, 2012 AIIM ERM Masters in Chicago, IL
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