Tuesday, 18 December 2007

A records manager's review of 2007

The following was my contribution to a review of the year which is being published by CILIP. This was featured in the December edition of Library & Information Update Volume 6 (12) and my thanks to them for allowing me to reproduce it here.

2007 might best be summarised as the year in which the first cracks began to appear in the records management profession’s love affair with EDRM (Electronic Document & Records Management) Systems. Certainly rather than representing the unquestioned goal for all records managers, regardless of their sector or circumstance, a growing and welcome sense of professional balance finally seems detectable. This was certainly a noticeable trend at the annual conferences of both the Records Management Society and Society of Archivists detectable both in a number of presentations and in delegate ‘chatter’ between sessions. The arrival this year on the scene of Microsoft Office Sharepoint 2007 may represent both part of the cause and effect of this change. It may not be perfect from the records manager’s perspective, but so far as the average IT or business manager is concerned it undoubtedly ticks enough of the boxes to make them think twice about additional investment in any other ‘specialist’ records management systems.

Unfortunately when you expose 'false gods' it is inevitable that a period of doubt and uncertainty follows and my feeling is that this will colour the prevailing mood within records management during 2008. If we can no longer automatically rely on an EDRMS as our default response and the panacea to cure all our ills where will this leave us? In particular do we have an answer to the questions raised by the phenomenal rise and rise of Web2.0? As with many other branches of information management, records management is still currently trying to come to terms with a new climate where content is king, quantity is valued over quality and ‘the masses’ are all powerful. If you think that sounds like the complete antithesis of traditional records management then you’d be right. 2008 looks like being a very interesting year indeed…

Merry Christmas everyone and I look foward to plenty more discussion next year!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Our invisible profession

When a national incident such as an outbreak Foot & Mouth Disease occurs it is a sure bet that journalists and commentators will look to professionals such as vets, biologists and experts in disease control to explain what the problem is, what has gone wrong and what needs to be done to put it right. The same is true of virtually every other type of incident or accident you can imagine: from crash investigators and air traffic controllers after a mid-air collision; to surgeons after a series of botched operations.

Indeed for some professions it seems as though there presence is only ever recognised or given any consideration when a lapse or error by one of their number highlights the fact that they exist at all. I'm thinking here of the people who check the points on railway tracks, hospital cleaners or those responsible for checking machinery within a factory.

I mention this now because the overriding thought which struck me during the reporting of the loss of millions of child benefit records by the government was how invisible the records management profession seems to be in all of this. So far as I could see there was no 'records management experts' consulted by the media to explain what may have gone wrong, or what should have happened; nor even reference to the failure of records management as being a root cause.

In a story regarding just about the biggest and potentially most significant ever failure of records management in the UK the records management profession does not get a single mention, not one, neither as villain nor potential saviour; and that has to be a worry. Is our profile really that low? Is the true extent of our professional remit really that narrow and the impact of our actions really that negligible?

I hope not.

Friday, 16 November 2007

The future of the classification scheme

Leafing through the November issue of the Records Management Society Bulletin I was struck by the fact that three of the major papers within it all related directly to issues around classification and the creation of classification schemes.

This may reflect nothing more than sheer coincidence or editorial grouping, but the reason why it struck me as significant is when viewed next to the content of Paul Duller’s editorial piece 'Through the looking glass' which raised many of the challenges posed by the introduction of Web2.0 that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog. Put simply, I’m just not sure how the two concepts will co-exist in the future (assuming predictions of the rise and rise of Web2.0, especially in the form of Office2.0 prove accurate).

In this world we could see users choosing to store their information on a range of unconnected, often externally hosted and media specific systems: be that Google Docs for text files, Flickr for photos or YouTube for video clips. Sure it is still possible for us to identify and even document the functions and processes which are creating this information, but we have nothing left to hang this on. There is no underlying architecture which we can mould into the shape of our classification schemes; no way of joining up the disparate pieces save in ways which are completely divorced from the process of creating the information in the first place.

One of the papers, 'Don’t build your house on sand' by Jeff Morelli finishes by describing a robustly created business classification scheme as a ‘solid foundation (which) guarantees the long term viability of their electronic records management programme’. Unfortunately I fear that the longevity of such schemes’ contents may well be fatally undermined by our inability to continue to apply them to the volume and diversity of information our users are creating and the technology they are using to create them.

