>JISC infoNet – Electronic Records Management Survey – Analysis

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Q1. How many other record management staff do you have within your team/function (not including local co-ordinators primarily employed for other tasks)

That 29% of respondents indicated that they have more than 5 records management staff – with some stating totals as high as in the 20s – suggests a very broad interpretation of what constitutes ‘records management staff’ and may have included departmental clerical and administrative staff alongside those working within a central records management function.

This suspicion is further increased when one considers that in the Information Legislation & Management Survey results for 2007, 68% of respondents indicated that they had 1.0 FTE or less ‘devoted to records management issues’ (Question 27).

Q2. Does your organisation have a centralised records management service? If so, please indicate the services provided
The figures seem to indicate a clear focus on records management acting as an advisory function within the institution; providing guidance, training and support to staff in records management related issues. This suggests a bias towards managing records indirectly, by seeking to influence creators and users; rather than through direct intervention, management and control.

Whilst this represents a valuable role for the records management function, it may suggest that records management is still far from being accepted as a ‘corporate service’, alongside finance and HR etc and does not currently enjoy the status or authority to become so. Perhaps in recognition of this there is an argument to say that a more natural (and, possibly, more constructive) ‘home’ for the records management function may be for it to be formally positioned alongside other sources of institutional advice and guidance (e.g. staff development, training functions etc).

It also raises questions about the leap in influence and reinvention of its perceived role which would be required for records management to successfully manage institution-wide electronic records management system projects, requiring the records management function to ‘suddenly’ move into a far more frontline, interventionist role.

Q3. Does your institution have a Records Management policy endorsed by senior management?
It is surprising, and worrying, that over one quarter of the institutions surveyed still do not have an approved records management policy in place – especially given the prominence paid to them through the S.46 Code of Practice accompanying the Freedom of Information Act.

Even if such policies alone are of questionable practical value in terms of influencing organizational behavior their absence suggests a lack of senior level awareness and ‘buy-in’ at a most basic level which, in turn, may present significant difficulties when attempting to implement specific records management systems or policies.

Q4. Does your institution have published Records Management procedures or guidelines? If so, please list the subjects to which they relate.
There is a strong bias towards what could be described as ‘retrospective’ policies and guidance – that is those which assume that the information and records have already been created and attempt to deal with the issues they then present (for example, those relating to appraisal, retention schedules, storage etc, all of which relate largely to the latter stages of the ‘information lifecycle’)

There is much less of an emphasis placed on ‘proactive’ guidance which attempts to influence how information is created in the first place and actively used at the beginning of its lifecycle (for example: naming, creation, fileplans, version control) etc. Such policies have a much stronger and more direct influence on user behavior if they are to be successful.

Again this suggests a discrepancy between the traditional and accepted role of records management within institutions and the role they will be asked to play when implementing an institution-wide records management system which inevitably requires the introduction of ‘up front’ intervention and management controls designed to directly influence user behavior.

Q5. Have you conducted a records audit/survey in the past 5 years?
It is widely accepted that carrying out a comprehensive records audit or survey represents a vital ‘first step’ in any records management initiative. It provides accurate data about the information currently held and the processes which first created it and which subsequently rely upon it. It also describes the environment in which this information exists; the tools currently used to manage it and the culture and attitudes of those who interact with it. As such it is worrying that only a little over one third of institutions have carried out a comprehensive, institution-wide survey.

Of course, conducting an institution-wide survey is a significant undertaking and it is encouraging that 40% of respondents have at least taken some strides in this area. Moreover, it is unclear from the figures just how many of these 40% are currently part way through conducting a ‘total’ audit and thus would be able to respond even more positively if the question were to be repeated a few months down the line.

Q6. Have you implemented a records classification scheme?
With hindsight the value of this question would have been further increased if the survey had also enquired as to the scope of any classification schemes devised (for example, whether they are institution-wide, only apply to certain areas etc in much the same way as for the previous question). All we have to go on in this regard is the fact that many of the the comments provided in the ‘Other’ section suggest that where classification schemes have been implemented it is often only for limited areas and not ‘institution-wide’.

Even with the limited data available it is instructive that over half of institutions who responded have not implemented a classification scheme of any type, with even 11 of the 20 institutions who, according to the previous question, have conducted a full record survey (and, therefore, it is to be assumed are in possession of the raw data required) not going down this route. Though once again, this could, in some cases, be a case of ‘work in progress’.

Q7. Do you have an agreed retention schedule in place?
An analysis of the raw data received from the survey indicates that of the 15 respondents who have not carried out a record audit/survey of any type, 9 of these have still managed to get an agreed retention schedule in place. In such circumstances it is unclear exactly what the contents of such a schedule could accurately be based upon, given an apparent lack of any reliable source data about the organization, the information it holds and the processes it carries out.

Q8. How do you co-ordinate and carry out the actions specified by your retention schedule?
It is interesting to discover that although 75% of institutions do, indeed, have an agreed retention schedule in place, the number who appear to be making active use of their retention schedule to manage their records in a pre-planned and coordinated manner is far lower at only 17%. Although there is undoubtedly value in using retention schedules on an ad hoc basis (as a further 21% claim to do), there is probably less reason for optimism for the remaining 62% where retention activity is either left to local practice or does not happen at all.

