The Importance of Architecture in ERM Software Selection

Article excerpt

Here are five elements that can help organizations establish well-defined and robust management of all content.

When considering electronic records management (ERM) software products, records managers tend to focus on their functionality. However, all ERM products perform approximately the same functions. Their true differences lie deep within their design - in their architecture. Understanding those differences can inform ERM software selection decisions, but - more importandy - it can affect an organization's overall strategy for managing electronic records because a product's architecture will help determine what is possible, at what cost, and in what timeframe.

ERM Functionality

All ERM software products provide basic functionality that allows organizations to

* Declare records

* Classify records and attach retention periods

* Store records

* Search and retrieve

* Enforce retention and disposition

* Place and process tax, legal, or other holds

* Maintain retention rules

* Produce reports

To perform these functions, the ERM software is concerned with four important components:

1. The electronic records themselves - which must be kept secure and protected against unauthorized access so their integrity and authenticity are preserved

2. Metadata- which manages information about the records that is crucial for their control. For example, metadata would include attributes that identify a record, as well as a date from which to calculate retention.

3. A classification scheme - which provides categories for keeping similar records together. Often called a file plan, the classification scheme may also assist in limiting access to certain types of records, and it may provide a mechanism for placing legal or other holds on certain classes of records.

4. Records retention rules - which govern how records are managed. Retention rules are the expression of the organization's policy regarding its records.

How each ERM software product handles these components, as well as how it interfaces with other software applications, form the basis for its architecture.

Architecture Defined

Simply put, an architecture is the conceptual description of how a system works. At the basic level, architecture describes the components the system comprises. Other levels describe what these components do and how they interact.

In the ERM world, architecture models must consider how the ERM software product interacts with various electronic source applications that contain the records to be managed. Source applications can include office applications that produce electronic documents, document or content management systems that may have their own metadata and document stores, and enterprise databases that manage structured data in rows and columns. It is the combination of ERM software with source applications that delivers solutions for managing electronic records.

An ERM software product's architecture has implications in many organization areas. From an information technology perspective, architecture can affect overall system cost, system scalability, and the resources and time required for its installation, integration, and maintenance. Records managers and business users can be affected by architecture in areas such as system speed and ease of use. When considering ERM software products, it is important to be able to differentiate among architecture models and to recognize each model's implications for what will be required to manage electronic records effectively.

ERM Architecture Models

ERM architecture models are defined by whether the components - that is, the records, metadata, classification scheme, or retention rules - reside in the ERM product, in the source applications, or in both.

There are basically four architecture models that describe current ERM software products. …