Friday, 26 October 2007

A new perspective on email management?

I’ve just returned from a stimulating couple of days at Julie Mcleod’s excellent Witness Seminar event on the management of e-communications. As with the first event in 2005 it bought together an interesting bunch of people to discuss a broad range of issues, this time associated with the management of email.

It would be impossible to try to summarise two days of excellent discussion in a single blog posting, so I won’t even try. Instead I thought I would focus on the reaction to my (unashamedly heretical) proposition that the answer to our problems with email is actually to keep it all. Given that this flies in the face of pretty much all accepted records management wisdom I wasn’t sure what reception this might get - especially as most of the first day’s debate had taken it for granted that our goal must be to find ways of applying accepted ‘good records management’ practice to email, such as mapping it against business processes, separating ‘email information’ from ‘email records’ and how to consistently apply retention management controls to separate the ‘wheat from the chaff’. But as it turned out a fair number of those presents seemed to agree that there might be some merit in this approach (with varying degrees of perfectly valid reservations).

So what prompted this tiny outburst of iconoclasm? Well, the more I think about it the more that the idea of taking a conscious business decision to keep all emails indefinitely (with a couple of important caveats) seems to make sense and for the following reasons:

1. It reflects the reality of the world as it is, not as we would wish it to be. Rightly or wrongly we live a in a world where Yahoo now offers infinite storage capacity and many of its rivals as good as the same. This reflects a world where users are used to having all the information they have ever had at their fingertips in their domestic life and cannot comprehend why this shouldn’t also be the case at work. We need to accept that the information game is now about volume.

2. It acknowledges that senior managers would prefer to spend $1m per year on additional storage space than invest in efforts to appraise, sort and destroy emails. Why keep trying to promote a message that no one wants to hear?

3. It acknowledges that the intended but inevitable consequence of imposing caps on email storage and usage is force the user to squirrel their emails away in a dozen unofficial and local storage areas which makes legal discover far more time consuming and expensive than it need be

4. It solves at a stroke the seemingly insurmountable problems that records managers have been unable to solve for 3 decades regarding which emails are information and which are records

5. Unlike the process of selection and appraisal, which must always (by definition) be selective it is the only course of action which is entirely free from bias and the risk of disposing of the email which today seems trivial but would have been deemed gold dust by future generations.

6. It’s not as expensive as you might think. Sure storage is not free but as a fellow delegate pointed out after a few ‘back of an envelope’ calculations: the cost of storing last year’s email is probably around 1/10th of the cost of storing this years so it will always be a proportionately small cost to store previous years email.

7. It may encourage more responsible email use. The best way to discourage fraud, defamation, e-bullying, libel etc is for staff to be very aware that whatever they write will be added and retained as part of the corporate knowledge base.

The caveats? Well, we need to make our spam filters as effective as possible, focus on improving de-duplication to ensure we are only keeping one copy of each email and we need to specifically tag emails containing personal data to ensure compliance with the Data Protection Act.

Okay so there will inevitably be a hundred other issues for us to resolve and still huge obstacles for us to navigate (not least how to ensure that our users can cope effectively with this volume of information). But we have to acknowledge that even after 30 years the contribution of records management to the management of email has so far been pretty negligible so maybe its time to start looking at this problem from a completely different perspective?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Retention by format, not content?

It is one of the basic truisms of records management theory: that decisions regarding retention requirements are made based on their content and 'regardless of format'. This was an especially useful mantra a decade or so ago when some users would otherwise see the electronic version of a document as some alien construct, completely divorced from its paper counterpart.

Its still a mantra we cling to today and trot out as our first instinctive response, but its limitations are becoming more and more obvious, for example when it comes to email. Yes, its easy for us to say to our users that they must manage the contents of their inbox not as emails, but according to the content they contain but this is seldom reflected in reality. The simple fact is that the sheer volume of emails faced by users makes this virtually impossible to achieve and the majority of decisions taken regarding the fate of email are either taken on an individual ad hoc basis ("I don't think I need this any more") or en masse ("I've run out of space allocation so lets delete all last year's emails/all emails with large attachments etc").

The news that UK phone companies are now bound by law to retain information about all telephone calls and text messages for one year sounds a further death knell in the practicality of the 'regardless of format' concept. Even though this data might be used for one of three levels of enquiry the decision has been made that all such information must be retained for the same period: regardless of content, subject or any other criteria. If its information about a phone call it is kept for 1 year - and that is retention based purely on format and 'regardless of content'.

