Some estimates are that up to 80% of an organization's
electronic information is found in the form of unstructured content, or
files created using desktop applications, such as Microsoft Word,
Microsoft Outlook, or Adobe Acrobat as cited in Province of British
Columbia, 2011. Unlike structured content found in databases,
unstructured content does not have built-in physical or intellectual
Files are created using numerous applications and stored on any
number of storage media (e.g., personal computers, servers, external
hard drives, flash memory devices, and DVDs). Initially, organizations
may implement policies and procedures to provide staff with direction on
how to manage unstructured content using the customizable folder
structures available through the software operating system, but, over
time, a more sophisticated software solution is often required.
Understanding Software Information Management Systems
Software information management systems for unstructured content
leverage and extend the file properties embedded in each file by the
native application and the operating system. These file properties
include file name, date created, date modified, owner, author, company
name, format extension, and others, totaling up to 300 properties for a
A selection of file properties are typically exposed to the
user's view in the operating system's detailed file listing,
or the properties can be viewed and edited from within the application,
usually from the file menu. File properties are also referred to as
metadata, or data that describes the content, context, and structure of
an information object and its management through time.
By using a database to extract and add to existing metadata,
software information management systems create a structured environment
for unstructured content. For example, a location file property tracks
where a file physically resides in electronic storage, an access control
property tracks who can view or edit the file, and so on.
Since there are numerous applications and file formats serving many
business needs, software information management systems are customized
to support specific types of activities, including images and scans,
document libraries, e-mail, or web content. From a records and
information management (RIM) perspective, these software management
systems are often discussed in terms of document, records, and content
management software systems.
Document Management Systems
Document management software systems might better be called digital
object management systems, as there are a number of types of systems
focusing on different types of files in addition to documents. These
systems typically provide services, such as capture, indexing,
versioning, search, storage, retrieval, collaboration, workflow,
publication, distribution, and security.
Document management systems may be customized to provide these
services for a specific type of files. For example, a digital asset
management system provides services that suit digital images (e.g.,
photographs or videos); a web content system supports web pages
containing text, photographs, and videos; and an e-mail management
system focuses on e-mails with or without attachments.
Records Management Systems
Records management software systems include most or all of the
services provided by document management systems, but they also provide
lifecycle management for the digital objects. Conventionally, lifecycle
management means disposition, or authorized, audited disposal, based on
retention rules, often leveraging a classification-based approach to
object management. Lifecycle management is beginning to extend beyond
disposition to long-term preservation of digital objects.
Some systems can automate event-or time-based PDF renditions for
files, and RIM professionals are considering how records management
systems with this functionality might be extended for use as a digital
archive. Regardless, a conventional records management software system
represents an extension to a document management system by providing
automated disposition. This is why the acronym EDRMS, which stands for
electronic document and records management system, is commonly applied.
Enterprise Content Management Systems
Enterprise content management software systems represent sets of
individual software systems that are designed to work together. An
organization may buy one or more of these software systems together or
over time, often from a single vendor. Enterprise content management
systems have what are called basic content services, which use the
common metadata associated with an object to leverage the specialty
services of each individual system.
For example, an object may be edited and finalized in a document
management system and then pushed into a web content management system
for Internet publication: revisions can be made on the web side or on
the document side, and automatic synching ensures the file is updated.
In some cases, the individual systems may work relatively autonomously,
and the enterprise content management integration provides federated
search, which is simultaneous searching of multiple repositories, to
enable enterprise-wide information discovery has created definition from
While document and records management systems are fully functioning
in many organizations--and have been for up to two decades--enterprise
content management systems are relatively new and often not fully
Getting a Seat at the Table
Surprisingly, determining what kind of information management
system (or systems) an organization needs is a decision that is seldom
left to RIM professionals. In his book, Records Management." Making
the Transition from Paper to Electronic, David O. Stephens, CRM, quotes
a Forrester study that concludes RIM professionals are losing their
influence to information technology (IT) as electronic RIM emerges, and
that "IT- not RIM--plays a dominant role in electronic RIM
In most organizations, IT commands a larger budget, more staff, and
higher levels of management engagement and influence than does RIM, with
the chief information officer positioned on par or slightly lower than
the chief executive officer and chief financial officer. Because of
these arrangements, it is often difficult for RIM professionals to
participate in, or influence, key decisions regarding information
Given RIM professionals' unique body of knowledge and
experience in this area, this is at odds with an organization's
long-term need to manage its information assets and a RIM
professional's mandate to provide information services. In the
worst case scenario, the RIM professional is given all of the
accountability for information compliance, but none of the tools needed
to achieve it.
In response, RIM professionals often find themselves making the
case to be included in technology decisions that will result in content
that they are then expected to manage. Depending on the organization,
there may be any number of barriers to inclusion, ranging from the
political (not enough clout) to the cultural (not enough interest).
