Friday, 16 October 2009

What is Sharepoint for?

From the speakers and discussion at the TFPL 4th Sharepoint Summit I attended in London yesterday the answer to the question in the title seems to be ‘for collaboration but not for records management’. This is hardly breaking news, after all any records manager will happily explain how MOSS falls down as a specialist records management system. But what was more surprising (and potentially worrying) was that people seemed to view collaboration and the kind of controls that records management should provide as two completely different and unrelated beasts entirely.

I’m certain there are no sinister motives for this and that it simply reflects a genuine organisational requirement to be able to share ideas, work creatively in teams and to ensure ready access to the right information – but why are these goals and the functionality used to achieve them thought of as not requiring records management nor of having any records management implications in themselves? Is it really possible to separate the two? Surely all this collaboration is in aid of something, is designed to further the strategic aims of the organisation or to meet a genuine business need? If so, aren’t we straying pretty darn close to records management territory?

And even if we were to ignore the fact that the outputs of most of this collaboration does result in some form of evidence of a business transaction and were, for the sake of argument, to assume that all of this collaboration is in fact the end in itself, then surely this would still require the existence of some RM controls to work effectively (authentication, version control, access control, audit trails etc spring to mind)? Otherwise aren’t we in danger of straying down the information equivalent of ‘sofa government’: all cosy chats over a latte and no accountability. Of course it may be that MOSS does offer most, if not all, of the above as part of its collaborative tools (I’m afraid I’m not enough of a MOSS expert to know), but if so its interesting how nobody present at the event seemed to equate these controls with records management.

Part of the problem here lies, I think, in RM’s image problem. Whereas everyone wants collaboration so no one wants records management. Some may (reluctantly) realise they need it but only in the same way that someone with toothache knows they need (rather than wants) a trip to the dentist. There are undoubtedly many reasons why this is so, ranging from our rather impenetrable terminology through to a decade of pushing a rather negative compliance-based spin on what we have to offer. I suspect it also lies in our failure to demonstrate the relevance of RM to current, live, active records and the information streams and processes that will form them. What the views at the workshop yesterday seemed to confirm was the prevalence of the idea that RM only needs to happen way down the line as a means of dealing with the accumulated backlog. A completely separate process divorced from day to day business functions and the technology they employ. So much for the Records Continuum.

I had hoped that, despite its flaws, Sharepoint represented a way of making real steps towards closing this gap between business processes, information creation and records management but unfortunately I fear this optimism may well have been misguided.


SP said...

Interesting post which helped me put into perspective some of the ideas swimming around my head. My organisation is a bit peculiar in that we are trying out Sharepoint as a records repository by trying to customise it to work like a records repository. But we're holding our reins because we're suddenly worried that we might be bending Sharepoint too much for it to behave properly. Have you seen Sharepoint records customisations before? How did the end product look like?

DJ said...

SP - Onerecord, powered by Spansafe, is exactly what you are looking for. Collaborative records management, RBAC or DAC controls, retention policy presets, long-term preservation (3 datacenter hosting model with data accuracy verification - checksums.)