Electronic Information and Records Manager

Article excerpt

LAN/WANs, reengineering, imaging, EDI, process improvement, Internet, E-mail! Today's changing world of high tech and electronic information has many new "buzz words" and many challenging opportunities for records and information management professionals.

The Wisconsin Electric Power Co. is a wholly owned gas and electric subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy, headquartered in downtown Milwaukee. The corporation has approximately 4,000 employees serving 2.3 million people in its service territory ranging from southeastern Wisconsin to the Fox Valley area and into Upper Michigan.

About three years ago, Wisconsin Electric experienced "revitalization" - a euphemism for reduction in force. Business units were formed to reflect the core operations of the business; corporate support areas continued to be known as departments. A 33 percent reduction in the Corporate Records Management staff occurred and the Corporate Secretary's area (formerly known as Information Systems) was reorganized to become the Information Resources Department.

ROLE OF THE INFORMATION MANAGER

Because of the strong emphasis on electronic information, the records and information manager now had to work with the traditionally technical information resources personnel. Although not realized at first, the combination of records management and information systems was the best thing that could have happened for the advancement of information management. Each benefited as one became more aware of the need for basic records management concepts and the other became more knowledgeable and comfortable with the technical aspects and potential of electronic information management.

Unfortunately, the records management/information systems relationship does not evolve naturally in most organizations and must sometimes travel a very rocky road. The Information Systems Department traditionally has been seen as having great influence and high budgets within the corporation, whereas the records management program generally has had low budgets/low priority and is located in the basement.

In order for the relationship to be successful, records and information management professionals must be very proactive in pursuing changes. If an opportunity arises that has records implications, the information manager must step in and offer to either expand or provide new services.

As a result of the improved working relationship with information systems, the records management program at Wisconsin Electric has grown, taken on a new role, and changed its name to Corporate Information Management (CIM). CIM is now involved with areas not associated with traditional records management, such as E-mail retention, systems design and LAN directory structures. These projects involve issues at the corporate level, and communication plans must be developed that address the needs of the entire organization.

THE IMPORTANCE OF MANAGING ELECTRONIC INFORMATION

Many people believe that the longer they retain records, the better. In the paper world, space is a limiting factor. In the electronic world, however, space seems limitless. Information managers must get the message out that because of "discovery," records retained longer than legally and operationally required become a potential liability to the organization.

The document discovery process (wherein your opponent in litigation gets to see your records and vice versa) dramatically changed with the introduction of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure #26. The rule states that an organization must provide "a copy of, or description by category and location of, all documents, data compilations and tangible things in the possession, custody or control of the party relevant to the disputed facts alleged with particularity in the pleadings." Prior to this rule, the interested parties were required to specify which documents to produce. Now an open-ended request is legitimate and must be met Therefore, in the event of litigation, all pertinent records would need to be submitted. …