Creating a Sustainable RIM program – Fact or Fiction

Last Updated: August 19, 2019By



Does an Enterprise Records & Information Management Program Really Exist?

There are many articles, webinars, educational seminars, and champions professing the need for, and benefits of, a compliant Records and Information Management (RIM) program. ARMA International even offers a measurement tool based on the Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles® that enables RIM and IG professionals to assess the maturity of their organizations’ RIM programs so they can identify and foster needed improvements.

Despite all of this education, promotion, and internal RIM champions, there are no sustainable, functioning, enterprise-wide RIM programs setting internal standards and rules that personnel are required to follow—period!


RIM professionals may take exception to the above statement. It may depend on if a RIM professional works in the public sector or private industry. Many will say that their organizations have RIM policies and procedures that are available to all employees. Others may argue that they have annual information disposition days where personnel clean up their work areas and dispose of information. Still, other RIM program champions may promote their programs as compliant and risk-avoidant to their executives or board.

If these statements are true, why do so many organizations have:

  • Outdated IG policies and RIM procedures
  • Records Retention Schedules (RRS) that do not accurately reflect the organization’s structure
  • RRSs that do not accurately classify the information they create, distribute, and retain
  • Personnel who know little or nothing about IG policies and RIM Procedures
  • Personnel who know about policies and procedures but believe they apply to paper records No continuous education or staff training on their IG policies and RIM procedures
  • No auditing to ensure up-to-date program sustainable compliance (very important!)

Some may argue that these conditions are not representative of most organizations, that most RIM programs are working to the satisfaction of management. But, the on-going demand for experienced RIM professionals and consultants to update IG policies and RIM procedures while automating RIM processes refutes that argument.

Introducing new technology often creates resistance to change.


Reasons for poor IG/RIM program implementation and sustainability are:

  • Changes in management structure and loss of the program champion
  • Lack of staff accountability
  • Complicated IG Policies and RIM Procedures, including the records retention guidelines
  • Lack of management support, which leads to lack of funding for IG and/or RIM programs
  • Enterprise content management tools that are not used as enterprise solutions or repositories
  • No enterprise taxonomy standardizing terminology, indexing, media, or ownership
  • An out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality (only a legal issue)
  • Lack of understanding what an • IG or RIM program is and the benefits it provides
  • Lack of or ineffective RIM training
  • No RIM training or oversight during various points of the employee lifecycle
  • Employees’ inherent resistance to change


The final listed item is the main reason organizations are struggling to implement effective enterprise-wide RIM programs. Resistance to change is especially evident in managers who only see disrupting their staff’s work routines with programs they believe contribute little to the financial bottom line or their function’s goals.

The result of this resistance to change is clearly demonstrated when there are:

  • No enforcement or compliance to management-approved RIM policies and procedures
  • No compliance auditing of how an organization’s functions and departments are implementing policies
  • No coordination of the organization’s silos of compliance
  • No transparency of how the RIM program operates, or policies implemented
  • No senior management or executive support awareness or prioritization for a RIM program


Focusing on communication, education, and careful technology deployment will help personnel make the changes necessary for implementing and sustaining an effective RIM program.

Communicate: From the Top Down

Minimizing resistance starts with communication from the top executive down the hierarchy that constantly and consistently reinforces compliance with IG policies, and emphasizes that RIM procedures are mandatory. This will dispel staff fears that management will not accept them destroying information in accordance with the retention schedule resulting in consequences if they do; these fears may be causing staff to ignore IG policies and retain information “just in case” management needs it.

Educate Senior Management

Senior management must understand the RIM program’s purpose and benefits—that it is not just about e-discovery or legal holds, but it also drives standards that:

  • Enable authorized personnel to access complete and accurate information easily
  • Reduce information volumes
  • Instill confidence in information disposition
  • Minimize legal and operational risks
  • Ensures information privacy concerns
  • Explain how consistent and quality data can improve work flow.

Senior management must also understand from the conception of the program:

  • IG policies and RIM procedures are corporate standards that are not open to interpretation once approved by executives, and support for these standards must be present at all levels.
  • The IG policies and RIM procedures are living documents and subjected to annual update and review, or when major organizational change occurs.
  • Implementing RIM procedures related to the policies and retention schedule will result in changes to how staff process and handle information, from its creation through disposition.

The gravity of the change can be diminished by an ongoing resource commitment, including:

  • An electronic tool to assist users in creating, sharing, and storing information assets
  • A single (or virtual) repository for final versioning of corporate documents
  • Effective staff education and “town hall” meetings where personnel have input into the design of policy-driven standards and rules
  • Continuous user assistance
  • Audits to test the effectiveness of and compliance with IG Policies (very important!)


Introducing new technology often creates resistance to change. An IT department that is eager to respond to user requests for new applications may introduce software without clear rules for their use or deployment. These “tools” are problem-specific rather than an enterprise-wide solution, leaving users to set up, index, and control e-mail and shared drives with no standards.

These actions allow users to develop poor information-processing habits that affect their compliance with IG policies and RIM procedures. It is then necessary to change user behavior, and managers may opt to avoid this effort rather than disturb the status quo.

To prevent these bad habits, and minimize the need for changing user behavior, IT must partner with RIM to ensure that the design of new applications or document repositories conforms to IG policy, RIM taxonomy, and the retention schedule. Bear in mind, the program standards and rules come first, not the technology.


An enterprise RIM program’s scope must be the lifecycle processing of the organization’s information assets.  This requires:

  • IG policies, strategic in nature, that support management objectives and corporate culture.
  • Mandated adherence to IG policies, in the same way that adherence to other corporate policies is mandated and compliance is monitored and enforced.
  • An enterprise automated tool that has policy and retention standards and rules imbedded in its administrative tables and is accessible throughout the organization for users to create, capture, share, distribute, retain, and dispose of digital and physical information.
  • A retention schedule that is easy to use and has realistic retention values. The day of 100-page retention schedules is over; big bucket categorization is required in today’s digital world.
  • Annual updates of IG policies and RIM procedures.
  • Ongoing user support and education to reduce resistance and help ensure acceptance and compliance with the IG policies.


Change is inevitable. The roles RIM programs play are dependent on management commitment and their understanding of what elements a sustainable program comprises. Ensuring senior management understands the operational, financial, technical, and managerial feasibility when selling a new program is crucial. If the RIM professional can strategically sell these elements, change is manageable rather than a roadblock to the program’s success.

The search for an effective enterprise RIM program goes on and on…



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About the Author: Fred Diers

Fred V. Diers, CRM FAI, has more than 45 years of RIM experience with multi-national organizations. He has successfully implemented sustainable RIM programs on a global scale for companies operating in more than 80 countries. A significant component of his approach involves developing business rules pertaining to information lifecycle, including indexing, metadata and retention standards. Diers is a past president of ARMA international, an Emmett Leahy Award and a Britt Literary Award recipient, and a worldwide lecturer on RIM and IG Topics. He can be reached at [email protected].