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CMS, RMS? Spelling out the right information management solution: organizations sifting through an alphabet soup of information management solutions must understand their specific needs and the strengths and weaknesses of each type of solution to choose the one--or combination of solutions--that will best meet their needs.

There is both good news and bad news for records and information management (RIM) professionals struggling to manage their records. Among the good news--today's technology solutions have delivered nearly limitless ways to store, manage, and share information within an organization and beyond.

Unfortunately, that's also the bad news.

RIM professionals are bombarded with information from a range of vendors describing how their products provide a solution to various RIM challenges. The reality, and thus the challenge, is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Different RIM solutions are based on different philosophies and technological underpinnings, and they have different strengths and weaknesses. So the question remains: In such a noisy marketplace, how does an organization avoid spending a fortune and getting more than it needs, less than it needs, or not what is needed at all?

Making the right decision has become more important than ever. Capturing, managing, and protecting both corporate and public records is serious business. New laws, tightening industry regulations, litigation risk, and increased scrutiny have made effective and appropriate RIM policies a necessity.

It's important to understand the differences among records management solutions--and how those differences determine how effectively the solutions manage different types of both electronic and physical business information. The first thing to understand is perhaps the most basic.

The Difference Between 'Content,' 'Records'

Content at its most basic is simply information or data. Some content is electronic, some paper. Some content is transient, some is permanent. Some content is business-critical, some is working content, and much is mere clutter. Some has to be stored and managed according to the strictest compliance and security requirements, other types can be treated casually. Content can exist in multiple forms and multiple stages of completion within its lifecycle. It can be revised and amended according to the needs of users who share it.

Only in its completed form does content become a "matter of record" and require different protection throughout its lifecycle as a record rather than as content More and more content is stored electronically these days, but it's critical to realize that the need to store some information on paper will likely never disappear.

Records, on the other hand, are a very special type of content (see Figure 1). Records represent an organization's "official" version of history. They have different lifecycle requirements than other types of organizational content and may carry different legal and financial consequences if those requirements aren't managed appropriately. The question facing RIM professionals is, "What type of information management system or systems working together will best help meet our organization's requirements.

What Is ECM?

There is a wide spectrum of different electronic content management (ECM) systems available today, from departmental document and file management systems to systems designed to serve an entire enterprise. At their core, ECMs are designed to:

* Store content (e.g., documents, files, graphics) in server-based repositories

* Allow users to check content in and out, often through web-based portals

* Apply various versioning, workflow, and security processes to content depending on its requirements

The beauty of these systems is the efficiency and flexibility they provide to electronic collaborators working with content to produce a final document, ready to be "published" in a variety of ways to any number of audiences.


Historically, the focus of ECM has been sharing or collaborating on content, rather than protecting, preserving, dispositioning, and managing the lifecycle of the items that have become records. To address this, many ECMs have added functionality--either directly or with third-party solutions.

Another recent innovation in publishing content from ECM systems is the use of enterprise information portals, which allow users to share information in electronic content repositories, usually by some mechanism that pushes restricted content to specialized websites or portals. These portals also function as shared workspaces for authorized users.

Most ECM vendors or systems integrators sell some variation on this theme. All promise greater employee collaboration, creativity, and efficiency. Microsoft SharePoint Server is perhaps the most conspicuous example, but dozens of others have stakes in the market. A hallmark of virtually all enterprise information portals is decentralized content contribution and content management. The portals are designed to allow subject matter experts and business owners to access content fast and collaborate with others on its continuing evolution.

Best Practices for Managing Records

ECM systems encourage collaboration and creativity on what might be considered works in progress--electronic content that is evolving. At some point, however, some content will undergo a fundamental change. That change occurs when the content is considered finalized. If it is considered a record that requires compliance with legal, financial, or other regulatory requirements, it must be managed and protected in ways that may not be met in an ECM.

In a typical business setting, some percentage of records must be retained in their original state. They require a physical artifact--a paper document for example--that must be stored and protected in physical file rooms or another archive. For this reason, the lifecycle management needs of records require both electronic and paper-based recordkeeping capabilities.

ECM systems are ideal for preserving and protecting electronic content: digital images of documents, imaged and digital photographs, electronic files, and digital data. With added functionality, some ECMs have begun to address many aspects of tracking physical records as well.

