KM Component 38 – Archiving, Document Management, and Records Management

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

December 23, 2021

Archiving in a knowledge management context is the process for creating offline file storage for legal, audit, or historical purposes, using tapes, CDs, or other long-term media. Archiving is the process of moving files that are no longer actively used to a separate storage device for long-term retention. 

Archived files are still important to the organization and may be needed for future reference or must be retained for regulatory compliance. Archives should be indexed and searchable so that files can be easily located and retrieved.

As part of the lifecycle of information, archiving is an important final stage. Keeping too much old information available online consumes valuable storage which could be better used for newer information, increases the number of irrelevant search results returned, and adds to the effort required to maintain, migrate, and reclassify content.

There are good reasons to archive content rather than simply delete it. Laws may require content to be kept for specific periods. Internal and external audits may require document retention. Preserving information as a part of history is another worthy goal. And there are times when information which had been thought to be no longer useful later turns out to be needed. Archiving information addresses each of these requirements.

Document management is the process for tracking and storing electronic documents and/or images of paper documents, keeping track of the different versions modified by different users, and archiving as needed. A document management system (DMS) is technology that provides a comprehensive solution for managing the creation, capture, indexing, storage, retrieval, and disposition of the records and information assets of an organization.

Records management is the process for maintaining the records of an organization from the time they are created up to their eventual disposal. This may include classifying, storing, securing, archiving, and destroying records. Records management is knowing what you have, where you have it, how long you have to keep it and how secure it is.

Useful deliverables

Here are process, policy, and procedure recommendations:

  • Document Management Process: The ideal information lifecycle management process provides an easy method for content to be reviewed, with the reusable content preserved and the other content archived on suitable media. For example, at the end of a project, all documents in the project team space are listed, the user checks boxes for the reusable ones, and then clicks on an archive button. The result is that the reusable documents are extracted from the team space and stored in the appropriate repository using the associated metadata, and all other documents are archived to a CD which is then stored in the specified archive library.
  • Records Management Policy: Define the policy for how the organization’s business records are to be managed.
  • Archiving Procedure: Detail the steps to follow in support of the records management policy’s archiving rules.

Don’t automatically archive content

Knowledge repositories often are configured to automatically archive documents after some predetermined period of time. The intent is that after content has been available for 90 days (or whatever duration is chosen) it is no longer current, and thus should be removed from the repository. The assumption is that this old content should not appear in search results or in lists of available documents. Reasons for this include:

  • Old documents are no longer relevant, accurate, or useful.
  • Searches yield too many results, so weeding out old documents will improve user satisfaction with search.
  • Content contributors should refresh documents periodically.

Contributed content does not automatically become obsolete after a fixed period of time. It may remain valuable indefinitely.

I offer the analogy that just because Peter Drucker died in 2005, we don’t remove his books from the library. His insights will continue to be useful for a very long time.

One firm where I worked had an automatic archiving process. As a result, I would often receive messages from frustrated users who were searching for content that they had previously found in the repository but could no longer find. I would have to restore this content from the archive to the active repository. This caused users to be annoyed with the KM program, resulted in a lot of wasted time and effort, and sometimes delayed the retrieval of important information needed for client work.

With the cost of mass storage steadily decreasing, there are few good reasons to remove content from knowledge repositories unless it is known to be outdated, incorrect, or useless. Instead, allow search engines to limit results based on dates and other metadata to help users more easily find the content they need.

Don’t automatically archive content in a knowledge repository, online threaded discussion, or other collection of knowledge. Instead, ensure that the search engine can limit results by the date of the knowledge object. Defaults can be set to limit results to the last 90 days, one year, or whatever duration is desired. But it should be easy for users to change the date range to include older content in the search results. For more about this, see KM Secret: Improve Findability.

Related content from Lucidea

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please enjoy Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a copy of his book, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program, from Lucidea Press.  And learn about Lucidea’s  Inmagic Presto and SydneyEnterprise with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge curation and sharing.

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