Often the RIM professional takes the path of least resistance and
works hard to develop successful RIM projects to build support within
the organization. Although this task-oriented approach may result in
completed work, job satisfaction, and the long-term relationships that
lead to participation, taking a bottom-up approach may take too much
time. Therefore, RIM professionals need to take a top-down strategy,
which positions them in the key decisionmaking group.
Leveraging GARP[R] Maturity Model
One of the tools available to the RIM professional is ARMA
International's Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles[R]
(GARP[R]) Information Governance Maturity Model (Maturity Model). (See
both at www.arma.org/garp.)
Like the more widely known Generally Accepted Accounting Principles
(GAAP), GARI[R] comprises eight principles that define the necessary
policy and procedures for an effective RIM program. The Maturity Model
provides a methodology for assessing an organization's RIM
capacity, based on five rankings: Level 1(sub-standard), Level 2 (in
development), Level 3 (essential), Level 4 (proactive), and Level 5
Using the GARP[R] Maturity Model, RIM professionals can assess the
effectiveness of their RIM programs. Using the results of the GARP[R]
assessment, RIM professionals have an opportunity to create a GARP[R]
report for presentation to senior management that describes the current
state and strategic possibilities of their RIM programs.
The report should focus on the big picture, indicating the
strengths and weaknesses of the RIM program and suggesting a plan for
improvement in specific areas, including the resources required. Since
senior managers may be unfamiliar with components of the RIM program,
the report also offers an opportunity to build awareness and
understanding of basic RIM concepts in a concise and non-dogmatic
The GARP[R] report also provides RIM professionals with an
opportunity to build relationships across the organization at an
operational level. If an organization already has a RIM governance
group, the Maturity Model provides the group with an opportunity to
provide feedback and direction on the RIM program and to officially
endorse the report. If the organization does not have such a group, the
report provides an opportunity to create a provisional group that may
fill this role in the future.
Most RIM governance groups include representatives from legal
services, risk management, information technology, change management,
and operational units, ideally including key decision makers and
influencers. By presenting the report and inviting discussion on its
findings, RIM professionals learn about operational areas of interest or
concern and build support for their RIM programs.
Ultimately, the feedback meeting provides RIM professionals with an
opportunity to develop strategic relationships with business owners,
based on points of common interest, while test-driving the strategic
report prior to presenting to senior management. In the best case
scenario, the participants at the feedback session report back on the
initiative to their senior managers, making them more receptive to the
report, based on the knowledge that their staff have participated in its
Presenting the Assessment to Senior Management
With the GARP[R] report now updated to include operational
feedback, RIM professionals must determine how best to present the final
report to senior management. The presentation may feature slides, or it
may follow the format of the report, with copies provided for reference.
Although some of the report findings may be negative, in announcing
these results, RIM professionals build trust and provide assurances
that, with the appropriate support, they will be able to fill any gaps.
If possible, any report recommendations are adopted by the end of
the meeting, and a clear plan of action is decided.
Overall, this allows RIM professionals to display their ability to
provide a strategic, corporate vision of interest to each senior
manager. Following the GARP[R] report adoption, RIM professionals should
provide an update to the operational group and then post it to their
Another strategic approach to RIM development is through using
documentation. In many organizations, policy and procedures vehicles can
be quite out-of-date. Like the GARP[R] report, the process of updating
RIM policy and procedures provides an opportunity for discussion and
dissemination of RIM ideas, concepts, and requirements, since materials
must be submitted to the appropriate governing body (or provisional
group) for review and adoption.
Developing policy and procedures also allows RIM professionals to
define areas of control where their participation is required. For
example, they can indicate that technology acquisitions result in
content, which then has to be managed through the life cycle. Through
this process, the RIM professionals can claim an appropriate role in
areas of interest by showing they have something to contribute.
Although this may not mean they are automatically given a role,
this can be another step toward participation. In addition, once the
policy and procedures are approved RIM professionals have an opportunity
to launch the materials across the organization and to leverage this
content in future discussions.
Painting a Picture of Success
Many times a RIM professional's attempts to participate in
technology discussions are met with a blanket denial. Perhaps there is a
need to look at why this denial is so automatic:
* Is the organization aware of RIM as a body of knowledge?
* Does the organization understand the RIM program's goals and
* Are the RIM goals and objectives in keeping with the
* Are the RIM professional's assumptions about his or her role
in keeping with those of colleagues?
* Does the RIM professional have a thorough understanding of
If the answer to these and similar questions is "no,"
perhaps it's time to look at the situation more strategically and
figure out a plan of action. Picture a situation where senior managers
are aware of what RIM is and what it can do for their business; where
senior managers are aware of the program's goals and objectives and
how they tie in with the organization's; where other staff are
aware that the RIM professional has access to information they can use;
and where the RIM professional can trade acronyms with an IT analyst
without blinking an eye.
Taking a strategic approach to RIM program development can make
that picture a reality. END
Lois Enns can be contacted at email@example.com. See her bio on page