Taxonomy and Records Management, Part 2

Continuing the exploration of taxonomy in the context of records management, I’m going to focus on the second challenge listed in my earlier post on the subject:  taxonomies and record retention schedules exist but are not being used effectively.

I worked on a records management project in which we were to create the retention schedule for one business unit as a baseline for building out the schedule as the records management initiative was rolled out to subsequent divisions. In this case, it was not that they didn’t already have a retention schedule. In fact, they had an extremely robust, thorough, and complicated schedule created by another consulting firm specializing in records management. It was so robust, thorough, and complicated that no one could figure out how to apply it, and, so, didn’t. While the retention schedule covered everything needed from a records management perspective, it was not applicable from a user’s perspective. What made sense to a records manager and to legal was not useful to the people who needed to apply it. In addition, the schedule was not enforced. No one knew what, if any, retention policies were being applied to records, leaving the organization in a similar state as prior to the creation of the records retention schedule. The solution, in this instance, was to rebuild a simplified retention schedule based on the prior work and new categorization principles to align with a corporate taxonomy.

As with the above example, organizations may not have a taxonomy in place, or, if they do, it is not being used to its full potential. A taxonomy used to organize, tag, and retrieve content enhances information organization and findability. If it is not being used in conjunction with a records management policy, however, documents declared as records and vital for compliance to such regulations as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA are at risk of not being found during the discovery process. While a records management system (RMS) provides functionality for applying retention policies, from where do the values for tagging come? Are these terms in the taxonomy or do they only live in the RMS? Taxonomy terminology applied only to content and not records creates findability and retrieval issues as well as a disconnect between the way content and records are categorized in the organization.

Aligning the terminology in a records retention schedule—whether kept in a static form such as a Word or Excel document or applied to content in an RMS—with taxonomy values used for the tagging of other content creates a standard for all content throughout the organization. Whether content is in process with multiple versions and frequent changes or if it has been declared a record and is no longer subject to versioning and editing, a single taxonomy provides consistent terminology use for description and retrieval. Further, using consistent values in the taxonomy and records retention schedule is one way to enforce the application of terms used for retrieval as well as the terms used to apply retention schedule policies to records. While some taxonomy values may be “reserved” for records, they still live within the context of the greater taxonomy, which may include business units, processes, and other values providing context in which records are created, declared, stored, shared, and disposed.

From a user perspective, consistent vocabulary for tagging content and records fills several needs:

  • Consistent vocabulary fosters familiarity with the organization’s methods and processes.
  • An enterprise taxonomy is a training tool for employees to become familiar with their content and processes and those of other business units.
  • A single view of content based on keywords, whether that content is a record or not.

Thus, having a taxonomy and records retention schedule is one step toward information organization, but using the two in conjunction for consistency and enforcement brings an organization closer to effectively managing content in all its forms.

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