This started out to be a few thoughts on records retention. Why we need to embrace the subject everyone wants to ignore. Don’t get me wrong, everyone thinks life would be better if we were operating under a grand all-encompassing records retention policy, but nobody, NO-Body wants to write that policy, nobody. I thought I’d take a stab at advocating the effort, but some of my reasons really didn’t support my argument, so I guess I’m just collecting random thoughts today. I wanted to address records retention for personal, selfish reasons. In the absence of comprehensive records retention policies, content management solutions are harder to build, more complicated to implement and less effective.
In my experience, building a records library in SharePoint is a straightforward task. When you’re dealing with records, the thought has already been added. You probably know all of the metadata, and if you know how long to keep the records, you simply need to decide what happens on day n+1 and implement that in your configuration. SharePoint can accommodate most anything you want to do, including nothing. Backfilling a records library with things that are already considered company records is also easy. It might be a time-consuming task but it’s not a difficult task. Again, that’s because we already know that the documents are records and we probably already have the information we need to set those metadata fields. In a conversation this week, I pointed out that we could easily build a library for a bunch of content someone has decided to keep as records. We can configure the library to accept notes, documents, email and hard copy. Email can be dragged in from Outlook via Harmon.ie, notes can be uploaded as Word Documents or typed in place and we can now scan documents directly into SharePoint – Easy!
The next part of the conversation was where things started getting difficult. The part that began with:
“so, how far back do you want to go?”
Of course, there was no definitive answer. In this case, the lack of a begin-point on the continuum isn’t a problem. Every bit of content that will end up in this library will be processed the same way. I am going to wire up a few connections, write a few procedures, demonstrate a few actions and be done.
If this library was like others that we have been building, the lack of that begin-point would cause us more work. When you’re working with content that is going into a workflow driven process, maybe something that’s generating statistics and driving a dashboard, you have to decide what content will be processed as if it is current and what content just needs to look like it’s always been here. We have one such system, and in order to keep backfilling operations from skewing the metrics, we had to build a separate workflow driven process to support the induction of prior documents.
If we don’t get an answer to that question, things get even more complicated. Consider the implementation of a new document management solution in SharePoint. In the worst out-of-the-box scenario possible, you point your users to a team site complete with the picture of the happy looking, albeit creepy people in the upper right corner. All of the documents that used to be in the K: drive, are in the Shared Documents library complete with the historic folder structure. You tell yourself that the folder structure is a kind of metadata (it is, we’ve done this). As bad as a site like this would be, it could be worse if you fail to consider that starting point. Your solution begins with those documents that were on the K: drive, but what about the documents that are still in file cabinets. What about the stuff on microfilm/fiche. Your users probably have copies of those documents on the C: drives and in their inboxes. In this scenario, what do you tell the new guy when he asks “how do I find everything about the accounts I’ve been assigned?” How do you rewrite procedures? How do you document the business process you just spent money (remember, time is money) building?
In my recent conversations, some people felt that we would still be ahead of the curve if we have some of our content in SharePoint? I disagree. We can’t put our arms around the body of content we might be asked to provide. We won’t have reliable search results, and we won’t have be able to say, with authority “I’m sorry, we don’t have that document.” Just so you know, you want to be able to speak with authority when an auditor or a judge asks.
Content management has to include all the content we still feel is relevant, the content we are told by authorities we have to consider relevant and the content that still adds value to our business operation. Effective content management shouldn’t include anything else.