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Syndication

In this podcast Ian Meldon, a records management consultant working for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) describes FAO's e-mail based records management system.

The previous records management system at FAO

The previous electronic records management system that FAO operated was also based on e-mail.  From the year 2000 they had asked colleagues to copy or forward any e-mail needed as a record to the e-mail address of their local registry, where registry staff would file the e-mail in a Microsoft Outlook shared folder structure.    The system worked tolerably well, although compliance with the policy varied from area to area. 

One weakness of the previous system was that all the records were kept within the Microsoft Exchange environment. People could only see the records of their local area - there was no possibility of a FAO wide search.  There was no sustainable way of holding and applying retention rules to the records.

Principles behind FAO's new records management system

When FAO decided to overhaul the records system they based their approach on three principles:

  • Don’t appear to introduce a yet another computer system

      FAO have procured and implemented a robust electronic records management system to use as their repository (Filenet from IBM).  But end-users never need interact directly with the Filenet repository - everything they need to do on the system can be done through the Outlook e-mail client.
  • Don’t ask people to do something they are not already doing The idea was not to ask users to do anything more time consuming than the preivous system's demand that they copy in the registry to significant e-mails.  Under the new system every time a colleague sends an e-mail, a pop-up appears asking them to say whether the e-mail is either a) personal or trivial or b) draft/tranisitory or c) FAO record.   If an individual selects personal/trivial then the e-mail is sent without going into the records repository.  If the individual selects either draft/transitory or FAO record then they are asked to choose the appropriate 'team tag'  for the message (the team tag denotes which team they were working for in sending the message). The message then gets sent and a copy is placed in the records repository.  There is also the opportunity to mark a message as confidential if it is work related but there is a need to restrict access to it.
  • Provide something useful beyond the need to keep records

     At 10pm every night the system generates a 'digest' for each team tag.  The digest is an e-mail that lists and links to all the draft/transitory and record  e-mails sent that day and tagged with that team tag.  This means that each morning an individual can see at a glance all the significant e-mails sent by colleagues in their team the previous day.  This has reduced the need for colleagues to 'copy each other in' to e-mails.  Furthermore individuals can choose to receive digests from other teams (if they have appropriate permissions).  If a manager oversees six or seven teams they can look at the digest for the six or seven team tags each morning, without needing to be copied into hundreds of e-mails

In the podcast Ian describes the evolution of records management at UNFAO over the past twenty years. Ian also discusses:

  • the conclusions FAO drew from looking at other organisations and their electronic records management systems  
  • FAO's functional records classification and how they linked team tags to it
  • the role of records management/registry staff in supporting the system
  • experiments with auto-classifcation
  • the uses colleagues make of the system and of the digests
  • how FAO handles incoming e-mail
  • how FAO have responded to the challenge of mobile devices
  • the search facility that FAO have built into Outllook that enables individuals to search the repository for emails that colleagues across the organisation have saved as draft/transitory or FAO record
Ian is @MrMeldon on Twitter.  His LinkedIn page can be found at http://it.linkedin.com/pub/ian-meldon/45/659/733 .  
Ian was interviewed by James Lappin who is @jjameslappin on twitter and who blogs  at http://thinkingrecords.co.uk/