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Feedback on the rise of Web2.0 and the need to develop Records Management2.0

I gave a repeat performance in London yesterday of my paper on the challenges to traditional records management posed by the rise of Web/Office2.0 and the need for us to develop radical new approaches to solving them. I allowed a good amount of time for discussion at the end of my paper and received some interesting and varied comments.

It’s difficult to recall and summarise every comment made, so my apologies to any of those who attended who feel I may have missed or misconstrued anything vital in the following.

Some (a minority I would guess) agreed whole-heartedly that this was a challenge that was definitely heading our way soon and agreed that we needed to be thinking along the kind of radical lines I was advocating (ie using the wisdom of the crowd to help manage the crowd in the way I outlined in Option 4 of my paper).

On the journey home I reflected that most of the other comments focused around two other main view points:

1. ‘This won’t affect my organisation’. This was because senior management in the public sector distrust any external agencies and would therefore never allow their information to be stored and managed by 3rd parties. In addition some of those present from the private sector felt their current policy framework which forbids use of non-corporate systems and claims corporate ownership of staff outputs would be enough to keep this at bay (effectively a combination of both Option 1 and 2 of my original four options)

2. ‘This will be someone else’s problem to deal with’. Interestingly one person in the audience already used online collaborative tools when working on projects with colleagues from other organisations, but felt that as she then ensured that the final record was captured in her organisational system that this largely neutralised the problem. If all staff are taught to do likewise we could therefore take advantage of the benefits, whilst circumventing the problems of managing this stuff as records (Also covered by ‘Option 2’ of my four options).

In addition others felt that it was down to our IT colleagues to provide a solution, a popular choice being for them to develop their own ‘in-house’ alternatives to external Web2.0 solutions which can then be safely rolled out within the organisation (‘Option 3’ of my four options!).

Personally and as stated in my original paper I do have severe doubts regarding the wisdom of relying on any of Option 1,2, or 3. In fact by the time I had read the newspaper on the journey home and opened up Google on my PC I had already found enough reasons why I feel these approaches are doomed to failure.

In response to the first scenario: make no mistake, regardless of the sector you work in I guarantee that your organisation will be affected by the implications of staff using Web/Office2.0 within the next two years. If in doubt, take a look at the range of organisations who have already signed up to use Google Apps including leading multi-national private companies, universities and even government departments. I also recalled Euan Semple’s keynote speech at this years RMS conference where he confidently predicted a world in the near future where the best and brightest young talent in the workforce would expect access to such sites as a basic human right and would refuse to join any organisation that denied them this.

As for the suspicion of senior management in the public sector to trust such sites, yesterday’s London Evening Standard included an article about the British Foreign Secretary, David Milliband: “asked if he intended to join the social networking Facebook craze, Mr Milliband said: ‘Eventually…" Now this might just be a case of a politician trying to appear in touch, but come election time you can guarantee a whole raft of MPs and potential MPs will be using just such systems to reach out to young voters. This could never be achieved by them creating their own version of Facebook (I can’t see HousesofParliamentBook being a big social hit somehow) which means I fear for this reason and many others that just leaving it to IT to produce officially endorsed versions of such systems for internal consumption is also a short-sighed approach. Its also one which suggests that we as records managers should restrict our sphere of influence to just managing the records and systems we already have (another suggestion made yesterday and one which to me seems like committing professional suicide)

One of the best quotes I heard at the conference yesterday came in conversation over lunch and summed up the situation perfectly: ‘You can’t stop a bulldozer by standing in front of it; the only way is to get behind the wheel and control it from there’. I couldn’t have put it better myself.


Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Two very different visions of the records management future

The latest edition of the Records Management Society Bulletin publication includes a lead article by Frank McKenna, CEO of Knowledgeone Corporation entitled ‘Technology as a tool: where is records and document management heading?'.

This is without doubt a far reaching piece which covers a wide spread of the technical developments likely to influence records management in the near future. These range from improved WiFi Services and RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology to wearable and even implanted computers. The amazing thing about this piece is that despite this radical depiction of a world transformed by technology the only unquestioned constant for the author appears to be the presence and continued central importance of an EDRMS (Electronic Document & Records Management System).

