Mythbusting: Records management October 23, 2012

Mythbusting: Records management

Mythbusting: Records management

 

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As a profession we urgently need to start mythbusting. I think we need to start countering the negative myths and stereotypes that are surrounding our role because persistent myths and stereotypes about records management are starting to threaten business information.

These stereotypes are also threatening records and information management as a profession. In some environments, the myths are winning. We are being defined out of a job because people cannot see our direct business relevance. Critically, this debasing and devaluing of core RM and IM skills means that these skills are not being applied and as a consequence, immediate and long term business information is under threat.

Here are some thoughts on myths I would like to bust. Personally I think we need to start urgently busting them now, but I would love to hear your views.

 

Myth 1: Records management is all about compliance

As records managers, we are seen as regulators and auditors. We are not seen as advisors or contributors.  People in our organisations don’t actively come to us to discuss ideas and possibilities for new business systems. Instead they often ignore us, hoping to avoid perceived bureaucracy, red tape and compliance obligations.   

While our role is definitely concerned with compliance and while there is obvious strength and benefit in benchmarking systems and practices to defined best practice standards, records management is fundamentally about enabling business through the creation and maintenance of better and well managed information. This is fundamentally what we do. The real guts of records and information management is the accessibility and maintenance of  the right information required to meet business requirements.

Records and information staff do so much more than compliance. They can provide the legal and best practice benchmarks but they can also advise on business process, on technology considerations, on business information needs, on context, on retention and continuity considerations, on precedents, on lessons learned, on related information sets, on metadata, on versioning, on integrity considerations, on accountability requirements and on ‘the long now’ – what the organisation is going to need from its data in 5, 10, 20, 50 years, not just what it is going to need tomorrow.

All of these records management and information management (RM and IM) contributions are necessary for good, useable, accountable, meaningful, high value business information. But all too often organisations do not ask for these RM and IM perspectives because they are dismissed as ‘compliance’ and not seen as genuine business needs.   

The fact that compliance is seen as purely red tape, as an abstract and bureaucratic notion that serves little business relevance is, I think, is another myth to be busted or at least to be better understood.

While compliance for compliance sake is useless, we need to better understand the relationship between compliance and risk mitigation, compliance and accountability and compliance and best practice. Benchmarking against a defined standard can minimise cost and complexity, encourage standardisation and enable interoperability. It gives you a place to start, issues to consider, lessons that have been learned by others that may pertain to your environment.

So, to counter myth 1, I would say that RM and IM are fundamentally concerned with effective business information management. RM and IM are all about defining how one of your core business assets – your information – should be created, managed and used. These decisions are complex and multifaceted. Compliance requirements are definitely a tool to be fed into the mix, but to write off RM and IM as purely compliance based ignores the challenge and complexity that is core to the RM and IM professions and denies the RM and IM inputs that are necessary for sustainable, relevant and meaingful business information.

Myth 2: We have nothing to do with current business – come see us when active use ceases

In our organisations, records management is still often seen as post hoc. End of life cycle. End of the road. Secondary. When no longer required for active business use. We are seen as the managers of residues, remainders. People call us when the project is completed and they don’t know what to do with what is left.

This may have been our previous business model but it is absolutely no longer sustainable for us as a profession and for the information we are charged with managing.  This is a core myth we need to start busting because it is clouding perceptions about the roles and responsibilities of records and information managers in today’s business environments.

Because of this myth, RM and IM staff are not consulted at the start of projects and therefore systems are being built that don’t adequately manage information. Or that don’t consider the longevity of information, the accountability of information, the cross-organisational useability of information, the sustainability of information, the stable interchange of information and the ongoing accessibility of information.

We have seen information risks proliferate in recent years because RM and IM perspectives are not seen as necessary in current business decision making but these perspectives are in fact critical.

So we need to spread the word that RM and IM actually have everything to do with current business. We happen to be very good at helping to manage information whereever it is, however old it is, whatever business system or requirement it is part of. So let’s get mythbusting.

Myth 3: If it’s not in the EDRMS then I am not interested

Very many people seem to believe that a records manager’s concerns and capacities begin and end with the corporate electronic document and records management system (EDRMS). This widespread opinion means that records and information staff are not included in broader corporate discussions on information and they are not consulted about business system design. 

This viewpoint also diminishes the understanding of records in an organisation, with records defined only as the document based entities in an EDRMS. The consequence of this is that business staff often do not understand that their business information is actually a corporate record too, just in a different form. This results in a lack of coordinated information governance and understanding across an organisation, which opens the organisation, its processes and its data up to unacceptable risk.

Records are everywhere across every organisation. In business systems, in structured and unstructed data, in social media, on websites, in emails – everywhere. For effective business, business intelligence and information governance, it is critical that we have as broad and inclusive understanding of records and information as possible. And it is critical that RM and IM staff have a broad mandate to engage with all this information, whereever it may be, and to contribute to its effective use and management.

It is important too for the whole organisation to see the value of the corporate EDRMS. Often the EDRMS is seen as a complex, compliance driven silo of retired information. EDRMS, however, can be so much more. They are purpose-built applications with baked in accountability and management capacities. They have functionality to manage information through time. Many can integrate with other business applications. They can be core business information and accountability systems that serve immediate and long term needs, we just need to define and deploy them well, in ways that do not perpetuate damaging myths and stereotypes.

