This article appears in the Spring 2019 digital issue of DOCUMENT Strategy. Subscribe.

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To manage your organization's records, there are a couple of different models at either extreme: from a fully centralized records and information management (RIM) program to a decentralized approach, to a hybrid alternative that’s more middle ground. Each has their own merits, depending on your specific environment. Here's a high-level overview of these three approaches for your RIM program to consider.

A fully centralized program is usually controlled and managed by a central corporate authority (e.g., the legal department). This central authority oversees the program in its entirety, including the governance, implementation, management, and operations. They are responsible for all aspects of the program—from retention policies to processes and procedures to daily monitoring of all RIM activities.

This might seem ideal, since it’s efficient, cost effective, consistent, and practical. When the business world was primarily paper-based, a centralized RIM approach was common practice, since records could be stored in central filing systems. However, as records become more and more digitized, this centralized model has become more difficult to maintain.

This is because a centralized RIM approach is more suited for organizations with limited locations or a homogeneous line of business, such as law firms, chain stores, or financial services. Unfortunately, for many global organizations with multiple lines of business and distributed locations, this is not always possible or practical.

“While centralized and decentralized approaches for managing an organization’s RIM program represent the two extremes, many companies fall somewhere in between.”

On the other end of the spectrum, a fully decentralized program allows each business unit or department to have their own policies, schedules, processes, and procedures for governing and managing their records. This type of model has many drawbacks, including inconsistencies and conflicts between records, confusion and frustration among employees, and difficulty with searching, accessing, and retrieving records or information from different departments. A decentralized program can be less efficient, more costly to maintain, and may cause duplication of effort.

With that said, it is highly suited for large, global companies in diverse locations with very distinct and unrelated lines of business, which operate separately from one another. This is common in large LLCs or holding companies, where the parent company owns distinct and separate profit centers in different industries and doesn’t actually manage the business operations. In these environments, it is not unusual to have autonomous programs, even though they belong to the same parent company.

While centralized and decentralized approaches for managing an organization’s RIM program represent the two extremes, many companies fall somewhere in between. In such a hybrid scenario, the central authority provides the program governance and implementation support. Essentially, they own the global RIM policy and retention schedules, define the processes that run the program, and provide general guidelines for implementation and management. The actual program activities are left to the business units or departments to execute and manage.

It’s important to note that the central authority only offers guidance, advisory services, training, and support for business operations. It does not monitor or police how the activities are completed. That responsibility falls entirely on the business to comply with the policies and guidelines set forth by the central authority.

For many, a centralized model may seem like the optimal solution, but the implementation and maintenance of this approach is more difficult than it first appears. In practicality, a hybrid approach is a good starting point for most, especially for those companies with limited resources. However, the governing authority must provide RIM education, training, and set expectations in order for the business to execute those policies effectively.

When deciding which model is best for your organization, it’s important to consider the type of business entity and lines of business in your enterprise, industry, corporate culture and willingness to accept change, autonomy of business management, resources, and your ability to enforce the RIM policies and guidelines.

Cindy Zuvich, CRM, is the Principal of Unigrated Global, an information governance consultancy and records management services company based in White Plains, New York. Contact Cindy at
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