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Do Records Management and Archiving matter for ELNs and R&D Data?

Posted by Aaron Norman on Mar 12, 2013 1:04:00 PM

At the risk of getting some grief from people who work in the world of records management (RM) and archiving, I’ll paint a picture of what I visualise when I think of archivists.

records management

I conjure up an image of a dusty library type environment with a little old man with a peaked cap slowly making his way down a corridor full of shelves about 2 miles high looking for a single document that dates from 127 years ago.

Things have changed quite a bit since those days, but are we on top of our game when it comes to electronic records and managing those records in the Electronic Laboratory Notebook (ELN) world?

There are many RM policy questions related to the retention, deletion and risk around electronic records, e-discovery, and the implications of social media and the cloud. This can boil down to a simple question; Does your organisation have any processes to manage your R&D data or does the data just keep on getting bigger and bigger and taking up more and more disk space? Can your organisation find the data that it needs in a short period of time?

Moving from Paper to Electronic

The most common Laboratory Notebook paper process that organisations wish to convert to electronic is the signing process.

Every scientist knows that their paper notebooks need to be signed (even if some might not perform this on a regular basis) and that is usually easily replicated in an ELN. But what about all the other processes? In the paper world, all the old notebooks would get archived. Should we do something equivalent in the electronic world? What about those paper notebooks, should any information be added to the electronic world to allow referencing and or making it easy to request and retrieve them? How about adding metadata or scans of the table of contents? In short, how well does your electronic records-keeping align with your old paper records-keeping practices?

Records management policies and functions should be put in place to make sure that our R&D data is managed, classified, categorised and stored appropriately.

In today’s instant world of free access to data in the cloud from the creators of Dropbox, Google and Microsoft (these are discussed later), some people will say: “why do we need to do anything with electronic data, it is just there!” However, with the generation of very large datasets and the automatic generation of data from integration with LIMS etc., this data needs to be managed properly.

Records Management Suggestions

So what can records management teach us about our ELN environment and what can we do? Here are some standard records management topics worth considering.

  • Records declaration guidance

  • Fileplan/classification/taxonomy

  • Retention periods

  • What other types of documents should be included?

    • Emails, social

I can already hear people clamouring about retention periods and the resulting deletion and destruction of R&D data, ‘Our data needs to be kept forever.’ However, retention policies can also be used for other things, such as moving content to lower cost storage or changing permissions. Let’s look at each of those.

Getting value from Records Management and Retention Policies

Lower cost storage:

For small organisations, this might not be a problem, although we do have one customer of 35 users that generates more than 100GB/year which is all manually added content. Scale that to a larger organisation with automatic data collection and it amounts to a lot of data.

Once data storage comes becomes a significant cost it makes sense to look into trying to manage it in a cost effective way, but it also needs to be done in a user friendly way.

That is where records management can come into play.

  • Rules can be set up to review the metadata and, based on that metadata, move the content to other storage media.

    • An example of this would be reviewing the metadata around the last accessed date of a document and moving anything that has not been accessed for a long time.

  • Automated RM systems can process lots of different retention policies and ensure that you ELN records and data are all managed in a compliant manner.

Changing Permissions:

For global organisations, security is paramount. In another blog I wrote about data sovereignty and making sure that data security is managed across geographies.

Well, what happens when that information no longer has any security concerns? How do you make sure that the data becomes available to the entire organisation? Or perhaps even in a single location, something confidential can be made available to the users in just that location.

Records management again can be used to review the retention schedule and automatically change the permissions ensuring that previously secure or confidential information can now be used across the organisation and allow users to build upon that research.

Some internal questions that should be discussed include:

  • Is there a corporate information governance policy?

  • Are there different policies for different departments?

  • Is the ELN included in those policies? Should it be?

  • How does this affect audits and policies? Is it un-referenced and un-audited? Variable?

  • Should there be training on policies or should the ‘system’ manage the processes?

Other important discussions related to information governance policy might include:

  • Information and data retention

  • Access/confidentiality

  • Data protection and personally identifiable information

  • Information exposure/sharing (including Freedom of Information)

  • Laws and regulations in multiple jurisdictions

  • Use of cloud-based content sharing

  • Information in motion – laptops, USB sticks, etc.

  • Mobile access and on-device storage

  • Taxonomy and classification

  • Legal holds and e-discovery

  • Audit of compliance

  • None of these

  • Others that I may be missing?

Of these, one item is getting quite a lot of press recently, the use of cloud based content sharing. Cloud based sharing applications are free, easy to use, convenient and you can share information without asking permission to users outside of your controlled environment. This does fall outside any best practices. This sharing needs to be governed. There are some standalone products that are now claiming to maintain security. The KineMatik solution does allow for a secure Dropbox type application, TempoBox that works directly with the ELN.

What strategies have you adopted to deal with the cost of rapidly increasing information volumes for existing ELNs? Do you copy/integrate to Enterprise Content Management Systems (ECMs) to store, classify, share published ELNs?

In a later blog I will discuss classification and categorisation of ELN content and if poor classification of content takes some of the value away from your ELN.

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Topics: ELN, Electronic Lab Notebook, Document Management, R&D, Enterprise Content Management, Enterprise Document Management, Content Server, ECM, Data Sovereignty, RM, Records Management

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