So don’t limit your views of RM and IM. To circumscribe information and to circumscribe the role and capacity of RM and IM staff can really limit the power and effectiveness of your corporate information managment. Information management is hard.  To achieve the best outcomes, you need all your staff working together so again, don’t let stereotypes prescribe artificial and damaging boundaries that threaten our business information.    

Mythbusting 1: Truths we need to promote

The challenges in the current business world are information-based challenges. Information management is one of the fastest growing business areas in the global ICT environment. And information management is what we do. It is what we have always done. Many more professions today are becoming engaged with the IM space. Many may think that between them, they will get things under control. But it will matter if we are not there. It will matter if RM and IM staff with their unique combination of legal awareness, business awareness, continuity awareness, context, accountability, integrity etc are not there. As discussed above, problems are already resulting in areas where our specific skill set has not been considered.

We need to better explain what it is that we do. We need to own what we have always done. We need to stake out our core principles, our core business rules. We need to own continuity, own fundamental concepts like metadata. We need to own fundamental principles like information integrity, own characteristics like context, own business and compliance requirements like information retention. We need to stake our claims to business analysis, risk analysis and to the information in business systems. We need to sell our brand as pertaining to much more than EDRMS. We need to explain our own business relevance. And we need to do it now as we have so much that we can contribute and our skills are urgently required.

Mythbusting 2: Achieving it in your organisation

  • get involved at system design
  • get involved in information outsourcing or cloud arrangements
  • contribute views on high risk business information and your knowledge of long term retention requirements. These viewpoints are critical to effective business information strategies.
  • be open in your discussions on compliance requirements. While compliance principles may be well defined, how you deploy these in your organisation will be determined by your business needs, systems, requirements, risk levels and many other factors. Be open to how these factors will impact on your RM and IM practice. Managing information needs to be a collaborative process that integrates and harmonises viewpoints from across the organisation
  • don’t perpetuate damaging myths and stereotypes yourself
  • collaborate. RM and IM staff can’t solve the challenges of contemporary information management alone. We need to be part of a skilled multi-disciplinary team working together to best meet business requirements.
  • even if you don’t fully understand the detailed ICT environments you are working with, get involved anyway. You know information and how it should be managed to best meet business and legal requirements. ICT knows the tech stuff. Working together with business staff, collaboratively you will be able to develop solutions that meet all necessary requirements.
  • if in doubt, talk to State Records. If you want to start mythbusting and get more involved in information management in your organisation but don’t know where to start, talk to us. We can tell you what other organisations are doing and what strategies might work in your environment. So give us a call or send us an email.
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4 Comments
Matthew October 24th, 2012

Hi,

I think more needs to be done then just “get involved in information outsourcing or cloud arrangements”. NSW’s government involvement in cloud is inevitable and thus I think it is imperative that we are not just getting involved but start building frameworks and matrixes for our agencies. These need to identify the requirements of different types of records in the cloud, issues to be aware of when storing records out side of NSW, data sovereignty etc.
Sure there are multiple documents online which identify this information but there is not a single document just for your agency which culminates all of this data together. I think record managers need to be seen as enablers for business and I believe the above is a good way of portraying this.

Thanks
Matt

Kate Cumming October 25th, 2012

Fantastic comment Matt. I agree, this is exactly what records managers have the skills and capacities to do and it is exactly what our organisations need us to be doing. I was at a meeting yesterday where the comment was made that ICT managers at present are frantically busy just trying to keep the lights on. Managing the volume and complexity of current systems is overwhelming and this leaves little time for strategic planning about new and emerging systems. Yet this strategic planning is absolutely critical. RMs and IMs need to get in and help to do this stuff. I think the practical example you have provided of what RMs/IMs can do is a fantastic way of really assisting business and translating stuff that is core to our RM/IM role into the digital environment. Thanks! Kate

Catherine Doran October 29th, 2012

Hi Kate,
Do you think there are some gaps in what people need to know to do the work you describe? Traditionally a lot of the skills and knowledge you describe weren’t needed, and it’s possible that many RM/IM professionals aren’t used to working in the collaborative, outwards looking space..

What kinds of tools and training do you think would help bridge this gap?

Cheers
Catherine

Kate Cumming October 30th, 2012

Hi Catherine – thanks, I think this is a really valid comment. At State Records we run a free half day workshop that is intended to help bridge this gap – Managing recordkeeping risk in business systems – see http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/recordkeeping/training-calendar/workshop-on-managing-recordkeeping-risk-in-business-systems

The intent of this workshop is to help integrate recordkeeping considerations at system design, system configuration, cloud-based outsourcing, migration and other key information risk points in order to avoid the information losses that are already occurring. I think for all of us though, the transition to new ways of operating will be gradual and ongoing as everything is fundamentally shifting and this takes a lot of getting used to. We will all need a lot of support. I think we need many more practical tools – recordkeeping based functional requirements statements for different types of business systems for example – that people can just pick up and customise. My sense is that RM/IM professionals are already doing so much, extra layers of additional strategic considerations might be a bridge too far unless they can be supported with practical and useful tools. We are working on some of these at SRNSW but would love to hear about more! Kate

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