posted 2 Jul 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 9
EI cover feature
Federated records management promises to help organisations manage a bigger volume of records than ever – across a range of source applications.
By Jessica Twentyman
Records management has come a long way from the days of paper-filled boxes stashed away in dusty basements. And, as records management has matured, so have the software products that support this vital activity, says Barry Murphy, an analyst with Forrester Research.
“Records management increasingly focuses on managing the retention and disposition of all electronic and physical content, not just ‘official’ records that have reached the end of their life and are now destined for a filing cabinet or warehouse,” he says. “The explosion of electronic content in various forms and repositories creates a huge records-management headache,” he adds. As a cure for that headache, records-management software has evolved radically from the form it took in its early days during the mid-1990s.
Then, it was typically bought as a standalone product. The idea was that records-management staff would identify the electronic content that was really important to the organisation and place them (in an unalterable format) in the new system’s dedicated repository – in much the same way that they gathered the organisation’s essential physical records and placed them in store.
Since then, however, records-management software has been almost completely incorporated into the broader enterprise content-management (ECM) market, as companies in that sector have acquired specialist records-management software vendors or developed their own products.
In the process, the idea of a standalone records-management product has made less and less sense as the ECM software suppliers have sought to use records-management techniques to manage any content held in their wide-ranging ECM ‘platform’ products.
They have quickly discovered, however, that this approach rather depends on customers being prepared to consolidate all their content, organisation-wide, within a single ECM product – and few organisations are prepared or able to take that step.
As a result, a new concept in records-management software has emerged over the past two years – federated records management. “Because content resides in varying systems and repositories, a growing number of records managers demand the ability to manage the retention and disposition of content in its native repository,” explains Murphy of Forrester.
“Vendors offering federated records-management can still have a separate repository for ‘official’ records. But federation provides records managers with the flexibility to keep records where they were created or to bring records into a separate repository. This is what records managers need and demand – today more than ever,” he says.
Murphy has recently completed an assessment on the state of the electronic records-management market, and to see how the various vendors stack up against each other. He and his team included 12 records-management products from nine vendors in their reviews, but when it came to offering federated records-management, they found that the choices are still pretty limited. In fact, of the vendors assessed, only a handful offered what he defined as a framework for true federated records-management.
These were: Computer Associates (with CA MDY FileSurf); Open Text (Livelink ECM Records Management); IBM (with both FileNet P8 Records Manager and IBM Records Manager); and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Vignette (with its Records & Documents product).
Predictably, a number of vendors have quibbled over Forrester’s definition of federated records-management. But most analysts share Murphy’s view that it is now a vital requirement of electronic records-management packages.
“Since many enterprises still have yet to standardise on a single ECM product, they will often have multiple content repositories. The ability of records-management products to extend their reach through federation with other content-management repositories and applications – as well as supporting compliance and discovery – is essential,” says Kenneth Chin, an analyst at Gartner.
In short, organisations need to have their essential records protected in situ, in their original source systems, rather than exported to and from a specialist system.
So what constitutes federated recordsmanagement? In essence, it involves applying policies to content held in a native repository – such as an e-mail archive, for example – rather than exporting records into specialist records-management products.
“These policies will ensure that content cannot be altered or tampered with and will dictate how long it is kept for and when it is disposed of.
They can also ensure that content is visible only to authorised users and can only be deleted by them,” says Alan Laing, principal storage consultant at Computer Associates (CA), which acquired the FileSurf product when it bought records-management specialist MDY in June 2006.
“People will always have different repositories for different kinds of content, so it makes sense to leave content where it is, but to have a tools layer that applies records-management policies to that content in a way that enables you to view multiple repositories as a single, virtual pool of records,” he adds.
This relies on tight integration between the federated records-management product and the native content repository – and CA has more packaged integrations with other repositories than any other records-management product, according to the recent Forrester product evaluation.
A wide variety of partnerships enables FileSurf customers to be extremely flexible in applying policies to different kinds of content. For example, US law firm Thacher Proffitt & Wood uses FileSurf to manage records that originate and continue to reside in its web-content management system, its Microsoft SharePoint system and its Zantaz e-mail management system and physical document repositories. Not only that, but FileSurf is also integrated with the firm’s imaging system so that documents that are scanned in on Ricoh multi-function devices can be incorporated into the records-management process at the point of capture.
“In one quick step, the system saves the file as an image, with the text saved behind it to allow keyword searches and intelligent federated search. By the time the user gets back to their desk, their scanned document is ready on their desktop and already filed into MDY FileSurf,” says Kurt Stevenson, the firm’s director of records and information management.
Federated records-management products also help companies get round a thorny problem that has stymied many records-management software implementations: policy enforcement across the organisation. Put simply, an organisation cannot always rely on its employees to recognise a record when they create or view one, much less ‘declare’ it as such so that it can be managed by the appropriate record-management system. Back in 2003, for example, a six-month study of users conducted
by the US-based National Archives and Records Administration noted a significant level of user dropoff following training. Fifty-six per cent found records-management technology ‘extremely burdensome’ or ‘burdensome’ to use, while six per cent found it such a trial that they never even declared a single record.
Federated records-management products avoid that problem by automatically declaring records – typically, the system only needs to know of the existence of the content location and what makes content eligible to be a record.
For example, the dragging of an electronic document into a particular folder might alert the records-management system to its status as a record. Internal and external system events might serve the same purpose. These could include an update to a vital policy document, for example, or receipt of a transaction from another system.
