Lifting the burden: recent case studies show that minimizing record management decision-making by end users results in higher quality ERMS.

Author:Sprehe, J.Timothy
Position:Electronic records management systems

At the Core

This article

* Describes four approaches simplifying records management decision-making

* Tells how minimizing end user involvement in records decisions improves records programs

* Provides six keys to non-intrusive ERMS implementation

Organizations beginning the process of implementing enterprise-wide electronic records management systems (ERMS) must address the role end users should play in making records management decisions. Some organizations opt to have end users decide whether a document or e-mail is a record and assign its place in the organization file plan. In this scenario, when the end user creates a document and dicks "save," a box pops up on the screen and asks, "Is this a record?" If the user answers "yes," a second box appears and asks "Where does the record go in the organization file plan?" A pull-down list gives the organization file plan so the end user can choose the appropriate category. Only when the user has answered the two questions will the document be saved.

Other organizations attempt to remove as much records management decision-making as possible from the end user. Insofar as possible, these organizations cause their information systems to make records management decisions in the background, transparent to users, on the basis of workflow analysis and a set of pre-defined rules.

Research Points to Best Approach

Which approach results in the highest quality records management and the most complete capture of records into organization recordkeeping systems at the lowest acceptable cost? Is the highest quality, most accurate, and complete records management achieved within an enterprise when the desktop end user is minimally involved in records management decisions? Research supported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice under a contract with SRA International indicates that the highest quality and accuracy occurs when records management is as non-intrusive as possible to the desktop end user and does not interfere with the normal work routines of professional staff in the enterprise. The reasons for this are:

* As a general principle, the introduction of new information technology (IT) to the workplace should increase, rather than decrease, worker productivity. Requiring desktop end users to make records management decisions lowers worker productivity because making the decisions takes time and attention away from the worker's primary job. Therefore, it is undesirable as a matter of IT management policy to introduce new desktop procedures that intrude on the worker's primary job and lower productivity.

* Records management is the primary responsibility of the trained records management staff in an enterprise. Asking desktop end users to make records management decisions, in effect, makes every user a records manager. This is an undesirable condition for the enterprise. The cost to the organization of continuously training desktop end users to make accurate records management decisions, as well as the cost of implementing a quality assurance program, will be prohibitively high and represents an investment that many enterprises cannot afford. In contrast, agencies engaged in national security-related activities do achieve high quality records management with a high degree of end user involvement through systematic investment in continuous user training and quality assurance.

* Interviews of personnel in several federal agencies whose e-mail systems employ records management pop-ups that require desktop end users to make records management decisions indicate that the resulting quality of records management is very poor. End users know that records management is not their job and generally do not comply with the request that they perform records management functions. They "game" a system of e-mail pop-ups so that almost nothing is a record or everything is a record. The result is low-quality records management.

However, the fact that end users are the principal creators and receivers of business records makes it impossible and impractical to eliminate them entirely from all records management decision making. Training end users to identify records and perform minimal categorization that will then be further examined and sub-classified by records management specialists is more easily afforded and more effectively instituted. Identification and high-level categorization of records may be a minimum acceptable burden on the desktop end user. Hence, a practical alternative to no end user...

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