Thursday, January 22, 2009

Records Managers, your assistance is sought

Help Travis County Records Management perfect a recommendation regarding retention of electronic mail records.

Your comments will be incorporated into future blog posts here.

Thanks for your participation!


  1. Hi Shawn,

    Firstly, many congratulations on your whole approach and innovative use of web tools to start a debate in this area. This, in itself, clearly demonstrates the potential of the 'new dynamic' you allude to.

    In terms of the content and the topic in question, my own belief is that a variation of Option 2 offers the most promise. It is neither practical or realistic (or, indeed, fair) to rely on the users to be be asked to 'manage' email as we would traditionally suggest they do (i.e. to decide which are 'records' and to manually apply pre-specified retention periods etc. This ignores all of the characteristics of email and the way that they are routinely used. To keep thinking we can fly in the face of this and suggest solutions that are not in tune with the technology is doomed to failure.

    The haystack approach does have some merit and is undoubtedly the most attractive to users (as its the closest to how most currently behave and is aligned with how the world seems to be moving (e.g. Google searching on the web and now the desktop). The amount of risk involved - what we often refer to as 'the smoking gun' is largely sector specific. I used to work in the pharma industry where this idea would never be allowed. I now work in the university sector and this is (by accident rather than design) the way most approach it and the risk so far has proved to be very very small - even with new freedom of information legislation.

    At this risk of making this sound like a sales pitch I would suggest reading Chapter 9 of my book 'Managing the crowd: rethinking records management for the web2.0 world' (Facet, 2008). In it I address this whole 'what if we kept everything?' argument. In Europe there is legislation by way of the Data Protection Act which specifically forbids the retention of personal data for longer than the purpose for which it was obtained (note: this is legislation that does not provide a limitation period as most do, but dictates that you cannot keep information - a completely different challenge). As a result the 'keep everything' argument is legally flawed here. I also raise the (growing) moral issues regarding the use (waste?) of resources required to keep everything and equate it with the manufacture of 'gas guzzling' cars in the 1950s and 60s when oil was cheap and plentiful and the disapproving way we now see such profligacy - just because we can keep everything does not,necessarily, mean we should.

    What is therefore required, are automated means of conducting what have hitherto been manual processes. This is the only way that records management can hope to cope with the volumes of information that are now being created. In the book I argue for placing a greater weight on the opinions of users ('the crowd') but this should also be combined with the kind of tools you allude to to automate the indexing of emails based not only on content, but on the sender and recipient and what is known about the relative importance of the business processes they regularly conduct. This, at least, enables the right emails to be automatically fed into the right buckets for retention, disposal or preservation - or even just to act as an initial automated sift before the records manager has to get involved at a more detailed level.


    Steve Bailey

  2. I think record should be maintained accurately.There should be consistency and transparency.Record management have to be done properly so that work can be done smoothly.This will leads to the growth of the entire work.Thanks for making us aware of the concept.