Getting Records Management Right

Charlie Brett of Xerox Global Services describes all the challenges his clients face

October 26, 2006

4 Min Read
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Organizations of all kinds face a double-edged sword when it comes to managing documents: Volume is growing exponentially, and so is the need to organize information for easy retrieval. Unfortunately, according to a managing principal for Xerox Global Services (XGS), some folks end up getting sliced by the document ninja.

According to Charles Brett of XGS, there are a range of things to keep in mind when creating a good records management system. First is to define what is meant by a "record."

"Overall, records management is the accountability, management, and enforcement of what is a business record," Brett says. "The definition of a record can be defined by statute or citation. But what a company would consider a vital record may not be required for legal purposes but be vital to operations -- things like manuals, documents of procedures, minutes, and so forth."

Sadly, some outfits wait until the wolf is at the door in the form of lawyers or regulators before deciding to get organized. "People ask us to dig them out when they have a lawsuit, to assist them with getting on track, and sorting it out," Brett says. So frequently does this happen that XGS has set up a division called Xerox Litigation Services to cope.

What can people do to avoid a document management mess? Brett has several suggestions:

  • Don't avoid the issue. "One pitfall is thinking, 'This won't happen to me,' waiting for the event, and then being completely reactive to it," Brett says. Better to get ahead of the curve since if you're in a regulated business, this is bound to arise sooner or later.

  • Get the right people involved. Sometimes companies make the mistake of trying to get records management together without getting the people who can really help involved in the process. Since the definition of what's vital to save varies across different levels and departments, this can be a crucial mistake. "IT can't go in a presume to understand all the organization's business requirements for records. These vary across departments... Finance and HR have different requirements."

  • Get commitment at the top. As with any IT project, records management can fail for lack of executive backing. One reason there is such growth in records management services is that the mandate is coming from the top down. Unless that happens, the level of motivation -- not to mention the level of financial and operational support -- required to keep records management on track will likely not be there when it's needed.

  • Take an inventory of what you have. It's a big mistake to neglect figuring out what systems are in place already, and what might be augmented, modified, reused, or grouped in a nascent records management project. "A lot of large organizations are very siloed," Brett notes. It can be easy to reinvent the wheel in these environments.

  • Standardize your infrastructure. Getting records management in place will be hindered if you have "Netapp over here and EMC over here and Hitachi over here," Brett states. A common infrastructure for applications and storage will avoid duplication of effort.

  • Search and destroy. In most organizations, document redundancy occurs often, not just in paper records, but in what is stored electronically. "One of the big challenges in the world of records management is knowing where everything is and once something's life is over, expunging that data. That's hard... email is particularly tough," Brett says.

If the above sounds daunting, you're not alone. A lot of organizations need help with records management, which means it's a boom time for companies like XGS. (See Content Capture Considered.) This particular division of Xerox Corp. brings over $3 billion in annual revenue to its parent via business in 160 countries, with a staff of 15,000. Specialties include using imaging systems to scan paper records in order to digitize, index, and manage them. It's a business that's heating up.

"Over the last several years, records management services have really taken a ramp up, and in the last couple of years there's been a lot more interest," says Brett, who formerly worked as a principal analyst at the Meta Group (now part of Gartner). "Companies are looking for better process management in how they access, secure, and store documents."

Watch for the full interview with Charles Brett soon on Byte and Switch.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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