Enhancing the effectiveness of an EDRMS/ECM system January 29, 2015

Recently I had a very interesting meeting with a New South Wales local council which has revamped its processes for capture, management and application of retention rules to document-based records. They are currently undertaking a multi-phase project to enhanced the effectiveness and comprehensiveness of their digital records management.

This includes:

  • understanding how technology could manage a fully digital process
  • configuring technology for managing information in fully digital processes
  • renewing and maintaining an understanding of business units’ information requirements
  • enhancing the training processes for end users
  • dealing with a backlog of legacy digital information

At the beginning of the project, they identified the following challenges:

  • people still stored significant quantities of documents in shared/network drives, which meant they had poor security controls, multiple versions and duplicates, and no clear place to go for an authoritative version
  • where the EDRMS system was used, file containers relating to a business activity were often held open indefinitely
  • the existing configuration of the system was not always well understood
  • staff were confused by recordkeeping language

Identifying and implementing improvements

The organisation had recognised it was not feasible to keep managing the digital records in this way, and these factors meant it was difficult to apply retention rules. The EDRMS was not optimally configured for the level of user understanding, enthusiasm, and time available. The project leader decided to focus on designing a classification which was optimised for business understanding. Achieving this would enable core records management functionality, in particular retention rules and security, to be applied.

The following improvements were identified and implemented.

Provide record containers which (as much as possible) had the same logic as the staff’s favoured shared / network drive file structures

This was challenging, as it required a lot of discussion with business managers and specialists to get this right. They needed a consistent classification structure and types of folders so that they could be meaningfully categorised, and something that the end users could be trained to understand and efficiently use it. They also needed the workload to be manageable for the records and information management team.

Create file containers on a logical basis

Fixed time periods like calendar year, financial year, political term, as well as project based files, give containers a logical close-off point, and giving recurring files the same suffix (ie 13/4221, 14/4221, 15/4221) allows simple multi-year views and helps people who still like to memorise file numbers.

Simplify the capture of records as much as possible

With the right classification and logical containers in place, the council identified that needed to make saving and reopening a word document in EDRMS as simple as saving one in a network drive, and make it possible to manage email via drag and drop with only a confirm prompt for autopopulated metadata (this prompt was even optional – the focus was capturing the right information in the right place).  It improved findability of the information, making the slightly different process easier for users to adapt to.

At the same time, this highlighted that some things really were necessary to avoid creating yet another large mass of difficult-to-manage legacy information down the track: that simplification and rationalisation of processes is done so that the key records/information management processes can be done really well, not so that they are oversimplified out of existence.

Don’t overcomplicate the implementation

This functionality required some configuration, although it was mostly available off the shelf or within the existing product. This means that the configuration effort is always significant, and recognising that certain features would be too difficult to train and support end users in was important.

Future challenges

The current approach has improved the capture of documentary records up to the point that the organisation can be confident in saying that the document system has an authoritative record of digitally-conducted business, with occasional problems infrequent and contained enough that it is reasonably straightforward to resolve it with a business unit.

A future enhancement is to implement a content indexing engine across the database: while information is easy to find using the time-defined business-driven classification in the normal course of business, this will improve findability in scenarios where it is necessary (and appropriate) to check across different business functions.

The factors identified here worked well for this organisation: we welcome comments which describe your experience, so please let us know below, or get in touch via the contact page.

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