Is SharePoint 2010 a compliant records solution?

Elon Aizenstros, managing director of Australia’s RecordPoint, asks whether SharePoint 2010 measures up to ISO 15489.

Microsoft SharePoint has changed the game on traditional Enterprise Content Management (ECM) vendors. Whilst this might now be old news for many in the ECM industry, what may be more surprising is just how many organisations are already using SharePoint 2007 for records management purposes and the huge number of organisations who have expressed their intention to use SharePoint 2010. This is in spite of a considerable section of the Records Management industry expressing concerns that SharePoint 2007 is not compliant with ISO 15489.

So, the questions that remain with the release of SharePoint 2010 are these: what are the changes to the records management platform in SharePoint 2010; and does SharePoint 2010 meet ISO 15489 compliance?

The ISO 15489 standard describes records as consisting of: content, structure, context and presentation.

The content is present in one or more physical and/or electronic documents that convey the message (the informational content) of the record. These are stored in such a way as to allow future users to understand them and their context. The presentation depends on a combination of the record’s contents, structure and (in the case of electronic records) the software used to present it.

In the world of physical records, the vast majority of records are on paper and are included in files, physically composed of one or more volumes of records inserted within paper folders. Procedural controls should prevent users from changing the records, or their positions within the file.

Similar concepts apply to electronic records. A record is made from one or more electronic documents. These documents can be word processing documents, email messages, spread sheets, moving or still images, audio files, or any other type of digital object.

ISO 15489 Information and Documentation -- Records Management, describes an authoritative record as being a record that has the characteristics of: authenticity, reliability, integrity and usability.

As explained in ISO 15489, the aim of all records management systems (paper or electronic) is that the system should ensure that records stored within them are authoritative.

There are the two major changes in SharePoint 2010, ‘In Place’ Records Management and numerous improvements to the ‘records center’ (sic) or records archive area of SharePoint.

A new approach in addition to the ‘archive’ approach is called In Place Records Management. This allows certain SharePoint documents (or blogs, wikis, web pages, and list items) to be declared as a record. The system can prevent such records from being deleted or edited.

This process can be done either manually, as part of a larger process in a workflow, or as a scheduled part of a document’s retention (e.g. after 2 years). The key here is that, when declared as a record, the content doesn’t move to an archive - it stays where it is so the end users can still find and interact with the content.

Once declared, the system knows about an item’s record status, so you can do things such as create different retention policies for records or use record state when defining workflows in SharePoint. Unfortunately this process still relies on the process of ‘declaration’ and therefore is not suited to concept of the records continuum.

Microsoft’s goal with SharePoint 2010 was to extract the most value out of an archive (records centre) and expose the data you need. For instance, Microsoft has added Document ID as a default system capability so every document can be assigned a unique identifier, which stays with the document even when it’s archived. Microsoft has also included Multi-Stage Retention allowing you to specify the entire document lifecycle as one policy (e.g. review Contracts every year, and delete after 7 years). The Hierarchal File Plans have also been improved, and now you can create deep, hierarchal folder structures whereby retention can be managed at any given level in the hierarchy.

While records management platform improvements are fantastic and will make SharePoint 2010 a real contender, there are still some significant missing elements to completely meet ISO 15489, as SharePoint still lacks any ‘out of the box’ capabilities for:
* physical records management;
* a single place to processes items marked for disposal;
* one system wide set of retention schedules; and
* any integrated federated records management capabilities.

Adam Harmetz, the Lead Program Manager for the SharePoint Document and Records Management engineering team at Microsoft said in a recent online interview about Records in SharePoint 2010, “We constantly get questions from around the world about how to deal with local government and industry standards for information management. Let me throw just a few at you… MOREQ2, VERS, ISO 15489, DOMEA, TNA, ERKS, the list goes on. Some of these standards are loosely based on one another and some have contradictory elements. Rather than focus our engineering efforts on addressing each of these standards in turn, we made the choice to deliver the usability and innovation required to make records management deployments successful and allow our partner ecosystem to build out the SharePoint platform to deal with specific requirements for those customers that are mandated to adhere to a specific standard.”

Unfortunately this means that ‘out of the box’ SharePoint is not compliant with a number of key aspects of ISO 15489. So, whilst Microsoft has made SharePoint 2010 a substantially better enterprise content management platform, many organisations with a need for an ISO 15489 records management system will still need to consider third party tools such as RecordPoint which make SharePoint 2007 and SharePoint 2010 ISO 15489 compliant platforms.