However, if an organizational environment requires the lifecycle management of records that also exist in paper form, further examination of the solutions available may be worthwhile. (See Figure 2).

Another Approach: Unified Records Management

Records management system (RMS) solutions differentiate the management of records--electronic or physical--from other content within one system. While these solutions don't offer much of the collaborative work functionality common in ECMs, they are highly focused on the ability to physically control and visually identify, retrieve, and account for stored records throughout the facility or facilities.

This is a major benefit for environments where records in original form need to be tracked with electronic records in a consolidated system. For industries with burgeoning compliance and standards requirements, including those environments affected by HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, or U.S. DoD 5015.2, managing both electronic and physical records within a unified system is easiest.

Most RMSs were originally designed to shine with physical record tracking. However, in the converse of what the ECMs discovered, tracking physical paper alone is not enough. The most effective RMSs today are designed to unify the lifecycle management requirements of both electronic and paper records, tracking them side-by-side within the same system.

A unified RMS maintains the connection between paper documents and their electronic counterparts. It can leverage access and collaboration features in ECM systems while ensuring the absolute integrity of both paper and electronic records. A good unified RMS:

* Defines document types and their retention and disposition requirements, and it determines if they have to be managed physically, electronically, or both

* Coexists with an ECM system so some documents and records can be made available for online workflow processes and collaboration, while still maintaining the lifecycle management requirements of the official record

* Integrates established and well designed physical records management technology that makes it easy to maintain order in file rooms and document repositories, while filing and accessing documents quickly and efficiently. In addition to using barcode or radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking, this involves placing visual identifiers on files and boxes in document repositories and archives that allow users to "see" if documents are filed correctly and if basic lifecycle management requirements are being followed.

* Integrates both electronic and physical records management in one system with a common user interface

* Maintains full-access audit trails for both electronic and physical records, enhancing the ability to maintain compliance

Selecting the Right System

To ensure the choices made meet the organization's RIM objectives and requirements, consider the following questions:

* Is the organization managing records as records or content?

* What are the retention and dissemination regulations by which the organization is bound?

* What is the nature of the organization's records? What paper does it need to keep? What documents can it scan and destroy?

* Are there ways for these different tools to work together within the organization's environment to meet all of its content and records management requirements?

While reviewing options to meet RIM needs, consider the organization's physical and electronic records management needs for all the records relevant to the environment:

* Document imaging and electronic tracking

* Physical record tracking

* Paper and electronic document routing and workflow reporting

* Multiple version collaboration and tracking

* Paper and electronic audit trail

* Web access to information

* Multiple retention schedule management

* Automatic generation of bar codes or RFID tags for tracking

* History report processing

* Pipeline reports

* Retention reports

* Missing document reports

* Productivity reports

* File history reports

* Compliance reports

* Requestor exception reports

* Audit reports

* Instant location of hard copy records

* Chain of custody capabilities

Other desired functionality may include barcode tracking and color-coded labeling.

Understanding the RIM needs related to electronic and physical record management will allow an organization to find a system that offers functionality designed to meet them.

At the Core

This article

* Defines the difference between "content" and "records"

* Compares content management and records management systems

* Provides questions to help organizations decide what functionality they need

Simons is a product manager for SmeadSoft, a supplier of unified records management software solutions designed to organize and simplify the lifecycle management of records in any form--paper, physical, and electronic. He has spent more than 22 years helping organizations across the globe better manage their document and data information system needs to meet regulatory compliance requirements, increase efficiency, and reduce costs. He can be contacted at
Figure 2: Comparison of ECMs, Portals, and RMS

Primary     * Electronic          * Information     * Maintaining
Function      collaboration         sharing           docs/files/
                                                      objects as

            * Info and            * Internal        * Managing their
              data exchange         collaboration     locations and
            * Organizational

Design      * Document content    * Document        * "Envelopes"
Focus                               content
            * What data           * What              the docs
              can be used,          needs to be       are in
              re-tasked,            shared
              shared,                               * Where the
              delivered                               records are
                                                    * Preservation of

Strengths   * Sharing, storing,   * Deploying       * Preserving record
              accessing and         large             integrity
              delivering            repositories
              information,          quickly         * Capturing the
              data and content      and easily        chain of custody

                                                    * Assuring
                                                      retention and

Source: Smead Manufacturing, used with permission
COPYRIGHT 2008 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:ManagementWise
Author:Simons, Neil
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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