Three ways to increase records management user adoption

As described in our recent post Focus on the users’ jobs, we believe records management solutions should be oriented toward supporting the jobs people do every day. Solutions that are successful in this regard will gain traction and achieve rapid adoption within an enterprise.

Through this approach, the aims of records management will be more readily and completely attained as a result of this user engagement. Increasingly, there is little debate that focusing on the end-users’ jobs is the right way to set up an ECM program. The question is how to actually go about it.

Orientation toward helping the users perform their jobs can happen in a multitude of ways. The three approaches described in this article—information structure, business process, and terminology—are tried and tested ways of improving traction with users.

Information structure

An easy starting point is to structure the information the way in which end-users consume, work with, or think about the information instead of using a file plan. Users don’t think in file plans. This necessitates engaging people and understanding how they think about and use the information, an exercise that is a helpful tool when figuring out how to drive adoption.

People typically base themselves around an artefact in the real world–an address, project, employee, customer, sales campaign, and so on. Orienting information in a similar way will inherently make sense to end-user and be more effective than structuring the information around a file plan.

Consider a collection of development permit applications submitted to a municipality. The users within the municipality (e.g. the planning department) would consider the applications from the perspective of the civic addresses associated with each permit application. Furthermore, the users would associate not just the development permit application with that address but also the subsequent correspondence, internal documents, and final approval or rejection for development. This is an example of orienting a records management solution around the job a person does.

By contrast, a file plan or other some records management-focused taxonomy might be set up around document type (permits, correspondence, letters of approval) or a retention period. This would not support the end-users in performing their jobs. This contrasting scenario also does not map to how the users think about and use the information.

Business process

Another orientation to consider is the business process. Users trying to accomplish a task interact with the records management solution to get things done. In a similar way to the information structure, a successful records management solution automates or streamlines pieces of the business process that the end-users are focused on completing.

An unsuccessful records management solution might be focused on the business process of declaring a record. Most users don’t care about declaring records! This business process orientation can have significant positive impacts on the overall productivity and engagement of the users in question.

One example of orienting ECM towards a business process is to support hiring a new employee. The hiring process might have multiple natural pieces to it–resume review, initial interview, technical interview, HR or fit interview, and then a final executive interview. An ECM solution supporting this process would show the progression of each candidate and have notifications as the person moves through the process. This is in contrast to simply having one folder or one document library where all the application forms, interview notes, and follow-up correspondence reside. To support the process flow, an ECM solution might require workflow as well as an information architecture that would also align with the process.


Another simple but often overlooked approach is to ensure the use of the end-users’ own nomenclature when developing a solution. Records management or corporate terminology should be kept to a minimum. Instead, the use of words that are clear and in common with users’ own vocabularies and area of focus drives adoption. As with the other methods, this is an excellent opportunity to engage people and undertake usability testing to be sure that the final terminology makes sense to the end-users.

To be successful, you need to orient your solution toward the lowest common denominator for education levels, experience, backgrounds, and even spoken languages within most workplaces.

Instead of “document disposition” ECM solutions could refer to “permanent document deletion,” or instead of “retention period” a more easily understood term might be “how long should we keep this document?”

How far to go?

The depth to which a records management team executes each approach is readily adjustable depending on the information domain being considered. For example, when determining how to structure the information through the eyes of the end-user, there are multiple tools and processes that can be used including card sorting, content audits, end user interviews, and usability testing. Each tool will improve the final solution, increasing adoption, but comes with increasing effort for the records management team.

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