Records management enables an organization to effectively manage a content item, or record, from inception to disposal in accordance with applicable laws. A record is a physical or electronic document, an e-mail message, or some other form of digital information (such as an Instant Message transcript) that serves as evidence of an activity or transaction performed by the organization. Records management is the process by which an organization defines what type of information it must classify as a record, how long it must retain the information, and how it will manage the information throughout its life cycle. Part of the challenge of records management is to track information items that are legally or economically vital to the business. For example, an e-mail message that contains some reference to financial information about the company or a client might be considered a record. The other part of the challenge is to purge and filter out items that are not required to be stored as records. For example, an exchange of e-mail messages in which two employees of the organization decide where to have lunch might not be considered record material.
Although setting a policy that declares everything to be a record might seem like a safe approach, it can, in fact, be almost as harmful as not declaring anything a record. For example, if a lawsuit requires that an organization deliver approximately 100 e-mail records that pertain to a case, and the best that the IT department can do is narrow it down to 10,000 e-mail messages sent within a determined time frame, a court might rule that delivering the relevant items buried within a mass of irrelevant data is a form of obstruction. An additional benefit of not storing everything as a record is that it can improve the ability of users to perform targeted searches, avoiding the accumulation of irrelevant data.