Advice on Using SharePoint as a Records Management Tool

Evaluating SharePoint as a Records Management tool is not an easy task, simply comparing features with the likes of Documentum, FileNet or OpenText only covers the technical aspects.  Records Management is more about process than technology.

Know and Refine Your Processes

One of the first things to establish is your information life cycle, if this is clearly defined you should be able to create a process flow diagram with a minimal amount of “if” conditions or business rules to define the flow.

If the process is overly complex with an abundance of business rules and conditions, it will not matter which technology you choose your chances of success has decreased.

Most Records Management Automation projects that I have seen fail were due to poor process definition and not technology.

Consider Automation Opportunities

Automation is one of the key drivers for applying technology to Records Management.  Automation needs to provide consistent and predictable behavior for managing records based on established policies.

In our experience, automated disposition based on retention rules is sporadic at best and typically overly complex with numerous rules and exceptions.  Managing the varying rules and exceptions becomes too numerous to manage.  Once the system gets complex users begin finding means to bypass the system to get their work done.

Use Content Types

To make disposition automation easier, organizations can leverage SharePoint Content Types.  Classifications can be determined based on the Content Type and metadata.  Once the classification has been determined the system will know the retention policy and other Records Management metadata.  The caveat is only if the Information architecture and Classifications are well established. This goes back to our earlier point on this being about how important the non-technical pieces of these projects are.

Using Content Types will allow the organization to do in place records management allowing users to manage their information in their chosen location instead of copying the record to a centralized area.  Since the disposition will apply to the content type the content can be anywhere on the portal if retention has been applied to that content type.

The issue with using Content Types is deciding on the number of Content Types you are going to allow.  If this is not monitored or a policy applied you could end up with hundreds of Content Types making it difficult for users to determine where their information belongs.  Imagine having to choose from a drop down with over a hundred options.

Consider Legal, Regulatory and Compliance Requirements

If there are specific Legal, Regulatory or Certifications required for your Records Management solution, a thorough technical review of the platform you choose is a must.

Involve the stakeholders in the business who are responsible for these areas when gathering the requirements for your solution.  The earlier these folks are involved, the better. 

Define Reliability and Availability Standards

Once the decision is made to use SharePoint for Records Management it elevates SharePoint’s importance in the organization.  The following should be considered

·       SharePoint should be part of Business Continuity Planning

·       Adding SharePoint to the High Availability Services category

·       Ensure SharePoint has a tried and tested Disaster Recovery Plan

SharePoint plus Third Party Solutions

In our opinion, SharePoint’s strongest features are found in the areas of collaboration, transparently connecting people with content and security.  SharePoint’s out of the box features, may fall short of what other products purely focused on Records Management can do.  

Don't forget about customization opportunities and third party solutions. The framework exists within SharePoint for Document and Records Management, but configuration/customization will be necessary to fit your organization’s specific requirements.

There are several ISV’s that have created a Records Management applications which leverage the SharePoint platform.  These products take advantage of the “plumbing” provided by SharePoint and have added their own components to provide a richer Records Management experience.

Organizations have the option to do light customization and configuration or to purchase a third-party solution depending on the complexity of their Record Management needs.