Best practices for digital archiving: the records lifecycle approach
The days of the Digital Far West have ended. As digital data and documents become the norm, regulation around them has increased considerably in recent years. Just think about the EU regulations on general data protection (GDPR) and electronic identification, authentication and trust services (eIDAS), or local regulation around digital data and their conservation. As specialists in enterprise content management, we also notice a growing concern with information protection and compliance at our clients.
Image: Ron Lach
At the same time, however, we can’t really ignore that digital archiving is still often seen as solely a burden to employees and an unavoidable cost without any direct return for the organization leadership. While most employees regard digital archiving as something highly specialized that only specifically skilled people – records managers and archivists – need to deal with, in reality, it should be at the top priorities of many business areas. IT managers are concerned with storing information throughout its lifecycle on the most cost-effective platform. For Compliance officers, what they need is to have archives that can be indexed, located, controlled and that fulfil the correct retention policies. If we consider Legal Departments, then the priority is to quickly search through historical data to support any legal challenges.
At AmeXio, we believe that an integrated approach based on the Enterprise Records lifecycle Management is essential for effective business information management and archiving. This requires involvement from all employees, but should not be an extra cost or burden.
The link between records management and digital archiving
Let’s first explain how Electronic Records Management and Archiving integrate. Electronic Records Management covers the complete process for managing so-called records. A lot of formal descriptions of records exist, but in an informal way we could describe them as information that can serve as evidence of business transactions or other legal obligations. In short: all documents and data that you should keep for a well-defined period because you are legally obliged to do so (contracts, invoices, permits, and so on). So, electronic records management focuses on the proper management of these records, from creation or reception until preservation.
Digital archiving, on the other hand, has its focus on the preservation phase. In other words, when records are no longer actively used but are safely preserved for a well-defined period of time. The core of effective digital archiving lies with a shared understanding and application of records management best practices by all employees. But how to achieve this?
The following guidelines will show you how to take a holistic records management approach into your content management system and workflows.
Embed records management principles from the start of content creation.
For example, make sure document type classification (e.g. contract, invoice) is a mandatory step/field. This will limit or even eliminate the effort needed from your knowledge workers to comply with the organization’s records management policies for each type of document in later stages.
To obtain the maximum gain from this, each content item should have well-defined content properties – so-called metadata. The documents’ metadata should provide helpful information to facilitate records management compliance as well as the daily work of knowledge workers.
Define an effective content structure
In many content management systems, the content structure is also a folder structure. Find the balance between a configuration that is intuitive to use by knowledge workers, in line with their daily activities and that, at the same time, ensures the necessary contextual information is captured for records management purposes.
The content structure should be set up in such a way that no extra filing effort is needed from the knowledge workers to transfer content to the archive when the content status changes from active to inactive. Either the document is already stored in its archival location from the start, or it’s automatically transferred to the archives based on the content properties.
Cover the needs
Design and application of roles and permissions should cover the needs of content creation, collaboration and records management activities. In this case, think of content registration, filing, retention and disposition management. Default roles and permissions should be automatically applied upon content creation to ensure consistency throughout the entire Document and Records Management System. The user permissions need to be derived from the context, which is often the folder structure and/or properties the content is created in.
Ensure all actions executed on content are automatically logged in audit trails (who, what, when, why), so that you can automatically generate reports for easy access to all different types of content manipulations, as well as comply with Records Management policies.
Apply Records Management best practices
Make sure to apply best practices across the complete content lifecycle from creation to destruction. Some of the most common stages in a document’s lifecycle are: draft, reviewed, approved, distributed, archived and destroyed. The specific set obviously depends on the use case at hand. As you can see, the content lifecycle includes stages when the content is actively used by the business for its daily work, and stages when the content has been retired to a semi-active or inactive status. This underlines the importance of fully integrating records management principles in your enterprise content management system, to avoid creating a gap between the content’s active and inactive lifecycle phases.
An integrated approach involving all employees is key to a cost-effective and compliant information management.
On one hand, you’re offering employees a user-friendly environment for content creation, content collaboration and management of content. At the same time, you’re making sure that records management needs are being met by implementing the right content structure and organization. The trick being to optimize the balance between both. Ideally, there’s no additional effort required from users, either during content creation or when transferring content to the archives.
Adequate digital archiving is not just an afterthought. A fully integrated holistic records management approach is the right option for a successful user adoption of the best practices. Ultimately, you’re working towards an effective preservation of your digital content in a well-organized, complete digital archive.