For each and every new technology mentioned McKenna discusses its likely impact not in terms of how it may fundamentally change user behaviour or the way our organisations' function (and therefore create records) but in what it may or may not mean for the development of the EDRMS. The following couple of quotes probably encapsulate this as well as anything – though there are plenty of others that could have been chosen:

“Better programming tools and techniques (.NET, SOA, PHP, AHA, Ajax, etc): Most of these make it easier and faster for IT people to roll out and support EDRMS solutions”

Or better still:

"As far as EDRMS solutions go I don’t really see records and information managers rushing out to get (micro) ‘chipped’, at least not within the next 10 years. After that who knows…”

Its almost as if EDRMS have become a kind of professional oxygen for us – our imaginations can foresee and invent all manner of wild, exciting and improbable futures which might await us, but apparently the one unquestioned and unchallenged constant within each of these brave new worlds, just like the air we must always breathe, is the EDRMS.

Contrast this rather disjointed vision of the future with Jesse Wilkins excellent blogging from the recent Office2.0 conference in San Francisco. No prior assumptions, no sacred cows – just matter-of-fact observations about the fundamental changes that are occurring in technology as we speak and what they may mean for information and records management.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Beginning the Records Management 2.0 journey

I mentioned in an earlier posting that the time would soon come when we need to move beyond identifying the problems facing the future of records management and to start the process of defining possible solutions.

The presentation that I gave last week to the Society of Archivist’s Annual General Conference in Belfast tried to take the first small and faltering steps in this direction by defining the four possible approaches to addressing the challenges posed by the rise of Web2.0 and Office2.0 which I would argue are open to the records management profession.

In summary I believe these four available options to be:
1. Ban all use
2. Rely on a policy framework
3. Enterprise Content Management
4. Records Management2.0

Further details on each can be found within the full text of my presentation now available via Slideshare (you will need to download the presentation rather than just view online as the full script is contained within the 'Notes' pane of each slide).

Naturally this is only the beginning of what will be a long and complex journey and one which will inevitably include many wrong turns, dead-ends and head scratching along the way. But it at least it promises to be an interesting trip! For anyone interested in hearing an expanded version of this paper, plus the opportunity to discuss the four options you might be interested to know that I shall be presenting another session on this topic at the forthcoming Unicom 'Records Management Update' conference in London on September 25th.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Beyond compliance - the future of records managment

Update the journal of CILIP has published an article of mine in their latest edition entitled 'Beyond compliance - the future of records management' as its cover story.

The paper looks at the compliance-based origins of records management and how we may struggle to fulfil this core objective in the future unless we are willing to see the limitations inherent in current practice.

As ever all thoughts and comments are welcome...

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

JISC infoNet Innovation in Records Management Award

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my concerns that despite its growth in recent years, the records management profession seems to have lost some of its desire to innovate and to find new solutions to both old and new problems.

It was partially to help recognise, reward and encourage those bucking this trend in the UK Higher and Further Education sectors that JISC infoNet have today announced the launch of the inaugral JISC infoNet Innovation in Records & Information Award sponsored by Facet Publishing.

We also hope that this award and especially the intention to make publicly available the content of the nominations we receive may itself play a small part in helping to stimulate further research and development in the future.

If you and your project meet the criteria we look forward to receiving your nomination!!

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Records Management Witness Seminar

Readers of ths blog may well be interested in an event being run in Newcastle this October. This is the second time Professor Julie McLeod has run a Records Management Witness Seminar, the first being one of the most innovative and stimulating records management events I have been part of. This second event, focused around email and e-communications looks equally as interesting.

2nd Northumbria University Witness Seminar Conference

Examining the issues & challenges of email & e-communications
Exploring strategies with Experts
St James Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
24-25th October 2007

"Email has transformed business but it can be a nightmare" … and instant messaging, skype etc are set to do the same thing! But are we successfully managing the information created by these technologies?

Join a group of records management, IT, management and legal experts, from the UK, Australia & Canada abroad, and engage in the exploration of key issues for managing records from email and other e-communications technologies. Contribute your own knowledge and experience to the debate as we examine:

· the business perspective - what are the records management implications & challenges of doing business electronically?
· the people perspective – are people the problem and the solution?
· the technology perspective - problem or panacea?
· moving forward – futurewatch.

If you want to develop a strategy for tackling email and position your organisation to manage its records in today’s highly distributed, mobile environment then this is the event for you.

