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Records management solutions do not have to be the bothersome, obtrusive systems that many users have come to know and experience. In fact, records management solutions can directly benefit users through increased productivity and satisfaction when properly designed and implemented. SharePoint demonstrated to the world that user collaboration and document management can be simple yet impactful. However, this has never fully translated to the records management world. Many of us have been affected by or have heard of a failed SharePoint records management implementation. I believe that the reason for this is that organizations have attempted to port the concepts and functionality of traditional records management solutions to SharePoint, without considering the change in user behavior that SharePoint represents.

Starting with SharePoint 2007, users found themselves with unprecedented levels of freedom to collaborate and share information with their peers. The ability to publish one piece of content, tag it with metadata, and have it show up on the Intranet, Extranet, within Search Results, and even within content feeds enabled users to simplify their daily information worker tasks and focus more on the business activities they were responsible for. SharePoint 2007 was a near perfect recipe for user adoption, and sparked the growth of the platform that we all work with today.

Shortly before the release of SharePoint 2010 a dark cloud appeared on the SharePoint landscape: SharePoint 2007 records management implementations. Many who tried to push the platform to records management failed. Not because the platform was incapable, but rather because they tried to bring traditional records management thought processes to a new, dynamic, collaborative world. There was a distinct lack of appreciation for the new collaborative mindset, and many early SharePoint records management pioneers didn’t realize the scope of rebellion they would face by forcing heavy-handed records management processes on the user population.

With the release of SharePoint 2010 came a period of reflection. Organizations began to question whether or not the issues with records management were rooted in SharePoint itself, or whether they were in fact rooted internally within their own approach to records management. It was during this period that Records Managers and Information Officers realized that they needed to implement a solution, but that the solution should not be focused on heavy-handed compliance control. Instead, it should be focused on driving user adoption, satisfaction, and productivity – with compliance control still being enforced, but transparently.

There are four key points that must be addressed by any SharePoint records management solution if it is to be successful for an organization:

  1. Transparent Compliance Control

The simplest and most effective method for driving a high compliance percentage across an organization is not to rely on users to make compliance decisions. Users don’t typically care about compliance because while it is needed by the organization, it is not essential to the user as part of their business activities. Often when asked to learn about compliance, users simply rebel and stop filing content, or even circumvent processes entirely.

Providing transparent compliance controls such as auto-classification of content and auto-declaration of records drives a high user adoption because the users don’t even know they are participating in the compliance process. This is the number one topic to focus on when designing or planning to implement a records management solution for SharePoint.

  1. Increased Findability

Once the transparent compliance controls are in place, users will begin contributing records without necessarily knowing they are doing so. The influx of properly classified content enables an organization to make content available to users in a more contextual, useful, and personalized way.

Examples include: You can start exposing your classifications as facets within search so that users can quickly narrow down search results. You can present your file classification scheme for hierarchical browsing so that users can locate content by topic. You can also begin surfacing content to users in context, using classification and metadata values, so that users don’t have to search for content relevant to a business activity they are executing.

Increasing the findability of content, especially as it related to business process execution, drives more user adoption and productivity.

  1. Increased Trust

As users become exposed to more and more content within SharePoint, they can make critical business decision mistakes when trusting that the content they are viewing is the most recent version. Many users at some point make a decision based on a document they retrieved only to find out later that it was not the most recent copy.

To address this, ensure that your records management implementation provides support for marking content as obsolete or as being superseded by one or more newer documents. Users should also be able to see quickly and without effort that the content they are viewing is obsolete or has been superseded. Providing this level of functionality builds trust with the user, and will help to drive adoption and even satisfaction with the solution.

  1. Minimal Behavioral Change

Users find collaboration and basic document management with SharePoint to be simple and intuitive. The last thing you want to do is change that opinion by introducing a records management solution that is the complete opposite and causes users to change their behavior within the environment.

To minimize behavioral changes, minimize the need for metadata value entry. This can be done with auto-classification capabilities or with simple default metadata value population within SharePoint libraries.

In addition, try to minimize any disruption to the efficient execution of business processes. A sure way to cause disruption is to move content away from users while it is still being used in a collaborative team environment. The use of SharePoint’s in-place records management declaration allows the content to remain where it is actively being utilized, not causing users’ undue pain by moving their content to a centralized and possibly unknown records center.

However, you still may want to move records to a centralized records center once the records are no longer actively utilized by the team, project, or department. Otherwise, the accumulation of records over time could muddle the collaborative environment, causing users to become confused with regard to what is old and what is new.

While it is clear that traditional records management approaches do not port well to the user-friendly SharePoint environment, this does not mean SharePoint is not fit to be an excellent records management environment.

SharePoint represents the greatest chance for organizations to achieve a nirvana-like records management implementation where content smoothly and efficiently transitions from creation, through collaboration, to eventual retention and disposition, all without users having to actively participate in the compliance portion of that lifecycle process. All it takes is a little planning, a bit of customization, and an understanding that user adoption, satisfaction, and productivity are the pillars of success.