How to get started with metadata in records management

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In our last blog post we looked at how metadata compares to electronic folder structures and full text search for finding records. When it comes to the speed and accuracy of records retrieval, we saw that metadata is the clear winner. To help you get started with metadata, this week’s post outlines several best practices to ensure that metadata will effectively support your RIM program.

First things first

While the concept of metadata is relatively simple, putting it in place requires careful thought. What information should we append to the records?

Before considering all the possible ways you could use metadata to support document retrieval, it important to address the records management “basics” first. These include:

Functional classification: At a minimum, metadata should mirror the functional classifications specified by your records management (RM) program. This lays the groundwork for a number of critical RM activities such as retention tracking and disposition.

Retention start dates: Many different events can trigger the start of a retention period, such as the end of the fiscal year, the completion of a project, or the termination of a contract. Metadata allows you to encode these dates into each record for more accurate retention tracking.

Disposition dates: A disposition date refers to the exact date on which normal records retention requirements lapse for a given record. Many electronic records management solutions will automatically calculate the disposition date based on the retention start date and the retention period specified in your retention schedule.

Final disposition dates: Although the term “records disposition” is sometimes used interchangeably with “destruction,” not all organizational records are destroyed after the legal retention period has passed. Many organizations will move expired records into archival storage for a period of time. The final disposition date can be used to indicate when records are actually ready for destruction.

Information sensitivity and security: Metadata can play an invaluable role in helping organizations restrict access to electronic documents and ensure that they are handled appropriately. Many organizations will establish guidelines and recommended metadata tags in categories such as personal privacy, threats to safety, intellectual property rights and competitive advantage.

When planning a program of metadata, these basic categories provide a great starting point. With these in place you can then look at other metadata categories and tags to facilitate easier retrieval. As you do so, another best practice to keep in mind is to develop a corporate policy and guidelines for metadata. These will ensure that metadata is applied consistently, which is essential for it to be truly effective.

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