Two business women pointing and discussing items on a laptopAs public sector organizations continue to turn to software solutions to help increase their efficiency, accessibility and transparency, the terminology used to describe such offerings can often be confusing and can make very different types of product sound wrongly similar. Agenda management, meeting management and records management are closely related and each can save you and your staff a lot of time, effort and errors, but they are not the same thing.

The common conflation of these terms may be unintentionally exacerbated by vendors who incorporate a handful of basic features of one of the three disciplines into a product that is essentially a point solution with a different focus – for example, putting rudimentary records management functions into an agenda management offering. Understanding the differences is crucial in ensuring that the solutions you choose not only meet all of your immediate requirements today, but are also extensible and scalable enough to meet your growing needs in the future.

In a previous blog entry, we explored the differences between agenda management and meeting management, and explained why those differences were significant. In this post, we’ll compare records management to that same duo, with a look at how best-of-breed meeting management and records management solutions can work together to be more than the sum of their parts.

By Definition

Confused, young businessman looking at chalk drawn arrows on a concrete wallTo understand the difference between records management, agenda management and meeting management, it’s helpful to start by comparing the definitions of the items or tasks being managed.

A record is a “permanent” document – not transitory or a work-in-progress – that is intended to be retained for an extended period of time and has certain characteristics in terms of its dispensation. The word permanent in this context doesn’t necessarily mean it will be kept indefinitely; permanence means different things in various organizations. For one organization it might mean seven years; in another it might mean forever. The scope of records management can also vary, driven by jurisdictional policy. For example, some organizations or jurisdictions consider emails to be permanent records, while others consider them to be transitory.

Records management involves more than just storing the records themselves. It also encompasses security components, retention periods, metadata about the characteristics of the document and the type of information it holds, privacy restrictions and more. There is also usually an associated classification system that defines attributes such as retention duration based on the categorization of the document and other factors.

Meeting artefacts which include agendas, minutes, video recordings, and supporting documents such as spreadsheets and reports, are transient for the majority of their lifecycle. So long as changes can still occur to them, they are considered transitory until they are approved, finalized and published – at which point they can become permanent records.

That being said, even before such documents are finalized, they may include confidential information from closed or “in camera” sessions. During this period, these materials have more security requirements, visibility must be limited to specific people, and access must be tightly controlled. Inadvertent publication of an open document isn’t a good thing, but unintended publication of a closed document is very, very bad. Managing these requirements is one of the critical functions that robust agenda management software can offer beyond just workflow efficiency.

To summarize: while meeting agendas may eventually become records, not all records are agendas, and agendas and records have different requirements for security and access control.

A Meeting between Agendas and Records

Of course, artefacts such as agendas are key elements of meetings, but meetings are far more than just documents – they’re living, breathing activities with associated processes. A true meeting management system includes features and workflows to help prepare artefacts to become records, but also includes inherent capabilities to help administrators and participants during the actual meetings themselves.

Comprehensive meeting management solutions should include approval workflows for document creation as well as tools to conduct meetings, record votes, assign board or council directives as tasks, transcribe meetings, capture video of the sessions and more.

Agenda management “point solutions” can streamline the preparation of agendas and reports but lack the extended capabilities to treat meetings holistically. Meanwhile, records management systems may include workflows for approvals, but don’t effectively address any of the other meeting lifecycle elements.

Advanced meeting management solutions include complete agenda management functionality as part of their feature set, alongside tools for the other mentioned components of the meeting process such as voting, minute management, video and citizen participation features. It is incumbent on the business process associated with records management to then file the meeting artefacts into the records.

Diagram Artwork – V2

Be cautious of meeting management software that claims to have inherent records management capabilities. Today, at least, their records management functionality is usually very rudimentary, and as described above, records management is as much about policy as it is about technology. Just as you want your meeting management solution to be best-of-breed and well-aligned with your particular requirements, you should set the same high standards in choosing a records management solution.

The Best of Both Worlds

A business man with efficiency icons in front of himWith the right integration tools, a best-of-breed meeting management solution can be combined with a best-of-breed records management counterpart in a seamless workflow.

At eSCRIBE, our approach is to integrate our meeting management solution tightly with market-leading records management solutions through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). We do the integration work, so our customers simply enjoy the resulting benefits.

To date, we have integrated with OpenText, LaserFiche, Documentum (now owned by OpenText), FileHold and Objective, seamlessly extending our end-to-end meeting lifecycle workflows with deep, long-term management of the meeting artefacts that have been published as records.

If you already have a records management system in place, contact us to discuss how our solution can be integrated with it. If you’re starting from scratch, focus on your meeting management platform first, as it’s responsible for helping you create and manage the documents – including agendas – that will ultimately become records.

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