Mike Biancaniello, BASc, P.Eng, Magna International Inc.’s senior manager of records and information management, works in the legal department, putting years of knowledge and experience in IT and engineering to use in driving the implementation of a comprehensive new records and information policy facilitated by new software.
Like many organizations, Magna International, a leading global automotive supplier, has amassed a significant amount of data over time—including e-mail messages, business records, and other electronic documents—and more data accumulates daily in ever-increasing quantities. Due to the crucial importance of being able to retrieve documents and other information when needed, this growth cannot continue unchecked.
“This is about making sure people have what they need to do their jobs, when they need it,” Biancaniello says. “It is particularly important for large, multinational organizations for which legal and regulatory actions are a part of life. Sifting through mountains of irrelevant information is very time consuming and costly.” Filing documents more efficiently can help companies protect themselves and lower overall risk, according to Biancaniello. “If legal compliance weren’t an issue, the old philosophy of just going and buying more storage space might have continued, but that would still be inefficient,” he says.
“There are studies that suggest people spend close to eight hours a week searching for information,” Biancaniello says. “If you eliminate waste and clutter, and make information better organized and easier to find for those who are authorized to access it—that’s where companies can gain efficiencies. You hear people complaining that they are drowning in information but, at the same time, unnecessarily saving multiple versions—and even duplicate copies—of documents. If we want people to change that behaviour, we have to make sure they can find the official copy easily. We are also particularly asking people to make decisions and categorize information according to its importance to the company. Anything uncategorized will be treated as transient and automatically deleted after a certain period of time.”
In a continuing effort to increase efficiencies and remain an industry leader, Magna therefore revised its comprehensive records- and information-management policy. However, implementing a new records-management strategy for a company of 115,000 employees using several different, competing application platforms wasn’t an easy task. According to Biancaniello, it took years of groundwork, like any other successful endeavour, starting from a foundation of a workable records retention schedule tailored to the organization’s needs and then identifying a logical method of rolling it out and putting it into practice. “We combined the expertise of our manufacturing operations’ embedded physical records programs, our IT organization’s skill in providing cost-effective information platforms, and our legal department’s knowledge of our compliance requirements,” Biancaniello says.
Changing employees’ perceptions has proved to be a particularly challenging aspect of the project. “Right now, in many areas, there’s a ‘save everything because I might need it someday’ mentality,” Biancaniello says. “We’re trying to get everyone to save only what’s important, and help them understand that it’s okay to get rid of the rest as soon as it is no longer needed.”
Due to the size of the organization, Magna recognized that any implementation would need to be done on an incremental basis in logical stages. “We figured we need to make significant changes in the organization in how information is perceived and dealt with, so let’s start with an application that everyone uses: e-mail,” Biancaniello says.
The new system involves what Biancaniello calls a modified three-zone approach that will initially be applied prospectively to new, incoming e-mails. Going back and dealing with old e-mails will be postponed until after users become comfortable with the system. “We didn’t want to create a panic with this initiative,” he says.
Users are given one area to keep information they feel is important, another where business records are kept for a predetermined time period, and an area for e-mail of little or no business value that’s deleted by the user or automatically after a short time.
Employees decide which messages stay and which ones go. “The employee is the expert in his or her field and knows best what to save for company records and what could or should be deleted,” Biancaniello says.
The company hopes to make significant progress over the next five years, but Biancaniello cautions that this initiative will never be fully completed. “It’s a continuous improvement project,” he says. “We need to constantly find ways to make things better.”