Rethinking Records Management: Why it’s More Important Than You Know

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 9.56.50 AMBy Dylan Williams – When you think records management, the golden age of Hollywood probably isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. The phrase conjures up images of overstuffed file cabinets, rather than classic films.

But after the last ticket was sold, Hollywood studios would store these film prints away on nitrate film — a highly flammable and dangerous medium that would easily degrade unless stored in absolutely optimal conditions. As a result, most of the original reels of film produced in the early 20th century have already been lost to fire or degradation. And it’s all because studios didn’t give proper attention to the proper management of this information.

Your business can’t afford to make the same mistakes with your critical business information.

An information explosion

A few years ago, I worked with a client that had an underground refrigerated vault containing thousands of reels of this film. As a Certified Records Manager, I’m often called in to assist companies with their information challenges, but this was new for me — it’s not often that my job can be described as hazardous. Thankfully, we took the necessary precautions and there were no incidents. But it got me thinking about the lack of foresight of those who originally stored this film.

Here were some of the most classic movies and cartoons of all time, stored in a format that could literally go up in flames in any moment, with little to no infrastructure to support their long-term storage. And relatively speaking, there were relatively few records being stored — especially when compared to today’s information challenges.

According to IDC, humanity will generate 40 zettabytes of information by the year 2020. That’s 40 trilliongigabytes. Most of this is unstructured data, meaning that building an efficient information infrastructure is of vital importance for businesses that want to capture and leverage useful business information. Records management is a critical part of that entire process, as establishing and maintaining an information repository for past and future data allows workers to use that information to make better business decisions.

When I came to Ricoh, I came to an organization that understands the importance of the front end of the document lifecycle. In my experience, records management should always be part of your integrated information governance strategy, rather than an afterthought at the end of this lifecycle. This is because information governance is about more than just retention — it’s about making information easily accessible and structured in a way that matches its value. And it means securing that information so your critical business data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, so you limit your risk and maintain compliance with all applicable regulations.

Today’s challenges

Unfortunately, many businesses are lagging behind when it comes to making this information easily available. According to a 2015 Information Mobility study from IDC, commissioned by Ricoh, just 62 percent of critical information is in electronic form — the rest is either trapped in filing cabinets (23 percent) or worse, stuck in somebody’s head (15 percent). And even among those who have digitized their information, information silos between departments often prevent the easy sharing of information, which can create significant problems — not just in terms of immediate revenue, but also opening up potential issues around privacy, security, and compliance for groups lacking visibility into needed information.

This is the result of today’s evolving information challenges, where our hyperconnected global economy has made business risk a certainty for many enterprise companies, rather than a possibility. In this new world of work, unstructured data threatens to overwhelm many organizations of all sizes. Broken document processes create bottlenecks that can stifle productivity. And risk events are rarely isolated to one department or outcome. No organization is insulated from these emerging challenges.

Companies need a foundation that integrates IT strategy with eDiscovery, and business benefit with business risk. Records management — and more holistic information governance — is a solid discipline that fills in many of the underattended gaps.

A good records management strategy must then be proactive, rather than reactive, and start at the beginning of the document lifecycle, rather than its end. It must involve input from all LoBs, and allows LoB managers visibility into what other departments are doing in order to avoid information gridlock that can cause risk and compliance issues. These records must be easily searchable, and workers must be trained on how to effectively use this new information repository. And it must be forward thinking, to meet the challenges of the fast-paced business world — now and into the future.

Companies today must not repeat the same mistakes of Hollywood film studios from 75 years ago. It’s time to develop a sustainable innovation strategy that meets the needs of today’s new and ever-changing world of work.

Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 9.55.40 AMDylan Williams is Principal Consultant for Ricoh Americas Corporation Consulting Services’ Governance, Risk, and Compliance Practice Group, specializing in the design and implementation of efficient operational workflow processes that mitigate business information risk with transparency, integrity and accountability. A Certified Records Manager and Information Governance Professional, Williams excels at providing analysis and program guidance for healthcare, government, legal, and corporate clients. He is an active speaker, a member of EDRM, CGOC, ARMA, CompTIA and the Institute of Certified Records Managers, and serves on several exam development and mentorship task forces. Williams is a graduate of the Ohio State University.

Click here to check out more Work Intelligent articles from Ricoh