Nowadays, records management and information management are used almost interchangeably.
Is there an important distinction?
What is records management? “Records Management” as defined by ARMA, “is the professional field dedicated to information …[that] requires ongoing maintenance, whether it be for evidentiary or specific business purposes.”
ARMA defines information management, meanwhile, as follows: “Information management (IM) is the practice of ensuring a consistent flow of organizational information through a defined lifecycle that starts with its conception or captures through to its archival or disposition.”
In a lot of cases, including on this blog, they are referred to as a combination of the two disciplines under the title “Records & Information Management (RIM)”.
So what then, is the difference between the two disciplines?
Both are concerned with making sure information flows into and out of an organization when needed, that it gets to where it needs to be, and is accessible by the right people when and how they need it.
The longer, more precise answer requires a look into the history of the discipline which we’re covering today, so we’re going to take a look at where the information profession is headed.
The Goals of Records Management and Information Management
As long as there have been written works worthy of preservation, there has been a need to manage that information.
Thousands of years ago, (we’re talking Sumerians, Ancient Egyptians, and the like), this fell into the purview of archivists and librarians.
Fast forward a few millennia to the industrial revolution and there are two major forces at play: the printing press, the precipitous rise in varying types of businesses, legislation, and taxes that required exact record keeping to stay in line with the law.
The information and records that were kept then were necessary and a part of the process of doing business.
Now, in the digital age, the amount of information and records created in the course of doing business continues to exponentially increase both across systems and media types.
And yet, only about 5% of this information is considered a record.
Either way, whether it’s information on Microsoft Teams chat logs, a comment on a calendar, or a working copy of a document, the other information created still exists and needs to go through the typical information and records management lifecycle including eventual disposition.
The true answer of what the difference is between the two disciplines comes down to a syllogism of sorts: all records are information but not all information is considered a record.
Both disciplines can and should coexist, though only a record deserves the attention of being managed directly.
Is it a Record or Not?
If only a record needs to be managed, how do you identify what a record is in the midst of terabytes of data?
The amount of data only continues to increase exponentially every day – especially with the proliferation of hybrid and remote work.
Traditionally, when a discovery process or audit needed to be done, the practice, in place for literally decades, was to hire a team of contract attorneys. The challenges with this method are obvious: it is slow and costly, and often inaccurate and inconsistent.
Many of today’s solutions rely on automated classification and software solutions that leverage technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI) coupled with Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to understand what’s in a document. They can also automatically apply the correct metadata. Solutions on the market today are undoubtedly faster than a team of attorneys but the accuracy sometimes leaves much to be desired.
While these solutions have come a long way, there’s still work to be done to enable truly unsupervised AI to be unleashed upon a pile of unstructured data and result in a nice neat structured data set in the end.
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3 Tips for a More Cohesive Records and Information Management Program
Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick and easy fix to enable optimal records and information management. One can’t expect all businesses to come to a complete halt in order to take stock of what information and records an organization has, where it is, and what’s to be done with it. It’s a process.
In the meantime, we have three tips to start integrating into your records and information management program to help effectively separate the records from the information.
1. Eliminate as much noise as possible
Work closely with your IT teams to put automated retention schedules in place so that things like Microsoft Teams chats or other files aren’t left to sit indefinitely.
2. Shift toward a digital-first approach wherever possible
In today’s work-from-anywhere environment, paper records are a roadblock to sharing information across an organization. Identifying paper-intensive processes and digitizing them can make that information easier to find, easier to store, easier to enable version control, and easier to delete when needed. This can be invaluable ahead of an audit.
3. Invest in technology that makes sharing easy without sacrificing security
Even with digital files, there’s still a need to be able to share your information and records in a secure fashion so that your organization doesn’t risk a data breach. Investing in a document management system that allows for the creation of digital file rooms provides the balance between access and security.
As long as there is information, specialized professions like records and information management will be necessary to keep a close eye on an organization’s most valuable asset: its data.
If you’re looking to future-proof your program to effectively manage both records and information, it’s time to start your journey toward building an integrated information and records management program.