Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

The missing link

The missing link

Could a new 'linked in place' approach to records management systems tackle the issue of managing records stored in multiple systems?

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Sarbanes-Oxley, the Data Protection Act, the Freedom of Information Act, a slew of regulatory mandates: never have organisations in both the public and private sectors been held so accountable for keeping accurate evidence of the communications and transactions that make up their day-to-day operations.

That means asking some difficult questions about how the records that provide that evidence should be managed and stored: Which should be kept - and how long for? Which should be destroyed - and at what point can this safely be done? And if required, can it be proved beyond reasonable doubt that an organisation has done what it claims it did?

A decade ago, records management was simply a matter of archiving paper documents - invoices, contracts and so on - in filing systems. “A piece of paper would do its rounds and end up with a former librarian, and they would actually be responsible for archiving in the company,” says Sol Barron, a document and record management specialist at IBM.

Now, however, the issue of records management extends way beyond paper documents to include emails, web pages, electronic calendar entries and records of customer contact made over the telephone and Internet - all of which may provide vital evidence in the event of a dispute.

In short, many of the vital records that companies need to keep track of are electronic. That has led to the emergence of electronic records management systems (ERMS) that promise to automate many of the processes that underpin the retention and deletion of electronic business records.

In particular, as enterprise content management (ECM) has evolved, vendors such as Open Text, Vignette, Interwoven, FileNet and IBM have incorporated records management into their products, primarily through acquisition of records management vendors and their technology.

However, with standards for electronic records management only at a fledgling state and many arguing over whether ubiquitous records management integration is feasible or even desirable, the decision to implement an ERMS is still a difficult decision for many organisations.

At the heart of the dilemma are the limitations of many ERMSs when it comes to data held in multiple different repositories. Most of the ECM vendors, for example, have focused on records management functions that can be applied to data held in their own proprietary ECM systems, while others maintain a separate repository for records. Few, however, enable users to apply records management principles to data held in systems from other suppliers.

A new approach is necessary, says Forrester Research analyst Robert Markham. He calls it the “linked in place” architecture. It will, he claims, provide support for additional content repositories and the integration of records management capabilities directly into business applications. “This approach not only supports applications that are directly integrated into the ECM repository but also provides open application programming interfaces (APIs) that can be used to support additional repositories.”

That is a tough challenge for vendors, but nonetheless, examples of the 'linked in place' approach are beginning to emerge, he says. “An example is IBM DB2 Records Manager, which supports a centralised policy console that can be used across repositories and allows the extension of the records management solution to additional enterprise repositories and applications,” he claims.

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