Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Double trouble

Double trouble

  • Article 23 of 26
  • M-iD, September 2005
Duplicate records undermine the credibility of any records management system, but preventing slip-ups is a complex challenge.

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Duplicate records are a nightmare for any records manager. Not only do they bring into question the authority and reliability of the records, they demonstrate that records management processes within the company are failing, they increase storage requirements, make it difficult to demonstrate compliance with legislation and make it harder for users to find the information they want.

The problem is sufficiently big for Gartner Research analysts Debra Logan and Mark Gilbert to maintain that having duplicate records in a records management system is as bad as not having a system at all.

Avoiding duplication and eliminating it when it is found should, therefore, be high on any records manager's priority list. But with no well-documented standards or methods for de-duplication, it is hard to know where to begin.

The biggest concern with any duplication of records is that records should only be deleted according to deletion schedules. Convincing an auditor that a record had to be deleted because it was identical to another can be a very hard task, and depends on the reliability of the audit log, the hashing algorithm used, the process used and so on.

It is far better to remove duplicates before anyone in the organisation declares them as records. Experts differ, however, on whether duplications are better prevented through technology or process.

Mark J Lewis, storage company EMC's marketing manager in EMEA for its Centera system, naturally argues that the solution must be technological. "You can introduce a process, but human nature dictates the people will naturally save the same file under a different name. Process is a way, but it's not really foolproof."

However, Computacenter consultancy practice leader Simon Gay maintains that processes do need to be put in place to avoid duplication. "Even with the smartest of tools, if your processes are wrong or the staff are not dealing with issues correctly and records aren't being put in in the right way, then tools won't catch up with things. You should always start with people and procedures."

Start simply

The kinds of processes that organisations need to put in place differ according to the types of documents produced and processed and the size of the organisation. If the organisation scans paper documents for eventual storage in a records management system, it will need a process to ensure that no document is scanned twice: any document, no matter how perfect the scanner, will produce a different digital document each time it is scanned.

This process might involve forms management. By adding a barcode or ID that an OCR system can determine, systems will then be able to flag up documents that have already been scanned. A barcode-based system will need a bigger investment in software than a simple ID system, but is better for larger volumes of scanning.

This system won't work with documents that did not originate within the organisation, however, so other processes will be needed. Smaller businesses can ensure that all documents are scanned in a single mail room, for example, but a large multi-national has no such option, so the processes chosen will vary from organisation to organisation. Typically, they will involve some form of inventory system that tracks documents. If maintained at a departmental level or in a small business, the inventory may be something as simple as a piece of paper or a spreadsheet.

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