posted 29 Oct 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 3
The last word
An intellectual architecture for records management
A common conundrum in records management is that, at many organisations, there is insufficient understanding at board level of the business drivers for corporate records management. This results in many organisations making a commitment to manage records properly, but not knowing how to implement it to meet the corporate business drivers.
Without realising it, many organisations have implemented systems that are deficient in what I call intellectual information architecture, or IIA.
IIA is the tools and rules that govern how records are managed and how users interact with information management and record keeping systems.
The elements of a corporate records management architecture are:
Classification schemes which provide the framework for applying the policies;
Retention schedules for managing the information lifecycle;
Policies and procedures for the capture, creation, access, security and storage of records;
Defined workflows for managing business processes and information flow.
Content, document and records management systems provide 1 and 2 but do not provide the tools to properly document the intellectual architecture – 3 and 4. System owners often confuse the technology with the business solution and fail to understand how the overall architecture is crucial to the success of the records management process.
The quality of the intellectual architecture plays a major role in change management, usability and user acceptance of any record keeping system and meeting compliance requirements. Management of records must take into account both user needs and business needs.
The consequences of a poorly designed intellectual architecture are many and far-reaching. They include:
The inability to find records that may be required in litigation;
The retention of records which should have been destroyed and the destruction of records which should have been retained;
Inappropriate access or security controls.
ISO15489, the International Standard for Records Management, incorporated a method for creating the intellectual architecture. This method, known as DIRKS, Designing and Implementing Record Keeping Systems, was published in 2001 and revised in 2003. DIRKS is based on a traditional method for information systems analysis and design and was adapted for the records management environment.
Two of the steps in DIRKS deliver a framework for identifying and linking essential record keeping elements within an integrated structure:
The analysis of business activity resulting in the identification of functions, activities, tasks and records;
An analysis of record keeping requirements based on accountability and stakeholder requirements.
The main product from the first step is the Business Classification Scheme (BCS).
The BCS is a hierarchy of functions, activities and transactions. There are five benefits from developing a classification scheme:
Records may be grouped into a context. A single record on its own provides a little information. A group of related records can provide the bigger picture.
It provides a structure for organising storage. The physical implementation of a classification scheme is a fileplan. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, the two terms are distinct.
It permits browsing for information. Browsing is distinct from searching. Searching uses either metadata or content to locate information. Browsing starts with a broad term and ‘narrows in’ on the information that is required.
It allows retention schedules to be applied.
It allows access or security controls to be applied.
Retention schedules or access controls are applied to classes instead of individual records. Folders and documents inherit the retention schedule of the class. This simplifies the implementation of the schedules and security.
Challenges in developing a BCS
A classification scheme creates classes by identifying functions, activities and transactions. Functions are the largest unit of business activity in the organisation. Functions are generally not based on organisational structures, because they are more stable than administrative units. Activities are the major tasks performed by the organisation to accomplish each of its functions. An activity should be based on a cohesive grouping of transactions producing a singular outcome. Each function will consist of several activities. Transactions are the smallest unit of business activity.
Users tend to think about information in terms of subjects, not functions. This leads to a big clash between the way the user thinks about information and the classification structure. Unless addressed, the resulting fileplan will be difficult to use and may not be accepted.
Often, a records classification scheme is depicted as a directory or hierarchical ‘folder’ structure. It can provide classification to two, three, and sometimes four levels, with terms allocated according to established rules or conventions. The transaction level of the classification scheme may be a mix of transactions, subjects or record types based on the most appropriate way to title the record for searching and retrieval.
Resolving the conflict
The conflict between retaining the classification scheme and a user folder structure is achieved by recognising that there is a separate hierarchy that is reached at the transaction level in a classification scheme. A ‘transaction’ within the functional hierarchy is represented by a business process that will create records either when information is received, or when it is sent out by the service team. These records may be stored in case files or in a series of folders that may be determined by record type (such as correspondence, applications, appeals) or by subject.
Documenting record - keeping requirements
Most organisations are extremely poor at documenting their record-keeping requirements. This is, at least in part, due to an absence of tools to help the records manager.
The Business Classification Scheme identifies the information that an organisation uses and classifies the records that it needs to manage. This gives a static view of the information that is held. A records management tool also needs to show how that information is used and the processes that receive, transfer and send out information. This is undertaken in Step C of the DIRKS/ISO 15489 method. To undertake analysis of the record-keeping requirements, the BCS must be connected to:
people and their roles within the organisation;
stakeholders and their interests in the organisation;
legislation, regulations, policies and procedures that govern the organisation.
Combining requirements within a tool
A records management analysis and design tool must combine the elements above into a single structure and provide the functions to add, update and report on the information collected.
Used properly, it will provide a thorough audit trail of how the record keeping requirements are reflected in the policies that the organisation implements. It should also be capable of exporting the results into a record-keeping system, whether it is an electronic document and record management system (EDRMS), or a simple Windows folder structure.
Martin Waldron is founder of In-Form Consult (IFC), an independent European information management consultancy group. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.