Personnel Folders; Why Are They Different from ECM?

In my post last Thursday I talked about the need for a personnel folders product for HR, and discussed the conditions that would drive HR to implement a personnel records system separate from the ECM strategy implemented by IT.  In this post I want to point out a couple of reasons and ways that a personnel folders system is different than an ECM system.

But first, let me say that, by nature, an ECM system is horizontal–generic–enough that yes, it can be made to serve as a personnel folders system.  In fact there are many organizations who utilize their corporate ECM system for personnel records, but there are also many who do not, and I’ve talked with a bunch of them (hence the “reasons” I cited in my previous blog). 

So the primary difference is in the understanding, the skills, and the experience of the team managing the personnel folders system.  As I said in my previous blog, there are tons of compliance and privacy issues surrounding HR documents that IT simply doesn’t have to contend with.  A personnel folders system is going to be implemented and maintained by a team who understands these issues.

A personnel folders system is also going to be relatively consistent among many companies when it comes to configuration.  There is a core set of indexes that all personnel folders, regardless of the company or organization, are going to utilize: social security number, employee id, last name, etc. 

A personnel folders system is going to employ a folders structure, such as the dossier structure in our own system.  The typical configuration of an ECM system is to store documents by document type (such as W4s, I9s, etc.) along with indexes; this structure makes it easy to locate and retrieve a particular document quickly.  In a personnel folders system, it’s preferable to add to this capability a folder structure that logically groups documents together–such as an onboarding package–for a number of reasons (purpose of the document collection, cross-document rules compliance such as supporting documentation on I9s, etc.)  To this folder structure can be added additional information, such as checklists testing the completeness of a particular forms package, or even indexes unique to the folder.

An ECM system might also index the entire text of the documents (which may be desirable for unstructured text such as offer letters, but is unnecessary overhead for structured forms such as W4s); a personnel folders system should be configurable enough to identify which documents are appropriate for full text indexes and which are not.

A personnel folders system is going to employ records management features, particularly concerning version control and the lifespan of the document (i.e. trigger rules to automatically dispose of expired documents, or fire off notices when critical documents expire).

Increasingly, employee communications (email) is a topic of particular liability to HR.  If you’re in HR and you’ve not heard of e-Discovery, then you should read up on it and discuss it with your legal department.  A personnel folders system today should at least provide the option–when you need it–to accommodate e-Discovery requirements.

And finally, quite a few documents that flow in and out of HR today are not actually form documents, or don’t necessarily have to be documents if there were a better way.  Why do we collect a paper report from the background testing vendor in addition to the XML file they send?  Why not consume the XML file during normal processing, then drop the XML file into the personnel folder for that employee?  I’ve actually seen HR departments receive emails and faxes, then print them out so they have a copy to drop in the file–why can’t these documents be indexed to the unique requirements of a personnel folders system and remain completely electronic?

In short, there are several unique requirements that will be placed on an ECM system when implementing an electronic personnel folders capability, requirements that are often best served through a specialized edition of a document storage platform for HR.


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