The Importance of Context in Balancing Collaboration and Compliance

We’re greatly looking forward to this year’s edition of ARMA Live! 2018. The recent merger with the Information Coalition comes as exciting news, and opens up the opportunity for an updated mission, and the addition of a fresh perspective to the organization. This year’s conference also brings another opportunity to inspect the questions of, “What is the future of records management?” and, “Where does Enterprise Content Management (ECM) go from here?” — key questions that practitioners have been chewing on for the past couple of years. Simply relabeling the discipline as ‘information governance,’ repositioning a cloud storage service as ‘records-ready,’ or re-packaging ECM as ‘content services’ do not appear to be moving the needle quickly enough in terms of improved management of information value and risk.

For me, this next iteration of ARMA provides an opportunity for a more fundamental examination of how “content” can and should be “managed.” The need for this inspection comes fresh from a series of executive briefings and industry conferences such as Microsoft Ignite and Symphony Innovate, where a common set of issues and challenges were brought to the table, such as:

  • “We are using WebEx Teams, but cannot easily determine who has been involved in chats on client-specific topics.” — a global bank
  • “We use Slack, Skype for Business, and are moving to Microsoft Teams, but can’t enforce our policies uniformly across each network.” — a large high technology provider
  • “We are concerned that Symphony is rolling out 160 unique emoji characters onto its mobile app, how can we capture and retrieve them for supervisory review?” — a leading brokerage

What is clear from all these questions is that the way that firms are communicating and collaborating today has fundamentally changed. Content that potentially has business value or risk is no longer confined to email, files, and documents. And the ways that firms exchange that information internally and externally is no longer confined to central IT-managed repositories and systems (as if it ever really was). Today, potentially critical content is being delivered over rich, dynamic, and multi-modal platforms like Microsoft Teams, and is being exchanged on platforms that enable 1:1, group, and persistent dialogs where people can come and go, content can be changed or deleted, and critical data can easily be lost.

Unfortunately, these new collaboration platforms have moved faster than many of the policies and records compliance capabilities employed by firms today. Many organizations continue to rely upon systems to capture, store, and review communications the way they would have 10-15 years ago. In fact, many companies we have talked with over the past few months have begun to experience the challenges in attempting to capture dynamic collaborative content and stuff it into a compliance tool designed for email. Metadata is lost. Event information, such as who was in the thread, is not preserved. Chains of custody can be broken. Most importantly and fundamentally, the context of a conversation is lost, requiring a forensic expedition to reassemble. In most cases, such expeditions are expensive, time consuming, and produce only mixed results. I know of no firms that willingly pursue new technologies to improve collaboration if it is at the expense of added information risk. It is context that can keep collaboration and compliance in balance.

ARMA Live! 2018 gives us an opportunity to redefine the parameters of what content has value or risk. It provides an opportunity to examine how it is managed to encompass the organic creation of content on mobile and collaboration platforms. And, it should provide us the chance to inspect the policies and technologies we have in place to manage this growing diversity and complexity of business ‘records’ delivered through today’s collaboration platforms.

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Robert Cruz

Senior Director of Information Governance at Smarsh and Actiance
Robert Cruz is Senior Director of Information Governance for Smarsh and Actiance. He has more than 20 years of experience in providing thought leadership on emerging topics including cloud computing, information governance, and Discovery cost and risk reduction.

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