Metadata, the data model and automating record-keeping

Metadata, the data model and automating record-keeping

In the third of this three part blog series, records management expert Conni Christensen provides insights from her experience with information governance and auto-classification methodology. Information stockpiles are growing fast. Where is the silver bullet that will magically fix our records management problems? Is there a quick fix that will classify, appraise, protect, and dispose of our records? Auto-classification is viewed by many as the solution. Auto-classification will take the burden of classification off end users, who don’t want to classify or aren’t able to classify their ‘records’. There are eCM products providing auto-classification tools such as text analytics and predictive coding. Auto-classification is available now to classify your content in order to determine why it must be retained, how long it must be retained and when it can be legally disposed of. With the panacea of auto-classification built in, why is there continued resistance by business users to use eCM systems? Probably because business users still view eCM as a disruptive technology. The organisation requires records to be managed but business users are looking to streamline their processes, saving time, energy and materials; improving quality, accuracy, precision and productivity. SharePoint’s popularity is, in part, due to its agile development environment which enables business users to create information systems that enhance their business processes. eCM systems, even with auto-classification are not necessarily seen by business users as achieving this objective.

How do we build better eCM systems?

I find that it helps to look at existing technologies and learn from successful systems. Let’s start by comparing different types of business systems such as Accounting and ERP and identify the characteristics that support the automation of business processes, for example:

  • Enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems comprise a suite of integrated applications designed to support and automate processes such as product planning, development, manufacturing processes, sales and marketing, inventory.
  • Accounting systems likewise integrate multiple processes such as ordering, invoicing, billing, payroll, time management, taxation, banking, also within a common environment.

Accounting and ERP systems show us how complex processes can be successfully automated. Features that that support automation include:

  • Document management embedded into related processes. Document types are standardised. Documents are linked to the processes or tasks. Emails are captured as part of the workflow.
  • Intelligent metadata capture. Information architecture that captures linked metadata into forms, minimising data entry by users. Interconnected fields that trigger auto-fill of data into other fields.
  • The automation of secondary or consequential processes – such as taxation and stock control, enabled by the information architecture.
  • Interoperability within systems and between systems is enabled by standardised metadata labels and values. Mapping tools provide the means of translation where necessary.
  • There are multiple paths to finding information. Faceted searching is enabled. Complex searches can be saved.
  • A standardised metadata environment. Metadata common to all processes is standardised and shared across all processes. Metadata labels are standardised. Data entry is controlled by lookup sets. Free text is virtually eliminated.

Everything is connected through metadata: entities, relationships, workflows.

Canonical data models

Anyone who has worked with Accounting systems knows that these systems are incredibly similar. Same with ERP systems. Entities and relationships are the same, processes are the same, and data flows in the same predictable ways. This is because Accounting systems are built to the same canonical data model. The canonical data model is the accepted “standard” within the industry and it provides software developers with a standard template to build to. In the absence of industry standards, developers will devise their own data models. And this is what has happened with eCM development. The absence of standardised recordkeeping models has caused chaos within the industry, illustrated by patently different approaches to classification and retention and disposal models. Industry standards such as ISO 16175 (Principles and Functional Requirements for Records in Electronic Office Environments) and 15489 (Standard for Records Management) require organisations to undertake an analysis of business activity, but none of these standards deliver useful models for system developers to use to integrate recordkeeping into business models. The Australian Government Records Interoperability Framework (AGRIF) is an ontology which defines the structure, functions, and activities of the Australian Government recordkeeping domain. However AGRIF does not provide the data value formats and standards that enhance interoperability and data exchange between systems.

Let’s return to classification

There are multiple forms of classification (using metadata) built into Accounting and ERP systems. In our business accounting system, we classify by document type, customer, supplier, jobs, assets, income and expense items and services. We also use multiple types of user defined metadata including project, customer type and supplier type. We see all of the metadata as critical to managing our business processes. However the burden of capturing all the metadata we want is reduced by the interconnectedness of the system’s information architecture. We can capture metadata effortlessly because the underlying architecture links the metadata values into a logical data model.

Linking metadata through ontologies

Ontologies are the means by which we can create linked data models that enable effortless metadata capture. We use the same linked data functionality when capturing records into our Sharepoint system. Our classification models leverage the logical connections between concepts to automate the capture of metadata. Tedious browsing through the file plan has been completely eliminated with the use of auto-classification through linked metadata models.

In summing up

Automation is the point where system design, records management, and business analysis meet. And this is the functionality we need to build into our ECM systems. Find out how to approve findability in your ECMS from our eBook The search for meaning: why ‘findability’ can help maximize your ECMS investment. Conni Christensen founded Synercon in 1998 and is the designer of a.k.a.® information governance software. She has more than twenty years’ experience in records and information management, business consulting, training and software development. For many years, Conni has worked across the globe as a highly sought trainer, speaker and presenter.

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