Either way, by matching criteria (such as user name or role, process stage – for example, final approval – document creation date, or type of content) against the file plan, associated metadata, as well as user and process information about a record, can be captured. This, in turn, ensures correct classification of a record without the need for human intervention. FileNet P8 Records Manager, for example, brands its own system’s automatic-declaration capabilities as ‘ZeroClick’. The company’s ZeroClick capabilities streamline the capture of records according to user events and actions.
“Beyond records managers, any process owner can insert a record declaration task (event-driven or manual) into their own processes.
The end result is consistent records declaration with minimal burden for end users,” says Murphy of Forrester in his assessment of the FileNet product. In effect, automatic declaration capabilities offer two key benefits. First, they enable organisations to declare content as a record as part of an overall workflow process. For example, when an item of content is approved via a workflow step, the systems can automatically declare that approved version of the content as a record.
Second, they give records-management products the ability to ‘listen’ for content as it is placed in folders in the repositories and file servers they control. So, for example, when a document is saved in a certain folder, it is detected and declared as a record, and can potentially automatically double-check that it meets other criteria, too.
For many organisations, therefore, federated records-management ought to mean an end to moving pieces of content from one repository to another once they are declared to be a record.
That’s not necessarily the case for customers of Open Text, however, where plans are underway to launch a new product that combines the company’s existing records-management capabilities with long-term archiving and search capabilities.
Right now, Open Text offers a federated product called Livelink ECM Records Management. This is designated a ‘leader’ in records management by Forrester analysts, who point out that among the total of six records-management products that Open Text offers (thanks to its voracious appetite for acquiring smaller ECM companies, such as Hummingbird), Livelink ECM Records Management is by far the strongest.
However, in its next release of the Livelink ECM platform – Livelink ECM 10, which is due at the end of 2007 or in early 2008 – Open Text will combine this product with its Livelink Enterprise Archive product to create Enterprise Library Services.
Enterprise Library Services will enable users to apply retention strategies not only to content in Livelink ECM repositories, but also originating in enterprise applications from big-name suppliers such as Microsoft, SAP and Oracle, as well as business content stored in Microsoft SharePoint, e-mail, file systems and other repositories, according to Richard Anstey, director of technical architecture at Open Text.
But in doing so, he explains, it will move that content to a dedicated long-term archive, typically hosted on low-cost storage media, such as tape or optical disk. Advanced search capabilities operating on that store, meanwhile, will make e-discovery tasks all the simpler.
“It’s all very well keeping records in their native repository for the short term. But when you’re talking about the huge volumes of records that we’re seeing in customer installations, you need to start thinking about the storage-management issues and costs those volumes will create in years to come,” he says.
So it seems that the federated records-management debate is far from over. Some suppliers will doubtless incorporate federation into their existing product sets. Others, such as Open Text, may move on from the concept. While records management may at last have grown up, it seems it is still some way off true maturity.
BOX: Records management market metrics
The records-management market includes products that apply retention policies for business content, such as paper and electronic documents and e-mail.
Analyst group Gartner valued the worldwide records-management market at approximately $350m in software licence and maintenance revenue in 2006, an increase of more than one-third compared to the year before. That market is expected to continue growing at a similar pace, according to Gartner’s forecasts, which indicate a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 30 per cent between 2007 and 2011.
Gartner surveys also reflect a market penetration rate of 60 per cent for companies using records management, but only one-fifth of these are enterprise-wide deployments.
Source: Gartner, 2007
BOX: The evolving role of records managers
When it comes to keeping their jobs, records managers have never needed to fight their corner more fiercely, says Barry Murphy, an analyst at Forrester Research. “The emergence of automatic classification and electronic records-management software has led many in IT, business units and executive suites to ask whether records managers are still a necessary part of the organisation,” he says.
However, records managers do have a great deal of expertise to offer, from understanding the content implications of compliance (not to mention the legal regulations and the information needs of business users) right through to communicating retention needs to the right staff across the organisation.
To ensure that records managers do not wind up being replaced by a software application or relegated to guarding a warehouse of boxes, they need to communicate clearly their value to the organisation. Murphy offers the following tips:
- Learn what information businesspeople need to do their job
“Businesspeople generally want to keep as much information as possible in case they need it later in the course of their jobs. But, organisations want to dispose of as much information as possible to both reduce discovery risk and minimise storage costs,” says Murphy. Records managers need to work with businesspeople to understand what information they truly do need for their jobs and what is minimally accessed;
Distill the decisions that the legal function needs to make
“Legal staff tend to make decisions in a vacuum, not always considering what information businesspeople want to keep for knowledge purposes as they interpret laws and sign off on retention policies,” says Murphy. Records managers can make life easier for them by being the expert on the practical implications of compliance regulations and help them balance risk with the needs of the business;
- Bridge the gap with IT
“When it comes to retention management, IT is often inundated with complex legal requirements and requests from businesspeople to have access to all information,” says Murphy. “Records managers are in the best position to liaise among all three groups, ensuring that policies and procedures are correctly defined, enforced by technology and executed by business.”
- Become the quality assurance expert
Records-management software will make it easier for end users to self-declare their records and can help automate records declaration steps. “But someone still must be responsible for double-checking and the records manager is best suited to doing this,” says Murphy.
And if all else fails, records managers should use recent headlines to prove their case. “Turn to the business section of any newspaper and find an organisation paying fines for e-discovery mistakes or lack of compliance with government regulations,” Murphy advises. “When other organisations pay millions in fines that you are preventing at yours, it’s not hard to see your value.”