Why electronic records management implementations go off the rails

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electronic records management

The benefits of electronic records management (ERM) are well known: more efficient storage of collections, faster retrieval times of information, better compliance, and more. For years records managers have been moving towards implementation projects to realize those benefits for their organizations, but according to Mimi Dionne, records and information management project manager and consultant/owner of Mimi Dionne Consulting, those projects often fall off the rails mid-way through execution.

When it comes to the “why” of this reality, Dionne has a few theories that she lays out in this article.

“We’ve spent the past ten years struggling through ERM implementations — very few of us have implemented — and it’s partly due to our lack of technical skill. The other part is our lack of drive.

I’ve informally interviewed several members of more than one Records and Information Management-related discipline and their admitted reticence to learn the technical skills needed to implement e-records surprised me. It’s the strangest dichotomy: they acknowledge they don’t have the proper skills, but they don’t want to learn them anyway.

If we ceded the field to Information Technology back in 2005, it’s our own fault. Most of us want to be policy people only. The statement is less a criticism than just a simple acknowledgement of the facts. Those of us who are crazy enough to try the technical side have a long, lonely, isolated road ahead.”


That’s a hit on the chin, but Dionne’s comments come with some constructive advice, too.

1.0 Common problems

According to Dionne, there are a few stumbling blocks that surface regularly once an ERM project has started. Does this sound familiar?

  • Information Technology cannot provide enough storage to kick off the project;
  • Administrative assistants claim that applying retention is too constrictive to their ways of working, and/or;
  • Departments quarrel over the moral authority to manage their own content and records.

2.0 The wrong focus

Part of the problem, Dionne says, is that records managers sometimes put their attention on other issues.

“Today, Records Managers want to be known as Directors of Information Governance,” Dionne says. “The title is considered more C-level to Records Management because it encompasses much more than the basic storage step of the records life cycle: responsibilities may include e-discovery, content management, records management or information security.”

3.0 A negotiation

Rather than defining titles and establishing authority, records managers should be focusing on internal struggles.

“On the one hand, Information Technology does not want to be in the content management business; on the other, Information Technology is not prepared to share its administrative authority. Meanwhile, Records Management has the education and training to build the application’s records services, but isn’t given the autonomy to construct it or quality-assure the build if Information Technology assembles it,” Dionne says.

4.0 What you need

Dionne uses a jazz ensemble comparison to illustrate the solution: “…each player must negotiate their own agenda, through their own instrument, to create a great sound,” she says.

For the records manager, finding an executive-level sponsor is key and “…a good executive sponsor is a talisman,” she says. It’s their job to explain the culture to you, because as trying as an implementation may be, records mangers must always see the stakeholders’ side. “This perspective is accompanied by a healthy dose of fear: fear that at any time your implementation may grind to a screeching halt,” she says.

What’s been the biggest impediment to your ERM projects? Tweet us or let us know through Facebook or Linkedin.

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