Unlike any other aspect of business, records management--the act of planning and managing every piece of an organization's captured information--is an element of every business process. From the articles of incorporation to the penciled notes of a janitor on a work ticket and to employees' work--and personal e-mail, that information must be managed from its inception to its final disposition.
Therefore, where records management reports within an organization can make the difference between the organization being effective and it collapsing like Arthur Andersen did as a result of its information mishandling connected to the Enron collapse. Especially as the volume of electronically stored information continues to grow exponentially, it is crucial for organizations to ensure that records management is reporting at the appropriate level and to the appropriate area.
Where that appropriate place is will vary for every organization. The hypothesis of a study funded by an NHPRC Electronic Records Research Fellows Grant in 2005-2006 was that the key to records management's effectiveness is for it to report to the senior executive with the greatest amount of leverage across the organization, whether that person is the executive over finance, legal, compliance, information technology, or another function.
Because there is no historical literature on this subject, the hypothesis had not been tested. Previous work in this area often used "instant" surveys that were created with online survey tools and blasted by e-mail to members of records-related associations and consumers of records management technology, or it focused primarily on the records manager's portfolio, or span of control.
Because these surveys were not scientific--for example, they often did not have filtering tools to prevent multiple participants from a variety of levels within a single company from taking the survey or a single participant from completing it more than once--their validity is questionable.
Although the 2002 study that resulted in the publication Records and Information Management: A Benchmarking Study of Large U.S. Industrial Companies did use standard social science methodology, its limitation was its focus on records management's role in managing the latter half of the information life cycle--which probably reflects the status of records managers at that time. Its conclusions indicated that the primary duties of records managers then were to create retention schedules and manage offsite storage for paper records. Not addressing governance, policies, and procedures except in connection with retention schedules was a lost opportunity.
The purpose of the NHPRC-funded project, which used standard social science methods, was to learn where some of the largest U.S. companies place records management organizationally, the span of control of records management, and what those companies are doing about managing records. Where records management is located and its span of control probably provide the best measures of whether effective methods for managing electronic records have been implemented by a...