Location, Location, Location: Where Does Your RM Program Live?

A question was posted recently to a college and university listserv: Where does your records management program report? What is your program’s administrative location? While many of the responses indicated that records management programs were still located in university archives, as would be expected in a college and university environment, some programs now report to general counsel, information technology, and business services units.

The variety of responses raised this question for me: what is the “best” place to manage your records program and develop relationships with stakeholders? Where can your records management program grow, thrive, and be the most effective for your organization?

Historically, university records management programs have been well-aligned with the goals of archival programs. After all, by using records management policies and procedures, archival agencies can “ensure the identification and preservation of records of enduring value.”[i] However, with records management programs facing pressing issues involving e-discovery response, electronic records management, and increasing resource needs, the traditional location and role of records management within a larger archives function may be questioned.

As records managers, we know that records management policies and practices are critical to the finance, human resources, technology, legal, historical, and administrative functions of an organization. Because records management has fundamental relevance to institutional processes, in theory, a records management program could be administered from almost any administrative location. But what is the “right” place for your program? In a perfect world, if you get to choose where to start your records management program, where would you go (administratively speaking)?

Obviously, the answer to that question will depend on your individual organization’s administrative setting and outlook. Every organization has a unique mission, and the best administrators will adapt their records management program to align with the specific goals in their institution.

However, are some locations better than others?

When determining the best place from which to administer a records management program, keep in mind that your administrative location will affect many elements of program management and development.

First, consider a prospective location’s ability to support and advocate for your program. With the continued growth and subsequent cost of managing electronic records, records management administrators need to have opportunities to campaign for additional funding, staffing, and resources for their program. It is easy for a program to stagnate or deteriorate over time if a records management program lacks the “full support and understanding” of the office’s director.[ii] Obtaining high-level leadership buy-in may be crucial in this regard; it can be important to have a decision maker in your corner, and you might determine that a positive relationship with such a person outweighs other potential administrative downsides.

Second, consider your relationships with crucial stakeholders. From what administrative location can you interact positively with the variety of stakeholders, including information technology and general counsel, on records management initiatives? With electronic records management becoming more crucial, it has been argued that “a reporting relationship to an information technology unit” is “a more modern organizational placement” that could result in better funding opportunities and quicker implementation of new technologies.[iii] On the other hand, records management programs may often face uphill battles competing with other technological initiatives and demonstrating the value of crucial records management concepts, such as records retention, with technical personnel who may not be familiar with them. Legal and general counsel offices generally understand the value of records management, but may not have the technical expertise needed to implement necessary changes.

Finally, consider your abilities in regards to policy compliance and enforcement. How far can you go to ensuring and enforcing compliance with records management policies and procedures? Administering a records program from a general counsel or high-level administrative office, such as the President’s Office, may give your program “high visibility” and “considerable authority” which could be useful when educating offices about the importance of compliance.[iv] However, sometimes these offices may have a narrow scope of interest and may not focus on records management functions that are not related to litigation support or preserving administrative legacies.

These are just a few considerations to keep in mind, and obviously, there is no perfect answer. However, as long as records management continues to play a vital role in organizations, the benefits and consequences of a variety of administrative locations should be considered as managers work to make their records management programs as strong as possible.

[i] Bruce W. Dearstyne, PhD, Managing Records & Information Programs: Principles, Techniques and Tools (Kansas: ARMA International, 2009), 44.

[ii] Dearstyne, Managing Records & Information Programs, 45.

[iii] William Saffady, PhD, Records and Information Management: Fundamentals of Professional Practice, 2nd edition (Kansas: ARMA International, 2011), 23

[iv] Saffady, Records and Information Management, 23.

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