The significance of "the undercarriage" for effective records management

This is the first article in the trilogy about “the undercarriage“. Find part two and part three here. 

When implementing records management and information security for the first time, many companies make the mistake of focusing on “driving the car”. They hire drivers to race on at full speed without spending any resources on “the undercarriage”. It always leads to trouble! 

“The undercarriage” is a metaphor that we in Scandinavian Information Audit use to describe the things that need to be in order to ensure that information resources such as records, documents, archive material and data can be valuable assets. Without a safe and strong undercarriage, the car will not run safely or efficiently. 

To sort out the undercarriage, decisions need to be made regarding future use, stakeholders, access, digitization, legal requirements, security, IT, and interfaces need to be established to GDPR, IT, information security, management systems and certifications. Additionally, many factors need to be considered or developed, including the context of the company, possible burning platforms, audit results, risk and process analyses, policies, procedures, metadata models, and classification and retention plans for records. When all this has been worked out and implemented, the car is ready to be driven.  

Model af undervognen
Illustration of the metaphor used in this article about effective records management.

Below are examples of four cases that demonstrate what a missing or inadequate undercarriage can lead to:


In the Danish state administration, it is obvious to mention the ongoing case regarding the forced culling of mink due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A state official recommended a minister to set up his phone to automatically delete text messages after 30 days. Text messages were regarded as non-records and therefore not considered worth preserving.

It seems apparent that there has not been made any qualified assessments about neither the legal nor the security related aspects related to this issue. Furthermore, the decision to automatically delete the text messages does not seem to have been documented in any procedures for information management, journaling or the like.


An interest group that represents a specific type of patients, regularly engages with its members on social media. The digital conversations can sometimes include medical advice, in which case it is required by law to be documented. The interest group’s management think that social media is a fantastic way of recruiting members and decide to press on at full speed. The communication department is consulted, but no one considers sorting out the undercarriage by asking for legal advice, evaluate issues related to security, GDPR or to assess records management aspects, which can include the preservation of social media, retention, and the responsibility for the archiving process.

This case has not yet been concluded internally.   


A company has decided to shut down several IT systems, which are used for document and records management and an integrated management system (ISO 9001, 14001, and 27001), and migrate the content to a new system. The IT department is scheduled to complete the task in a week during July 2020 where most employees are on vacation. The undercarriage is not properly prepared for the migration, which also fails from a business perspective. Important metadata is missing, as are features from the old systems and digital approvals for documents in the management systems.  

The undercarriage” has clearly not been prioritized from a business perspective. A proper migration involves an assessment and mapping of content, metadata and features in each of the old systems as well as solid project planning, pilot study, testing, quality assurance and final approval from system owners. 

Consequently, student assistants and external consultants have to be employed to manually input and restore the most vital data. It has also been necessary to maintain access to some of the old systems, which means expenditure in the form of licensing fees. Additionally, the employees need to use both the old and new systems for many of their daily tasks. The positive business case for the migration is gone. 


A Norwegian family-owned company, which was founded more than 120 years ago, has a business archive with historical documents, photos, film and objects placed in 310 boxes at an external storage facility. As far as anyone knows, no one has opened the boxes in more than 30 years. A new generation of responsible leaders want to use the company’s intriguing history actively. They hire an external historian to write a book and an advertising agency to work with branding and develop a website to showcase the company’s history. The many boxes are removed from storage, but the material turns out to be unorganized or unregistered and no criteria to designate historical value or preservation has been used. It also becomes evident that a portion of the material needs to be treated by a conservator to prevent it from disintegrating completely. In this case, the car has no undercarriage at all!   

As a result, the contract with the historian is terminated and financial compensation must be given as she is now out of work and has turned down other offers to work for the company. The advertising agency is forced to make do with secondary sources such as newspaper articles. The company has hired three external consultants for a period of one year to “fix” the undercarriage. 

In all four cases, records management based on well-developed and internationally recognized methods from the ISO 30300 series is needed in order to organize information resources. 

In large part, modern companies and organizations build and depend on IT and digitization. In order to gain the full benefit and to comply with legal requirements, investment needs to be made in the undercarriage, which the four cases demonstrate. There are no short cuts, but once the undercarriage has been built and is properly maintained, there are limitless possibilities for digitization, dissemination and use, including serving as a foundation for compliance, business development and growth.