The one and a half-day conference builds on the success of our first ‘witness seminar conference’ in May 2006. The three ‘witness seminars’ and a panel discussion offer a rare opportunity for anyone interested and/or involved in managing their organisation’s email/e-communications records to listen, learn from, actively discuss and network with a broad range of experts and other delegates.

‘Witnesses’ include: Steve Bailey, David Bowen, a partner form Crutes Law Firm, Adrian Cunningham (National Archives of Australia), Jonathan Downes, Ishbel Duncan, Catherine Hare, Mike Huberty, Heather Jack, John McDonald (Canada), Michael Moss, Martin Sanderson, Zoe Smyth, David Wainwright, Geoff Walker, Teresa Waring, Ian Wooler.

The conference fee is £300 (includes lunch and refreshments both days, an evening event at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and conference proceedings on publication). For booking and detailed information of the event, which is being sponsored by Iron Mountain (UK) Ltd and Emerald Publishing, please visit the conference website at www.northumbria.ac.uk/rmwitness07

Early booking is advisable as places are limited to 50 delegates.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Defining 'Records Management 2.0'

In a previous post I mentioned that I am speaking on the subject of the need for Records Management2.0 in response to the changes we are seeing in the use of ICT thanks to Web2.0. Well my thoughts on this same concept and why I believe it is now required are also described in an article and Podcast for the lastest JISC Inform magazine.

As readers of this blog will know I have written and presented fairly extensively over recent months on the challenges posed by the rise of Web2.0 and Office2.0 and why I believe the records management profession needs to address them. What I plan to do now is to start to move beyond this - after all, it's no good just repeating that we have a problem unless we then start to work out what we might do about it! I certainly wouldn't claim to have all the answers, or even to yet fully understand all the questions but as the classic saying goes ' the journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step' - so I guess it is time to lace up the boots.

For me the journey starts in Belfast with a paper at the end of this month at the Society of Archivist's Annual Conference where I hope to map out some of the main themes and approaches open to us. I'll be making the content of this paper available online afterwards so will provide a link to it in due course. In the meantime it would be great to hear the thoughts of others as to how records management may adapt to meet these challenges, or indeed if you disagree with the need to reinvent it at all!

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

First chink in the armour of Office2.0?

I was interested to read an email sent to me and all other users of the spresent web2.0 presentation application promoting a new version of the product - Spresent WinTonic. According to the product blurb this version (for which there is an annual licence fee as opposed to the free version I currently use) is 'spresent for windows'. The rationale for this development is, according to their FAQs, because of notebook computers and the fact that "Notebooks are not always connected to the Web, so having Spresent installed on computer would allow to work on presentations at any time"

Several thoughts as to what this might imply spring to mind. On the one hand it could just be viewed as the developers simply plugging an obvious gap in their product and thus helping to improve the user experience, which in turn is likely to increase take-up of such services.

However, I also suspect another by-product of this kind of thing will be to further blur the distinction between a user's desktop and their online activities - further adding to management complexity. I haven't seen any information about how it handles online/offline version control and synchronisation and would be interested to see how this works and what sort of 'footprint' is left behind on the user's machine.

But could it also be that the release of this product is recognition that most people are not yet ready to take the leap into a fully online existence? After all taking a fully online, zero-footprint, web2.0 application and then sticking a little bit of it back on the client desktop does seem like abit of a 'one step forward, two steps back' moment in the overall evolution of web/office 2.0.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

'Records Management Update' Conference

Readers of this blog might be interested in attending a one day seminar being held in London on 25th September. Its a Records Management Update seminar and promises a varied and interesting looking programme exploring many of the themes covered within this blog.

My own contribution on the day will be to present a session which asks 'Is it time for records management 2.0'

Hoep to see you there!

Further information and booking details are available from www.unicom.co.uk/recordsmanagement

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Archivists as "Data Storage Specialists"

I was interested to read a letter from my old colleague, David Ryan, published in that 'Bible' of the IT industry Computer Weekly a couple of weeks ago. David's letter serves to remind both the IT industry, and perhaps equally importantly we as professional archivists and records managers, that our professional skills in data storage are greatly - an increasingly - needed in the digital world. The question is, why aren't we better at promoting ourselves in this way and what can we as a profession do to address this?

David's letter is reproduced in full below.


