Thursday, April 24, 2008

ATR: Trends in Email Management

This is completely unscientific, but I am beginning to feel a sea change in how organizations are designing email management schemes.

The trend that I am seeing (and we'll use Microsoft Outlook / Exchange as the benchmark)is as follows:

1) Organizations reduce retention schedules to "big buckets" as much as possible. At bare minimum, the retention schedules are distilled functionally, rather than by department.

2) Creation of PSTs is banned. Generally, this involves a registry change that prevents the user from creating PST files.

3) All mail is server-based, with limited local replicas for offline use.

4) The organization pushes a core set of common folders to all employees. These folders are managed and set for retention periods. Generally, the common folders are used for short (60 - 90 days) and medium (2-3 years) retention periods for items that the user wants to keep transitionally. In addition, items foldered in non-managed user folders are treated in the same manner (generally the medium period).

5) The user can pull down additional folders from the retention schedule as required.

6) The user is instructed to file all records of the organization in the appropriate folder.

7) The Inbox and Sent folders are purged after 90 days (trending to one year). If the user has not filed an email that was in these folders, the email will be automatically deleted.

Thus, the trend is to group email as records (folders that map to retention schedule), transitional items (items that need to be kept for reference, but rarely more than a couple years), and non-records (items that are deleted immediately by the user or automatically after a brief period).

The auto-delete function deletes items into a holding folder for about a week (in the event that something is inadvertently designated for deletion) and then permanently deleted.

An interface to a legal hold process must suspend the auto-delete function.

Again, this is not scientific, but it reflects a trend that I am hearing from a number of colleagues.

Efforts to manage email in document management systems seem to be waning due to complexity.

Companies utilizing these processes see an initial spike in server email volumes, but the volumes tend to stabilize and decline once the retention controls come into play. Mail quota management is eliminated for the most part, although more sophisticated monitoring comes into play to see how employees are filing documents and how much space they are consuming.

Existing PSTs cannot be added to, but email within existing PSTs can be similarly managed and transferred to the Exchange server. Many organizations plan a transition period of several years for employees to manage needed email from legacy PSTs, then delete the PSTs.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out over the next several years.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ATR: I Feel a Disturbance in The Force...

Fans of Star Wars likely recall that line.

If you read this blog, you know that I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. At the day job, I'm the Corporate Records Manager for at least part of my day. Recently, I've also been charged with oversight of a Six Sigma process to realign our legal discovery and forensics processes. (You'll recall my posting of the E-Discovery Reference Model in my last post.)

I've been out and about beyond my comfort zone. Mingling with lawyers and IT folks and looking at the services that are my core competency in a new light. Yes, I still have to sort out hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of paper records, but more importantly, I have to think about how we truly enable records management functionality in our electronic world.

A bit ago, I was reading Steve Bailey's Keynote Address at the Records Management Society's meeting in the UK. I like his blog as well -- Steve is truly on the forefront of future thinking about records management. Anyway, in his address, he states,

"My fear is that I can see the day coming – and not far away - where, like the band on the Titanic, we continue to confidently play our tune; oblivious to the waves lapping around our feet or that we are playing to an empty deck. I sometimes get the feeling that we have become so immersed in our own particular viewpoint and so sure of the logic of our arguments that we have lost sight of the reality of the outside world. As if so long as we keep repeating the same thing over and over again all will be okay, despite the mounting evidence that what we have to say is becoming increasingly marginalised and seen as an irrelevance."

The day job's Archivist and I were talking this morning. The continuing theme that I present when it comes to the Archives is that we have to transform the Archives from "Grandma Sally's Attic" to something that is truly a value-add for the organization. Now in working for a technology company, there are a lot of cool things in the collection that I love to look at and be able to study. I have a real appreciation for where the company has come from and where we have the potential to go. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the company tends not to share that enthusiasm. So the shift for the Archives will need to be from the perception of being a repository of "neat stuff" to relevance and protection for the most valuable and enduring of the company's information assets. But as we look for ways to make that shift, we also realize that the traditional ways of collecting artifacts and documents, as well as classifying documents (particularly) are fundamentally changing. For a Records Manager and an Archivist (both of us formally trained in our respective professions) to suddenly start talking about getting away from formal taxonomies, inventories, and retention schedules, well, there clearly has been a disturbance in The Force.

