Records Management: Emerging Technologies
More so than ever, e-mail programs are becoming the file cabinet of choice. In almost any business, the mainstay of communication is email. There are technologies emerging that are just beginning to be integrated with the popular email systems of today. What this means is that not only is email becoming more and more of an important records management issue, but it is also becoming more of the super application that technology circles prophesize about.
Best practices for introducing new technologies suggest a great amount of due diligence. Integrating new technologies, although seeming innocent and a good business benefit, creates havoc on records management in the electronic age.
Document Management Systems (DMSs)
Some of the most prominent core business applications are being interfaced with email programs. For example, a corporate document management system ("DMS") can now appear within the folder structure of an email program as just another folder. While this sounds like a novelty, this will become an important application to interface with. Used as a records management program, a DMS has the built-in functionality to manage document retention and destruction based on document type. DMS programs allow an administrator to set retention periods for documents profiled within the system by type. As an example, the administrator can set the retention period for documents categorized as "FAX COVER SHEET" at 30 days. This means that after 30 days, a script will automatically delete FAX COVER SHEETs older than 30 days. While this is not magic, the key dependency in the equation is a human categorizing the document. Future versions of indexing engines will be able to determine what particular document is based on content without human categorization.
With the integration of the DMS and email, emails can be retained either passively or actively by creating a folder with preset profile information such as a cost center number or project name. Passively, a user would receive an email. Dragging it to a folder that was created in the DMS (that appears in the email program) would allow a copy of the email to be stored in the DMS, leaving the network administrator to actively adhere to size or time policies set on the user's email box while complying with the records retention policy. Actively, the DMS can scan for content in context within the email and based on folder rules, saving a copy in the DMS folder that pertained to the folder criteria.
Contact Relations Management Systems (CRMs)
Another application integrated into email is the contact management system or Customer Relations Management ("CRM") system. Although not clear how this impacts records management, the new generation of CRM software gets its contact information from an external content provider. The reason behind this is that the typical customer information grows stale because it, again, involves humans to keep it updated. Although this may not pose a problem for the "client" end of the information, it does for the provider in that once the information is outside of its domain, it is no longer controllable.
One possible problem with email integration is the integration of voice mail. From a records management perspective, this is controllable in the same way that email is. The inherent problem with this integration is that in the context of litigation or other hold situation, it is not searchable with normal textual based search engines regardless of the artificial intelligence built into the product. There is, however, software that is able to search voice files using human "phonim" technology.
Information sharing, while great for the business, inherently creates problems for records management. Web services is one such technology. The way web services works is that there are data "subscribers." The subscribers are authorized in some manner to be able to query certain parts of a data store and receive the requested data in a stream that they can use as they wish. An example of this is the use of customer portal data that a subscriber would query for invoice data from a source. The subscriber would use this in their portal to display in the context of the information requested. Again, it creates problems for the provider in that once the information is outside of its domain, it is no longer controllable.
Peer-to-peer networking is an area that has potential to be problematic. Peer-to-peer networking was made public with the use of Napster. Even more troublesome is peer-to-peer networking used for a document management system. What this means is that documents will be able to be profiled in a central system but are stored on remote systems that may or may not be online all of the time. The central system would keep a recent copy for full-text indexing purposes but may not always have the latest revision until the remote node is online again.
One last records management innovation is disk-to-disk backup. While this this can make for a great excuse for why documents and email don't exist, it creates immediacy in a hold situation, in that these typically have very short retention periods for re-use. In certain situations this can be problematic for data preservation.