Dear Sir,

Re: Storage Reports in Computer Weekly, 22 May 2007

Having been a qualified Archivist, and therefore, a Data Storage Specialist, for over twenty years, I was bemused at your recent reports on the alleged lack of career definition in data storage and the legal issues surrounding storage. I have been within the last decade Head of Information Management for a major pharmaceutical company and more recently, Head of Digital Preservation at the UK National Archives, where I designed the PRONOM file format recognition system and, with colleagues, built TNA's Digital Archive.

I, like many other archivists, have written on the topic on data retention. In 1997, ten years ago, the Records Management Journal published an article by Steve Bailey and myself on the uses of a retention schedule database. This was based on practical experience. It may be useful for your readers who are dealing with the ever growing volume of data their organisations produce, to consult not only their in-house counsel but their local Records Manager or alternatively, seek advice from the Records Management Society or Society of Archivists. The members of these two bodies are dealing with the selection of data for long term storage in all formats on a rational basis every day of their working lives.

David Ryan

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Digital preservation & the Microsoft Virtual PC 2007

An interesting press announcement from The National Archives today regarding a new arrangement with Microsoft which allows TNA to take advantage of the Microsoft Virtual PC for preservation purposes.

It seems as though this may well represent a very useful way forward for dealing with stand alone or simple OLE (Object Linking & Embedding) MS Office files. Such content certainly represents a large proportion of many organisation's digital holdings so this looks like a promising development.

Of course the Microsoft Virtual PC will not provide an environment for being able to access any of the countless examples of non-MS file formats and systems that exist ranging from CAD packages to multi-media files - nor will it be an answer for how to access content stored in databases of long forgotten and unsupported formats. I've also been reliably informed that there might be some additional complexities when trying to accurately render Exchange/Outlook files, but it is a start nonetheless.

What was also interesting was the comments Natalie Ceeney made on Radio 4 today to accompany this announcement. As well as drawing on the classic cause celebre such as the varying fortunes of the Domesday Books of 1066 & 1986 she pointed out how the issues of digital prevation now mean much more to the ordinary person in the street thanks to the range of digital sources people now rely on in their every day lives. Perhaps a few crashed hard drives and lost digital photos will help get the bigger message across where previous attempts have largely failed...

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Google providing University email services (and more)

I suspect some in the UK records management community will have read my previous postings regarding the rise and rise of Office2.0 and its inevitable impact on records management with a certain amount of disbelief.

For those of us working in the higher education sector that future is already here. If you don’t believe me take a look at this story on the BBC website about Trinity College Dublin’s decision to outsource its student email service to Google.

And that is only the tip of the iceberg as the following quote from the same article illustrates:

“The offer to higher education also includes free online tools, hosted by Google, which allow students to work on files from any internet-connected computer, on campus, at home or anywhere else.”

That’s right; Google won’t just be hosting all student and staff emails, but potentially all the documents, spreadsheets and other files students create as well.

No more storage costs, no need for resource-driven retention management, no need for classification schemes, file plans or thesauri, no need for back-ups and disaster recovery...

Okay so we as records managers might disagree with the validity of some or all of the above statements, but you can bet your bottom dollar that this is exactly what senior managers are thinking.

The business case for an institutional EDRM system just got a lot harder to sell...

Monday, 11 June 2007

JISC Web2.0 for teaching and learning report

A very interesting report has recently been published by JISC. Web2.0 for content for teaching and learning in Higher Education by Tom Franklyn and Mark van Harmelen makes many interesting observations and though (as the title would suggest) focusing on the teaching and learning world has much to interest those concerned with the impact of web2.0 on administrative systems and processes. Indeed I would be very interested to see a sister report produced on just this area.

One of the key issues addressed by this report is the pros and cons of an institution developing their own brand 'official' versions of web2.0 applications for use by their staff and students' versus allowing use of externally provided commercial systems. As the report itself makes clear there are certainly advantages to the first route and this is likely, I suspect, to be the favoured option with records managers: not least because of the potential it provides to impose a greater degree of control over this space. It may not be the kind of micro level of control we are used to aiming for, but could at least provide the means of designing applications with certain records management functionality built within it (bearing in mind the need to retain the kind of 'light touch approach in the use of regulations that might constrain experimentation' advocated by Franklyn and van Harmelen).

