Friday, January 30, 2009

A fascinating snippet from Slate today that nicely demonstrates that if your company has yet to put together a decent records management policy, you're not alone.

Apparently US federal electronic archiving policies are next to non-existent. Oh yes, everyone in the various branches of federal government understands the paper archiving policies, but electronic records are left out in the cold. (Speaking of which, will winter ever end? I'd like to get back to biking).

A 2005 report by the National Archives and Records Administration stated that "electronic records are generally not disposed of in accordance" with federal regulations. In particular, many e-mails are "being destroyed prematurely". For followers of eDiscovery issues, the reasons for premature destruction and failure to follow supposed records policies will be familiar:

1. Use of personal computers to write emails, and subsequent failure to turn in those files.
2. Electronic records are less tangible than paper records and they are often not considered to be records needing to be filed and retired properly.
3. The job of records custodian is left unfilled, and when filled the holders of the position are not properly trained in their record retention obligations.
4. The National Archives' technology branch (which is the entity responsible for retaining appropriate records) is so antiquated that it cannot process common file types such as Microsoft Word documents and PowerPoint slides.

This last reason for failure to archive records properly may not seem to be immediately relevant to most companies. However, it's not unusual for companies to have a mirror-image of this problem: an inability to read records because they are stored in a format that is simply too antiquated to be of any use. (Anyone have any 51/2 inch diskettes left? What about the hardware to read them?)

Although this article is slanted towards the need for federal agencies to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, but could equally apply to companies needing to deal with eDiscovery demands.