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For most firms, the impetus to invest in software for managing unstructured content comes from a specific department, project or external regulations. But the danger of not looking at the bigger picture is that one ends up reinventing the content management wheel time after time.
An effective strategy for managing all forms of content is essential for organisations to meet the regulatory requirements that are shaping both public and private sectors. Not only is this regulatory burden increasing rapidly, but it is also becoming more visible to customers, suppliers, employees and trading partners.
Legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act, Data Protection Act, the new Companies Bill in the UK and Sarbanes-Oxley in the US all apply to information and reflect the reality that many aspects of a corporate governance programme will have an impact on an organisation's information systems.
Sarbanes-Oxley, for example, recommends that audit-related documents should be kept for at least five years from the end of the relevant fiscal period. The Freedom of Information Act requires public sector bodies to draw up detailed retention schedules for different types of information.
To address requirements such as these, the leading content management software packages now provide features such as records management. Leading suppliers include EMC Documentum, FileNet, Hummingbird, IBM and Vignette.
Responding to the demands of these regulations requires more than a company-wide policy for information storage - it also involves issues such as accessibility, traceability, security and integrity of data. This is why the broad view is so important when considering systems to store information in all its forms.
Adopting an approach that deals with all types of information will make it easier to apply the guidelines in different circumstances, such as maintaining client confidentiality or confirming the authenticity of financial statements.
The starting point for your policy should be to do an audit showing all the information items used by the firm - whether in a Word document, an e-mail or web page - and the processes to which they relate. This helps define the content and document management capabilities required and helps you choose suitable software.
The benefits are substantial as a holistic approach will cater for current and future information legislation requirements without requiring a new tactical solution to be rushed out for each regulatory development. The fact that the same solution can be used to exploit unstructured information assets is icing on the cake.
Tim Jennings is research director at Butler Group