What is Retention Management: How Will Records Managers Work in the Future?
By Nick Inglis
Records management is becoming more complicated because of the sheer volume of information within companies. To deal with this deluge, some innovative organizations are moving away from declaring information as records and are managing all organizational information from a retention standpoint instead.However, what is retention management, and how can it be effectively leveraged within organizations?
What Is Retention Management?
The traditional way of understanding retention management is to look at it as a piece of records management. Records managers are generally tasked with understanding the various categories of records, identifying and placing records into various categories, maintaining records based on their categories and disposing of them when it is appropriate. When it comes to retention management, records managers take these understood categories of records and their associated processes and apply them across all organizational information.
Issues With Retention Management
Oddly enough, objections to retention management most frequently come from records managers. Despite the fact that records managers are increasingly being marginalized and that retention management offers a way to repurpose their expertise, records managers have struggled to align retention management concepts with the generally accepted recordkeeping principles outlined by ARMA International.
To be fair, adopting retention management processes requires a significant shift in the way organizations handle information and how records managers approach their mandates. From a business standpoint, information management must be achieved while meeting the principles of transparency, accountability and integrity. These requirements often pose challenges for organizations, especially those that are used to leverage shared drives. From the perspective of records managers, one large challenge is that the declaration process must be done away with - records declaration is often inaccurate and growing evermore futile in the face of shifting eDiscovery rules.
Records managers need to move for better management of all organizational information. This is the only way to reduce organizational risk, which is the real goal of records management. Since new eDiscovery rules make all organizational data potentially admissible in court, it only makes sense that corporate rules shift accordingly.
However, that shift fundamentally changes the role of a records manager into one of two things: an information governance manager or a retention manager.
Information governance managers are strategic operators within their organizations. They understand that information can be both an asset and a liability. Information governance managers are the overall coordinators of information-related activities within an organization, and they must understand the organization's risk tolerance if they are going to guide information policy and practice. They establish the rules within their information systems to dispose of information based on predefined and automated classification criteria. Records managers may need to rise to the challenge of this type of strategic role if their organization adopts retention management processes.
Retention managers are similar to information governance managers, except they do not handle strategic elements of information management. Retention managers play more of a tactical role, leveraging the business's definition of risk tolerance as it relates to information. They follow their company's rules for information disposition, and they are generally led by someone else who owns the strategic side of information policies and practices. Records managers have the potential to offer more than this to their organizations, but many will fall back into this category if they are unable to shift from a tactical to a strategic role.
Since most eDiscovery requests require all relevant organizational information or data, a narrow understanding of records management is not enough anymore. Fortunately, many records managers have already started to shift toward strategic roles and a more strategic understanding of the value and risk of information. In fact, there continues to be ample opportunity for records managers, and in the face of increasing marginalization, retention management could be one of the keys to increasing the relevance of this role.