“What? You mean that was a record?”: 3 things a records manager never wants to hear


When I was working in state government and was preparing to implement my enterprise content management (ECM) solution, I was required to visit the State Archives to have my project approved. It turns out that the state had standards and I needed to follow them to be sure that my digital system would adequately safeguard records.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the State Archivist was a big fan of digitizing records as long as the state standards were met. As we discussed the project, she related some great – and scary – stories from her career of trying to preserve and manage records.

Here are some of the best – or worst – moments from her experiences:

“Wait, you mean that was a record?”

Early recognition and classification of documents that have a records management requirement can be tricky. Our archivist had many stories to tell about the loss of documents long before the department’s designated records person could preserve them. Often, staff whose job it was to originate and collect documents at the earliest moment didn’t know if a document was classified.

My ECM project would eliminate this problem, because documents are classified when they are archived into the ECM solution. Staff could use a classification that they are familiar with, and, behind the scenes, the solution would already be configured to meet document management requirements.

“We had a flood in that room about seven years ago.”

The problems surrounding records preservation keep archivists up at night. The perils are many, from the modest flood that happened in my own records room, to much more devastating events like fires, tornadoes and hurricanes. The loss of records can make recovery difficult, and, if records are needed to respond to or recover from the event, the insecure nature of paper documents is a big problem for archivists. My state archivist had a state-of-the-art, secured facility with climate control and special sprinklers. But how many counties and cities can afford such a facility or the forward and permanent costs associated with secured offsite storage?

My ECM solution provided redundant copies, and now even has a cloud-based back-up system in a secure data center to ensure business continuity. The move to digital files makes it easier to manage records when events compromise traditional physical storage.

“We ran out of space so people started throwing things out.”

I would confess to having been one of those people. During my time in state government, I moved entire offices and buildings four times. This meant I had to pack and unpack my cubicle without any guidance as to what to keep and what I could destroy. This was true of my entire department and, without early classification of documentation, whole stacks of documents were thrown out. This happens whenever file space gets tight. It isn’t intentional, it’s simply that agencies usually don’t have enough space to manage paper documents.

The paper doesn’t stop, unless you move to digital records and use a tool like an ECM solution to manage the records. ECM means never running out of space and never worrying that staff are getting rid of records that need to be preserved.

Enterprise content management projects made my archivist happy because they solved these problems and many more that records managers face every day. I think she was looking forward to the day when more of my peers implemented an ECM-driven records management solution, because she knew that early capture, classification and redundant preservation made her job easier. An ECM platform has tools that make everyday government tasks faster and cheaper to perform. It’s a win-win that helped her avoid ever hearing these comments again.

Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Terri Jones is an enterprise advisor with Hyland’s Global Services team. Before coming to Hyland, in her 10-plus years in both state and local government, she’s managed IT departments, implemented... read more about: Terri Jones