People and organisational culture – creating the environment for digital transformation August 21, 2015

15536402879_7b505dc0c8_zLast week we had our regular Digital Implementers’ Group meeting.

This time, the topic was focused around people and organisational culture. The group’s members what are the necessary cultural factors in organisations which have strong digital information and records management, and what are the cultural barriers.

Representing in the group were are wide range of government organisations, including departments, agencies, State-owned corporations and local government.

Supporting skills and capability development

Supporting the development of skills and capability was acknowledged as a core role by the group.

Several members talked about their processes to engage all new employees and have them understand the obligations and benefits of well managed digital information. Strategies included on-demand personal support, up-to-date internal publications, scheduled training session and e-learning modules.

Members discussed the benefits of mandating an employment separation form requiring signed acknowledgement that all business records have been appropriately captured. One member noted that introducing these changes initially generated a lot of demands on the time of his team, but this has reduced over time as these processes have matured and the specific capabilities of managers improved.

Another member noted that there are changing demographics of the workplace: now, younger workers are used to working digitally.

One member has successfully included information management statements in every job description. This was achieved through connecting the maturity of information processes and capabilities to risk of fraud and ethical breaches, and was strongly supported by management.

Designing systems for people

Members discussed an overall approach of “compliance by design” – build RM/IM processes which work for the business, and hide most of the complexity of compliance aspects from the user.

They were aware that the people and organisational culture aspect was extremely important. One said they always start from “what’s in it for me”: start at the coal face and work from there. Another agreed, saying it’s not a bolt-on: its got to be part of everyday processes.

One member noted that due to recent changes in organisational focus they had an increasingly large number of staff members and contractors from private sector backgrounds who were unfamiliar with public sector records management requirements. They were considering the implementation of a browser-based interface for their ECM tool which would suit the mobile working patterns of these staff.

Some in the group suggested it’s not people’s problem to figure out how information should be managed: they should have their defined roles, with defined processes, and tools that do the rest. One organisation was making significant progress with its mobile working solution and noted that the transition to a completely different way of working provided a great opportunity to embed good practices. They noted however that significant organisational changes currently occurring, they were revisiting the IM/RM training program, and would not take sustaining the skills and capabilities of staff for granted.

Another organisation was looking at what tools it needed to support more cross-organisation collaboration. They are looking at how they can enhance their monitoring program to identify high-performing business units, identify opportunities for improvement, and identify business units who may need training or process improvements. They are also undergoing a review of their business classification scheme to tie these all together.

One member currently described their role as brokering relationships on both sides: on one hand, business units with change fatigue, on the other hand, IT units facing ongoing cost constraints.

One organisation was struggling with the legacy of a poor system implementation talking its toll on staff suport. Staff had felt they had insufficient support with current systems. They have taken an approach of addressing the basics: how can they capture sufficient records without imposing additional overheads on staff.  How can they emphasise the support it can provide for business unit productivity. This member noted that the “improving accountability” message only rings true when the system is widely valued trusted.

Monitoring and evaluation

Convincing and influencing through concrete metrics was an important strategy for members.

One explained that performance analysis of metrics provided by records / information management systems was a key component to support capability development, noting this providing an opportunity both to identify and manage low performance at a business unit level and to recognise and act on opportunities to add value.

Another noted that in certain contexts it is possible to quantify risks through legal spend, or spend on things like liability insurance. Members noted that good records and information management processes can have a significant and easily appreciated impact on such expenditure, with one organisation recently conducting an audit demonstrating this.

One member noted that mail inbox quota increases are queried for business units which have a low uptake of digital processes. This situation is used as an educational opportunity. Other members note a common view among IT units is that the organisation will simply keep everything indefinitely. They noted this widely accepted approach can be demonstrated as unsustainable by monitoring and collecting appropriate statistics. Members discussed tools to enhance digital disposal by providing more powerful analysis tools that enabled proactive management of data volumes.

Some are implementing powerful search technologies to control large amounts of information associated with these organisational changes. They also believe providing these tools, together with training, will convince users of the systems benefit and to reduce the complexity of tasks they are required to perform. A major increase in internal and external reporting requirements underpins the “compliance” justification for making some of these improvements.

Formal organisational factors

While all members agreed that they could achieve a lot through soft influence, the acknowledged the influence strong mandates and formal support can provide for records / information management success.

One organisation was happy to report increased management and financial support for RM/IM. This was driven by the need to address a significant number of remaining legacy systems, as well as paper-reliant processes.

One member is part of a division which has been rebranded, and its focus is on governance. The member noted that IT has resources and therefore make technology decisions. The RM section doesn’t have as many resources and is typically a decision has already been made as to which technology platform is to be used. Therefore, they end up with a technology solution which doesn’t solve the business problem, which is very difficult when user acceptance always poses such a challenge for IM projects.

One organisation has recently had a large increase in its asset portfolio as a result of reorganising of government entities. They are tying to manage this at the same time as they have high levels of staff turnover.

Culture of technology innovation

Attendees noted that a good project should analyse work processes to identify improvements, and that there is too much automating bad existing practices, baking strange behaviours into system design.

Another organisation was in the process of integrating their document management processes with other structured processes such as payroll and finance systems. One member noted that a key challenge in this is that different departments have different processes, so documentation and/or harmonisation of processes must happen before the system component can be settled. Members noted that a key factor in managing this organisational change was recognising that the change was at its core not just a technology change, but a fundamentally different way of working.

Members discussed a very rapid transition from paper-reliant processes to fully digital processes which is occurring in some organisations. One noted that they are consolidating most customer service processes into a single system, so there will need to be lots of change management. They are also transitioning to fully electronic approvals; this requires a big change in perspective for some senior managers to recognise authoritative digital documents. The member noted that managers don’t care about compliance unless you link it directly to business accountabilities.

Recurrent challenges

As well as the focus on people and organisational culture, there was a good discussion of some common issues facing public sector organisations.

People discussed evolving roles for records /information management processes, with someone noted that we have thought of these processes as involving the creation of a lot of metadata but are now moving to tools and processes which automatically exploit embedded metadata. Members discussed how these changes were leading to different approaches to system implementation, and noted that now in many situations the information repositories just sit behind the process and are not something users interact with.

There was also a large amount of discussion about what was the optimal configuration for an EDRMS/ECM system. Members talked about the relative strengths of classification-based approaches compared to record type-based approaches.

Feedback and comments

As always, we would love to have any feedback on this topic. We would especially welcome people wanting to talk about their experiences of this, and government organisations wanting to join in the discussions. Feel free to contact us or comment below.

Also keep an eye out for future blog posts about the group, which has several interesting meetings scheduled for the rest of this year.


Photo credit: “The House” by Charis Tsevis on Flickr



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