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What’s the Difference Between Information Governance and Records Management?

When the EDRM community of eDiscovery and legal professionals first released the E-Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) in 2006, it highlighted “Records Management” as an integral component of the eDiscovery process. Today, the EDRM focuses on “Information Governance”, as opposed to records management. Moreover, the EDRM has even been supplemented with the Information Governance Reference Model (IGRM), which offers an outline for how organizations should go about managing information related to potential litigation. 

Difference Between Information Governance and Records Management

This change is one example of a trend over the last decade towards a greater focus on information governance—both within companies and industry bodies like the Association of Records Managers and Administrators (ARMA). But this begs the question: what is the difference between information governance and records management? Aren’t these terms really just synonyms for the same concept?

Records Management vs. Information Governance

In short, records management and information governance are not the same thing. Although they are sometimes used synonymously—and the two concepts do admittedly have a similar purpose within the average organization—there are several important differences. 

To better understand these differences, let’s look at how ARMA defines the two terms:

ARMA’s Information Governance Definition  

A strategic framework composed of standards, processes, roles, and metrics that hold organizations and individuals accountable to create, organize, secure, maintain, use, and dispose of information in ways that align with and contribute to the organization’s goals.     

ARMA’s Records Management Definition

Records management is the systematic management of records and information through its various lifecycles. It includes the analysis, design, implementation, and management of manual and automated systems regardless of format or medium.

At first glance, these definitions seem similar, but a careful reading highlights key differences between the two. Here are three ways in which information governance and records management differ. 

Want to read more about ARMA and information governance? Read our blog post, What Exactly Is Information Governance? And Why Is It So Important?

1. The Scale of Information Governance

While records management tends to focus on the systems used to manage the lifecycle of documents, information governance approaches the same arena from a more high-level, strategic position. 

To better understand this, let’s look at another definition. Like ARMA, Gartner defines information governance as “the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to ensure appropriate behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archiving and deletion of information. It includes the processes, roles, and policies, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.” 

What’s key here is the term “framework.” Information governance encompasses all the “processes, roles, and policies, standards and metrics” involved in the sophisticated management of information. While records management consists of specific systems and processes, information governance represents the larger framework that all systems and processes fall under. In other words, records management is merely one crucial component of a larger information governance framework that considers the issue from an all-encompassing cross-departmental perspective.  

2. Information Governance, Data Volumes, and the IT Department

One of the major reasons behind the proliferation of information governance initiatives within organizations has been the explosion in data volumes. The IDC states that the global datasphere will increase from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to as much 175 zettabytes by 2025. Moreover, the exact function and location of all this data isn’t always obvious.

A few decades ago, records management referred to the management of discrete (and largely physical) documents. That’s no longer the case. Big data, the Internet of Things (IoT), and online data sources like social media channels and enterprise collaboration platforms have resulted in a landscape that’s too complex for traditional records management alone. 

“Designated business records generally account for less than 5% of the information and data that organizations create and store. So even with an impeccably crafted and vigilantly followed record retention program, a tremendous achievement in itself, greater than 95% of an organization's information would remain unmanaged, taking up space and creating liability. Simply put, record retention covers only a small piece of a very large information governance puzzle,” writes lawyers Stephanie Blair and Tara Lawler in The Legal Intelligencer.

This means that good information management cannot be accomplished by records and compliance teams alone—IT teams are crucial to success, which is why information governance places great emphasis on IT.

“An information governance program should be designed to manage your organization's IT and legal practices, policies, procedures, infrastructure, and resources throughout the information life­cycle—from creation to disposition,” writes Blair and Lawler. “The benefits of such an information governance program include ensuring that your company is managing information securely and effectively, reducing the volume of information retained in the normal course of business while meeting its regulatory, legal and business obligations, and developing awareness of both the location and nature (sensitive, proprietary, privacy) of its information assets.”

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3. Information Governance as Competitive Advantage 

As information governance takes a broader view of the management of records than traditional approaches, it also provides the opportunity to utilize information in more strategic ways. Not only can it be crucial in mitigating risk within an organization, it also makes it easier to use large volumes of unstructured data to the benefit of the company. 

“Information governance reduces risk by providing an overall structure and organization to data. This allows a business to turn that data into information and information into knowledge,” argues Blair and Lawler. “Indeed, a well­ organized information governance structure enhances productivity and eliminates waste (wasted effort, wasted time, wasted resources) and supports, rather than hinders, a business's ability to be nimble, productive and efficient. Equally important, information governance reduces legal risk in the face of litigation or government inquiry by reducing the amount of unmanaged data on hand and allowing an organization to quickly identify relevant information. 

“For example, when you receive a request for production from an opposing party or a subpoena from the government, where do you start? There may be hundreds of sources, systems, applications and databases containing potentially relevant information. There may be hundreds more that do not. Can you tell the difference? An effective information governance framework will allow you to identify where the potentially relevant information is stored, the length of time the information is retained, and who controls or has access to the information. A solid information governance process unites records management, compliance, privacy, legal and security into a unified framework that allows an organization to limit the risk of unmanaged data and maximize the value of information.”

What is information government and what is records management

From Records Management to Information Governance

Research suggests that even large, successful organizations are struggling with the management of modern data—72% feel that their company hasn’t created a “data culture” yet and 53% believe that they aren’t properly treating data as an asset. With so much uncertainty still existing at present, the companies that get a handle on all this data—that both manage it to reduce risk and leverage it to make better decisions—stand to reap substantial benefits. 

As the nature of business records evolves and expands to include not only massive volumes of digital data, but also new real-time sources far removed from traditional discreet records, an information governance framework that helps an organization manage this data is increasingly important. In short, creating a successful data culture within an organization and treating data as an asset demands good information governance.   

That’s not to say that more traditional records management isn’t important, but it does mean that it is no longer enough. The responsible and effective handling of modern data requires that every department—from Legal and IT, to Marketing and Sales—get involved. And an information governance framework is a necessary ingredient in doing this effectively.

Pagefreezer has created an information governance model that specifically addresses data from online sources such as websites, social media accounts, mobile text messages, and enterprise collaboration platforms. To better understand how online data should be created, retained, managed, and disposed of in the modern enterprise, request a call with one of our Solution Advisors.

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