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Planning a Records Management Project: Electronic Records Non-Email Inventory

by | Mar 13, 2023

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and case law which encompasses the inability of companies to provide electronically stored information in a timely manner have focused companies on their records management programs.  Over the years, these same companies spent a sizable portion of their information technology budgets on managing structured data and realized tremendous business value, through the use of data mining tools to analyze market trends, customer needs and the costs of doing business.

It’s unfortunate that, for the most part, these resources cannot be applied to the challenge of managing unstructured records.  The exceptions are electronic records software applications that were configured with naming conventions and classification systems, or taxonomy, from its enterprise-wide implementation.  As records are preserved and managed in an ERMS, structured metadata is applied to the unstructured content.  Identifying responsive material is more assured and applying disposition holds efficient.

For the vast majority of businesses who have not implemented an enterprise-wide records management system, the task of identifying the electronic records created by the employees, finding where they are stored and how they are stored is a much larger challenge.  In order to be ready for litigation, however, it’s a task that needs to be done.  The practice of waiting for a subpoena to be delivered has become riskier, not less, over the past few years.  Courts have stated that if competitors in your industry have been sued, you should have the expectation of litigation in your company’s future as well.  The same holds true for audits.

Which departments have hard copy files?  Why are they printed? Where are they stored when no longer actively referenced?  How often are they backed up?  Who does the record get distributed to?  At the same time, ask if there are other records created by the department that are not on the hard copy listing.  How they are created, where they are stored, who else uses them, and are they backed up?  Once you have the replies and have analyzed the information, look for potential duplicates, types of storage devices, usage, and backups, call the IT department for a meeting of what you have found and ask to compare it to how much storage is in use and how often it is backed up.  The difference between what the creators say they have and what IT is managing in terms of non-database storage will give you an idea of the scope of the project.  One company had record creators claiming 14 terabytes of unstructured records while IT was managing 35 terabytes of shared drives for those same creators.  The 21 terabytes of additional storage had to be reviewed for duplication, which was found. Also found were documents created by employees long departed.  These need to be reviewed for their current business value: were these business assets to be preserved, or, transitory documents of no business value?

The next step is to look at the shared drive directories and compare the names of the files to the records series and records names in the hard copy inventory.  If you have some consistency, that is a wonderful thing to have.  More likely, though, you will see very little, if any, consistency because of a reluctance on the part of business managers to impose rules on how documents are named or classified and a limitation on the tools available.   What this exercise will give you, however, is the beginning of an ‘aka’ list, which will include abbreviations and acronyms in use.

Searching the shared drives for potential records is now possible with the hard copy list and the aka list you’ve developed.  This is best done afterhours to reduce the strain on the network.  As hits come up, list the locations, noting those not on the information provided by the records creators so that you determine where else records may be stored.  Go to the owners of the shared drives and discuss what you’ve found.  If these are original records, add them to the list.  If there are shared drives that have not come up on your hit list, ask the owners what is on them.  They could be potentially new records series the owner may not even think of as records.  When you find duplicates, keep track of how much extra storage your company has purchased, managing and backing up.  The cost for the management of the duplicate information may be equal to or greater than the cost of electronic records management software.  At the end of the project, you will have a data map which indicates who creates business records, who uses them (primary, secondary, and tertiary users), where they are stored, what is used to create them and how often they are backed up.

How long will all this take to do?  Allot seven to eight hours per employee in the company to inventory the electronic records they create.

OR, call Western Integrated Systems and we’ll do the work for you!

Upcoming events: The Golden State ARMA chapter is presenting a Mock Trial Workshop on May 16 at the City of Oakland’s Hearing Rooms 1 and 3, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m..  This workshop will demonstrate the importance of identifying responsive documents and providing only those responsive documents in a subpoena.

ARMA Golden State – Welcome (armags.org)

Written by Cheryl Young

Cheryl Young (Senior Project Manager, CSM, CSPO, IGP, CTT+, ermM, ecmP) has been active in the records and information management field for over 30 years as a business process consultant, trainer, records manager, information analyst, contracts manager and project manager with specific expertise in RIM projects trusted systems and Lean process analysis. Cheryl is a frequent speaker with AIIM and ARMA.



  1. Susan Grunenwald

    Great information!


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