Why a File Plan must be part of your ECM implementation

By Julie Lintner

I have been involved in a lot of ECM implementations and guess how many have included a File Plan? Zero.

I contend that this is not an uncommon scenario. Typically the Client is focused on the electronic storage of the documents, being able to find them again with little effort, and then automating the business processes for those documents.  The focus is on productivity.

The focus is not on compliance issues and how a File Plan and Records Management can benefit the organization. The ECM implementation team is not asking any of the primary RM questions such as:

  • How long do we need to keep these documents (retention)?
  • What do we do with them when we don't need them anymore (disposition)?
  • How will we handle eDiscovery?
  • Are we in compliance with our policies and applicable laws?

Here are 4 reasons why a File Plan must be part of your ECM implementation, or if it is not, it needs to be Phase II.

  1. Reduce Volume.  If you have ever been involved in a migration from one platform to another, you know there is typically a lot of content that is not needed.  I have seen migrations reduced by 20+ million documents once the content was analysed.  If you have an ECM system, a migration is inevitable at some point in time.  A File Plan and subsequent RM implementation can help reduce the amount of content, saving a lot of time and money in future migrations and on-going storage costs.
  2. eDiscovery.  If there is a lawsuit, does the ECM system have a way to identify the documents that are needed?  Since ECM systems typically have a taxonomy, meta-data can be used to find these documents.  But eDiscovery is more than just identifying the documents; Do the documents provide value to the organization or the legal case? Are the documents within their retention date?  How will Legal Holds be handled?  A File Plan is the first step to answering some of these questions.  For more information on the importance of eDiscovery, see a previous blog post regarding eDiscovery
  3. Compliance.  Are you in compliance with your records management policies and any retention schedules required by law?  Or it may be the case that a policy has not been defined and legal requirements for the document have not been considered.  A File Plan is the basis for establishing these policies and ensuring legal requirements are followed.
  4. ROT - Redundant, Obsolete and Trivial Data.  All organizations have ROT data: unstructured information scattered throughout the enterprise that has no value.  This data can cost your organization through storage costs, litigation costs due to eDiscovery, and compliance risks due to uncontrolled data.  ROT data is inevitable over time in an ECM system especially if policies and not defined and followed.  A File Plan will help ensure you are not saving ROT data. 

An ECM system bears many risks if a File Plan is not created and implemented.  A previous post discussed the differences between a Taxonomy and a File Plan.  The reality is that they should complement each other, one without the other does not address the full scope of managing your content.  If you have implemented an ECM solution, then you have probably improved your productivity, but without the File Plan, you have not addressed your compliance risks.  Both of these practices together will benefit and protect your organization.

Julie Lintner is a consultant with information governance and records management specialists RecordLion and an Adjunct Faculty member at St. Louis University. This article was originally published online at http://blog.recordlion.com