This may be an approach borne out of necessity, with a shortage of resources requiring institutions to restrict their activity in this regard to publishing retention guidance and hoping that staff follow them.

Though it is impossible from these figures to pass any sort of definitive judgment on the effectiveness of retention activity where it is being left solely to local practice, it is difficult to remain overly positive about the extent to which such activity is actually being undertaken at a local level without any form of consistent, centralized direction.

Such figures reinforce the suspicion that many retention schedules essentially remain as ‘paper exercises’, akin to much policy formulation, where the approval of the paper policy often represents the end, rather than the beginning of the process and of institutional commitment to it.

Q9. Which statement most accurately describes your current circumstances with regards to a centrally controlled system for managing electronic records?

Given the anecdotal evidence available, a figure of 17% of institutions surveyed who have successfully implemented a ‘centrally controlled system for managing records’, appears higher than one would expect. Reasons for this may include questions of definition (for example several respondents based their responses around the implementation of student record systems which, though a vital part of an institution’s IT infrastructure, represent a more specific and specialist branch of information management that touches on many agendas which fall outside of the remit of most institutional records management programmes.

Other factors potentially responsible for influencing the figures may include varying definitions of what constitutes ‘successful implementation’ plus an increased interest in responding to this survey from those institutions who have already invested heavily in this area.

However, even if this figure of 17% is taken at face value, and when combined with the 25% who have no plans to implement such a system, this still leaves 58% of the institutions surveyed actively engaged in this agenda – thus suggesting a continued demand for supportive resources from JISC and other agencies.

Q10. Which of the following types of solution would you consider?
Though the sample is small, a clear interest in Microsoft Sharepoint 2007 (MOSS2007), is obvious. MOSS2007’s licencing structure may be largely responsible for this interest – its ‘free’ nature (and often its existing presence within the institution for other IT purposes) making it the pragmatic choice for those wishing to implement a records management system with limited resources.

The continuing interest in ‘commercial EDRMS’ solutions is also interesting, given what could be perceived as something of a popular backlash against such technologies over the past year or so. It is clear that there is still a considerable interest in what such systems can provide and a continued belief that they represent an answer to the information management issues faced by further and higher education institutions.

Q11. How much progress have you made to date with your implementation? (please tick as many as apply)
The breadth of tasks accomplished by the projects surveyed indicates that many of the institutions active in this area have made substantial strides towards achieving complete and successful implementations.

Unsurprisingly, it is in relation to the transfer of legacy data and system integration that less progress appears to have been made. Of course, it may be that many of these projects have never intended to address these aspects; so these figures cannot, alone, be construed as any sign of ‘failure’ on behalf of these projects. That said, there is no doubt that system integration and the transfer of legacy data do represent some of the most difficult aspects of implementing records management systems and these figures suggest that additional resources to support activities in this area would be welcomed.

Q12. What systems have you selected / shortlisted?
As with the previous question, the small sample size means caution must be exercised when drawing any conclusions from these responses.

Bearing this caveat in mind it is interesting to see that despite the high level of interest in MOSS2007 reported in response to Question 10, only 1 institution has actually either shortlisted or chosen it (and then in conjunction with another EDRM system). This may, again, reflect MOSS2007’s licensing model with the fact that it does not have to be formally procured meaning that many more institutions may have MOSS2007-based solutions running in the IT department which have not yet come to the attention of the records professionals. Alternatively it may be due to the comparative newness of MOSS2007 as a recognised records management solution or, even, that despite considerable general interest in it, that this is not being translated into actual system development.

Q13. Who are / will be the regular users of this system?
Given that, according to the responses given to previous questions, so few institutions have managed to role out institution-wide surveys (34% – see Question 5), classification schemes (45% – see Question 6) or retention schedules (17% – see Question 8); plus the lack of current exposure of records management as a proactive, ‘frontline’ service (as reported in response to Question 2) it could be argued that the 47% of institutions who are now actively considering introducing a records management system for all staff across the institution are setting themselves an ambitious target.

Further research and analysis is undoubtedly required, but there may be an interesting line of enquiry emerging here which suggests that the scope and nature of most records management system implementation projects requires the institution’s records management function to take on tasks and roles which have not, hitherto, formed part of their remit. The implication of this assertion being that this expansion of their role places yet further complications and obstacles in the way of successful implementation.

On a more practical level it could also be argued that many of the tasks outlined above actually represent fundamental prerequisites for the successful implementation of any ‘corporate’ records management system and as such, many institutions risk an uphill struggle in trying to implement their chosen system without having first successfully completed these foundations.

Q14. Does / will the system manage any of the following?
There is clearly an obvious and predictable focus on dealing with unstructured documents and records with far less emphasis being placed on the management of structured data – something probably also linked to the low numbers of projects which have achieved system integration as mentioned in relation to Question 11 (though which is the cause and which the effect is impossible to tell from the data available).
The high number of projects looking to manage student records is particularly noteworthy and cannot solely be explained by the three respondents who based their answers around the implementation of specialist student record systems. The management of student/learner records is a broad and complex area in its own right which is directly influenced by many government, funding council and quality agency agendas (including lifelong learner records, e-portfolios, records of achievement amongst many others). It is unclear whether the systems proposed are fully aware of and influenced by these pressures.

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