In-Place Records Management vs Record Centers. Why leveraging both is critical to the long-term success of your SharePoint ECM solution

One of the most common questions that have come up over the past five years as I’ve been focussing on SharePoint Records Management is whether or not to leverage in place records management or use record centers for records management in SharePoint.

The common design pattern prior to 2010 was for most systems to carry off records to a dedicated records repository. But Microsoft asked the question - why should documents be whisked away to a different location just in order to meet your needs around compliance? Why can’t documents just stay in their initial location and live along side other related documents to improve the user experience?

So, for SharePoint 2010 Microsoft introduced In-Place Records Management that was designed to compliment the Record Center model.

And indeed, a hybrid approach of In-Place and Record Centers will yield the best results over the long run.

When you look at a typical file plan you’ll often see a retention policy named “2Y; 5Y; D;” where the first stage (2Y) stores documents for two years in the active stage (the duration where documents would likely be referenced by end users) and then stored for an additional 5 years (5Y) in the semi-active stage before finally destroying (D) the document. 

In the paper world, this meant that invoices would be stored in a binder behind your desk for two years and then were likely placed into a box to be archived for another 5 years, perhaps off site and then finally destroyed.

Taking a hybrid approach in SharePoint is very much the same line of thinking. Content can live in-place until such a time that it no longer provides value to the organization, will not likely be referenced on a regular basis and likely just needs to be kept around to meet your needs around compliance.

The benefits of leveraging the mixed model are as follows:

  • Improves the user experience
    It can be super frustrating to have your content whisked away just to declare it as a record. Just as annoying is leaving a link which needs to be managed and changes the user experience or worse yet leaving a copy of the document (which increases your risk since now we may have two copies of an important document). By leveraging in place records, documents can simply live, protected as a record, in their natural setting alongside other related content until they are not longer referenced, helping to create an optimal user experience. 

  • Reduces organizational risk
    By removing superseded, obsolete, or outdated policies, procedures, contracts, and other important documents from your collaboration portal reduces the risk that end users will come across and make decisions based off erroneous information. In some industries like Oil and Gas, this can mean saving lives!

  • Decreases solution complexity
    Due to the limits (granted many of which have been increased for 2016) and nature of SharePoint the more content in your solution, the more necessarily complex your solution must be. If for example, we have a library of documents that grows by 10,000 per month, you’ll start hitting view thresholds, notice a slow down in performance and may need to add additional metadata to create a meaningful experience for end users. By sending content off to Record Centers when appropriate we’ll minimize the total amount content in our collaboration portal minimizing the amount of configuration required. Not to mention

  • Improves the search experience
    You will have the option whether to index your record centers and decrease the relevancy of content in them. This means that the content which shows up in the default search results will be more relevant, that potentially less content will need to be indexed in the first place and we can ensure that users are accidentally finding superseded obsolete, out-dated, or otherwise erroneous content.

  • Improves solution agility
    There will be times when you need to reorganize SharePoint on a grand scale. For example, splitting up large volume documents libraries, changing the underlying content type or changing the metadata on documents en-masse. Now if you’ve ever run a PowerShell script that makes changes to content en-masse, you’ll know that it takes a couple of seconds per document to execute. So when changing thousands of documents this activity can take hours and sometimes even days. By minimizing the content in our Collaboration portal (by leveraging record centers) means that we’ll have less content to manage in this fashion, making changes easier and our solution more agile overall.

  • Provides technical scalability
    While SharePoint is a true ECM platform, we still need to be thoughtful of our design.  Site collections and content databases are key points of scalability and Record Centers provide a straightforward way to leverage this scalability built into the SharePoint platform.

  • Improves Disaster Recovery
    If we only ever keep our records in-place then our content databases will grow large over time. If your ever in the unfortunate circumstance of having to rebuild a SharePoint environment, the less content you have to restore, the more quickly you can be up and running. By minimizing the content that lives in your collaboration portal via leveraging Record Centers, means that in a disaster recovery scenario we need only to restore the core operational content in your collaboration portal and can worry about restoring record centers once your main SharePoint site is up and running.

  • Reduces Costs
    Since your record centers will be stored in different content databases, those content databases can be moved to cheaper storage locations.

How Collabware CLM Helps

Be careful as not all Records Management add-ons for SharePoint support this hybrid approach! Collabware has invested heavily in this hybrid model and makes this set up especially easy in an enterprise setting by:

  • Allowing Records Managers to provision Record Centers without the need for IT intervention

  • Automatically securing Record Centers based on Records Manager managed Access Control Levels.

  • Sending content automatically to a Record Center from the retention workflow.

  • Ensuring that theAudit trail follows the document from the Collaboration portal to the destination record center

  • Automatically adding Content Types to the libraries in the destination Record Centers.