As Steve notes in his address, the sheer volume of information (and with it a concurrent increase in the volume of records), coupled with greater productivity of individual workers, fundamentally changes the game. And the new generation of information creators and consumers have new ways of doing things and new ways of creating and retaining information. Constraining them to a corporate taxonomy does not suit their needs. At the same time, the laws and regulations that govern the retention and disposition of information and records are not being shoved aside to accommodate the new generation. So somehow we must adapt our approaches to records management to meet the requirements of the changing workforce and workplace, while ensuring that we are able to comply with existing laws and regulations that were written for a paper-based world.

As we talked this morning, the Archivist and I also recognized that our professions are rapidly being split into old and new camps -- the people who are great technicians and managers of physical objects; and those who are able to adapt to the changing workplace and record. In the terms that I sometimes use, that would be the people "below the cardboard ceiling" and those who rise above. And clearly, not everyone will make the transition.

As I continue to remake myself and my professional toolsets, I am continually drawn to the vision that my boss at the day job has put before me: that being part of the Information Security function of the day job means that I have to think about what I do in terms of information risk management. That compliance risk is but one component of mitigating risk to the day job's information assets. That defining attributes of information allowing it to be properly classified for security protection, business resiliency protection and compliance protection are our primary responsibilities. In addition, we have to ensure availability of the information for legal discovery and somehow ensure that it all finds a proper disposition at the end of its lifecycle and usefulness to the day job.

The days of the 400+ line item retention schedules are over folks. No one but us records managers ever really understood them or used them effectively. If your idea of job security is continually honing and finessing that uber-retention schedule, you should probably start thinking about your next job. And that is not to say that we're anachronisms. The challenge is defining the core competencies that we bring to the table and how we add value in this new reality.

I've got some more thinking to do...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

ATR: Think, Think, Think....

I hate to admit it, but I have a soft spot for the "silly old bear" pictured at left. Lately, I'm also afraid that I resemble the pictured pose. I've been thinking... a lot... about some of the fundamentals that I have long held sacred in the records management profession.

As I read the blogs of others, as well as literature from the fringes of the profession, I'm really having to challenge myself.

The biggest change is how I look at Discovery. It has always been there. The Federal Rules changes have sort of put some things in my face. But until you work in a place with a very steady drumbeat of significant litigation, it is all really quite abstract. Once you start looking at court decisions and hear what the litigation attorneys are going through, the perspective begins to shift. The dollars that can be sucked up by litigation are real -- and very large. And what I am finding is that tight integration of records management with discovery processes is a very real requirement for some organizations. The model that I am really focusing on is the Electronic Discovery Reference Model. Go. Look. Read. Absorb. Apply.

So a lot of my brainpower has been focused on how we articulate this process within the business and improve our basic discovery processes. Tied to this is making the argument that good records management can significantly reduce the costs of discovery. It may seem a self-evident argument, but you need metrics.

The other thing that is keeping the neurons toasty in my head is articulating what records management cares about. Heretofore, I have always made a very narrow definition of a "Record" and anything outside that box was not relevant to my world. I'm coming to think differently on that one. Email management is driving these thoughts. I'm seeing a need to define and set retention periods not only for records, but also for "transitional records" (those courtesy copies that you keep for your own needs) as well as non-records. Why? Because we have to tell people that the garbage must be disposed of. And the only way to do that is to define what constitutes garbage and when it is going to be collected and tossed.

There's still a lot more refinement that needs to happen, but there is definitely a white paper in my future.

Oh bother.