Information and records management: Evolving for the user

April 21st, 2015   

Simon Cole, CTO Automated Intelligence

As Automated Intelligence (AI) launches its “Easier with AI” campaign for the 2015 SharePoint Evolution and Information and Records Management Society (IRMS) Conferences, it’s prompted me to reflect on the evolution we’re seeing within the information management, records management and information governance world.

Evolution Picture

I’ve been working in this arena for the past 18 years. During that time I’ve seen significant changes in the market, often with mixed results. Specifically, we at AI have been leading a shift from traditional Standards focussed technology, towards functionality delivered on a user focussed platform. Platforms provided by Microsoft technologies such as SharePoint, Office 365 and Azure allow us to do this and are increasingly the cornerstone of an organisations information strategy.

The ‘Standard’ design

In the late 1990’s Electronic Records Management was born in response to the growing trend of creating, communicating and storing information electronically. Standards were developed to help organisations put commonality and control around this new electronic world. The US DOD5015.2, the UK Public Records Office PRO & PRO II (later they became The National Archives and TNA2002), the Victoria Electronic Records Strategy (VERS) in Australia, MoReq, MoReq2, MoReq2010 in the EU and global overarching standards such as ISO15489 and the ISO 30300 series. These were developed to guide organisations on the requirements for Electronic Records Management.

The document management industry rushed to build products to meet these Standards across the various markets and geographies. Some of us even got involved in helping to write them. From a practical implementation mind-set we could see the difficulties that would arise in transposing requirements of a very exacting Standard for a very unstructured user population. Quite often these records centric requirements were a bolt-on to pre-existing document management products and projects and assumed a level of user capability and interest that simply wasn’t there!

The result: Systems that added intolerable complexity and burden to a user population that had many more pressing things to do. An explosion in the volume of electronic data being created and a minor increase in the number of records captured. In response, Standards are updated, products functionality increased and history tells us:

“The problem is not managing records but getting the records to manage”

The development of Standards was designed to create a level of uniformity to improve the management of electronic records. Unfortunately, due to the management process focus of the Standards, the management of the Record was placed above the needs of the User. In turn the requirements procured against were a long list of technical specifications, with a BTW: Must be easy to use, on the end!

The systems were antiquated and hard to use and required users to be part time record managers (an ambition shared by very few). This led to poor adoption of the platform and as a net effect, less records being captured. Users retreated to ‘easier’ solutions, preferring historical (and poorly managed) file shares to the expensive EDRMS platforms which were meant to be the solution.

These problems were equally not helped by software manufacturers not understanding Records Management and packing functionality in the client software, rather than focusing on the Records Manager/Administrator. As soon as ‘save as’ became a two day training course, the user was lost and the uniformity craved was a distant dream.

Today, many of those original solutions have all but disappeared, either swallowed (through acquisition) into larger ECM vendors or branded irrelevant by being too niche: “Records only” solutions that can’t meet the broader needs of customers. The challenge this leaves is that many customers are running unsupported (or soon to be unsupported) solutions, with either non-existent or non-aligned roadmaps.

Not surprising then that one of the fastest growing software markets is data and application migration. Many organisations are trying to consolidate in order to reduce cost. Over-priced, under-used EDRMS applications are being replaced by more cost effective standardised rather than standards based technology.

The rise of the user

Over the past 18 years I’ve seen a whole new IT vernacular emerge, reflective of the advances in technology and of the user population it serves. Cloud, Virtualization, Apps, Agile and Devices are all designed to help us achieve more and achieve it more quickly, with less cost.

The basic requirements for Information Governance haven’t changed significantly, however, the design principles of how these requirements will be met needs to be different and reflective of the modern computer age.

Many of the changes I see in the IT world are driven by the realities being faced by organisations I.T. serves. The need to reduce expenditure and maximise efficiencies has never been more prevalent. Whether it’s reducing head count, closing offices in support of Home Working or simply reducing training budgets, users are always being asked to more with less. Technology and in particular Information Applications need to not only support this, but, support the organisational requirements in terms of Governance and administration. Ease of Use is no longer a footnote, its the starting principle for all application development. Whether it’s Records Management, search or collaboration, if the users don’t ‘get it’, they can’t ‘do it’ and every objective and potential benefit of the project is lost.

Unfortunately a lot of the solutions that are on the market today, haven’t changed their architecture to meet today’s requirements and are stuck with solutions that were designed in the 90’s. Some are trying to leapfrog into the cloud market, hoping cloud scalability will mask the underlying architecture problems. Others have taken legacy products and hidden them behind other, shall we say more user friendly applications, trying to create a back office approach to Information Management. Others add feature after feature, in the hope that someone finds a use for them. However the fundamental disengagement, confusion and lack of adoption by the user continues to be a challenge.

Can SharePoint solve these challenges?

One of the platforms that has seen a rise of adoption unlike any other over the last 2 decades is SharePoint. From its inception in 2001 it has evolved significantly to become the de-facto standard for collaboration for many enterprises. SharePoint solves 3 of the key issues that have historically challenged organisations.

Usability –  If users can’t be persuaded to user a system, either on its own merits or through the benefits it brings, they will always find a non-managed alternative. SharePoint has managed to engage users through it’s easy to user interface, seamless integration with productivity suites such as Microsoft Office.

Scalability – Organisations are seeing change on an unprecedented scale. The need to scale rapidly and not be constrained within the artificial limits of a core platform is key. SharePoint is used by some of the world’s largest organisations to meet their information management and collaboration requirements.

Security –  Seamless integration with the organisations security platform is a given, SharePoint allows easy management and application of security through the familiar group and user definitions of Active Directory. Security within the application is critical as well, whether that be through restricting access to sets of records within a classification or meeting the compliance layers of a government security classification schema.

Why Automated Intelligence?

AI provide a range of solutions that extend the capabilities of SharePoint enabling it to be used as part of an overall information governance strategy. Key to everything we do is making it happen without the user having to consciously think about it; Extending the compliance aspects of managing records through an infinitely scalable policy model; Providing a key integration point between Microsoft Outlook and SharePoint; Innovative usability extensions simplifying the life of the user; Adding additional controls for business driven security application. All in all AI’s solutions are helping organisations overcome some of the challenges of the past and providing successful adoption and compliance with SharePoint.

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Going beyond product capability, at AI we have some of the best people in the industry who understand our customers and are dedicated to making their experience a successful one. We have the experience and local knowledge needed to ensure our products are understood, liked and used. We’re proud of the customers we serve and the way we serve them.

These are great achievements in the 5 years since we founded the company, but what we believe sets AI apart is delivering technology that works to solve complex problems, within everyday applications for users that never even know we’re helping them. Making it easier for people to do the right things.

#EasierwithAI.

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