The question is, however, whether it will prove possible to keep the genie of commercial systems in the bottle and whether institutions will be sufficiently able to pace with the sophistication and functionality required to satisfy user demand. Or whether as a consequence of resource issues and the slower nature of development within large organisations they will forever be playing catch up and trying to enforce use of systems which look obsolete as soon as they are launched. In fact the report provides its own evidence of the liklihood of this occuring with references to the fact that no institutions have attempted to develop their own instant messenger system thanks to the success of MSN, Skype etc...

It is also questionable whether this approach takes sufficent notice of the increasing breakdown of work/leisure use of IT that seems to be taking place. Put simply the student with a passion for photography who has used Flickr at home to build up a large portfolio of images is more likely to want to continue to use Flickr for any images they produce as part of their formal coursework, than the university 'own brand' system.

Lastly, the report also comments on the difficulty of managing version control, audit trails and ensuring the longterm preservation of web2.0 content. Further evidence of how the need for the fundamental principles of records management continue to be relevant regardless of technological innovation - it's just how we achieve them that needs to be reconsidered.

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Records vs Information

Not surprisingly there has been abit of debate sparked by some of my earlier posts about the whole records vs information/knowledge debate.

Of course one answer to this whole ‘march of web2.0’ debate might be to take refuge in the fact that by and large the content created by such systems do not represent business records and therefore are not our problem.

As records managers we have traditionally been in the fortunate position of only dealing with a small proportion of the information created by an organisation: that which fulfils the criteria of a ‘record’. Could we not just dismiss the vast majority of the outputs of Web2.0 applications and services as mere ‘information’ and leave it to its own devices? In theory I guess we could, but my strong feeling is that we shouldn’t.

Firstly, I would point to the fact that the traditional divisions between records and information are beginning to become less clear cut and of less relevance than they once were. An example? Consider the Freedom of Information Act. It is just that – a freedom of information act. It makes no distinction between whether the text is held within the context of a formal business record or on the back of a fag packet. Both are covered by the same conditions and both may well be treated as being of equal significance by the recipient.

Secondly, it can act as a distraction to the main issues. Look at email, we spent (and still sometimes spend) a great deal of time and intellectual effort trying to determine whether an email did or didn’t count as a record instead of just trying to work out how to manage the damn things.

Thirdly, unless we start to cast our professional net as wide as possible we risk becoming less and less relevant to our organisations. Let me illustrate what I mean with some spurious statistics but ones which will hopefully explain my point. Forty years ago in the days of typing pools, formal registry systems and memos the percentage of an organisation’s information that we would acknowledge to be ‘records’ may have been around 80-90%. Twenty years ago with the birth of the PC this may have dropped to 60% (as the amount of informal drafts and ‘documents’ etc increased). Ten years ago with the birth of email, rise of relational databases etc the percentage of the total information within our organisations that we considered to be within our professional remit may have dropped to 30%. Now with the exponential rise in information being created with terabytes of research data, geo-spatial data, image files, multi-media files etc our records management programmes may only be covering less than 5% of our total information holdings.

Now you and I may know that not all information is equal and that our 5% is actually the most important – but is that something widely understood by the rest of the organisation? There is a very real risk that senior management might start to look at this from a risk management perspective: ‘okay, so I know that your tiny percentage of ‘records’ are more important than some of this other stuff, but getting value out of the other 95% of our information (the stuff that represents our intellectual capital) is a far bigger priority which adds value and promises a return on investment. I’ll spend my money there and take the risk thanks…."

Where the challenge (and the opportunity) now exists is in the fact that this other 95% of the information we hold does needs many of the management and governance controls that form the basis of records management to be applied to it. The trick for us is to work out which bits and most importantly how given the radically different environment in which this needs to operate.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Digital Repositories - getting to grips with the same issues

I have been an interested observer of the world of digital repositories for the past couple of years. Not least because of the multi-million pound investment from JISC and others into this area to create repositories which whilst not necessarily records management systems ('all records management systems are repositories, but not all repositories are records management systems' - discuss!) are clearly very associated with them and the objectives of records management. I have had, and indeed continue to have, many interesting discussions with colleagues more closely involved in this area regarding the degree of overlap between these two agendas and the need to join the communities of practice for mutual benefit. As the scope of these repositories begins to widen from 'white' and 'grey' literature (i.e. published and non-published research papers) towards housing things like research grant applications, minutes of meetings and other 'corporate records' so the opportunities (and risks) of cross-over or lack of increase further.

By their own admission the respository community is beginning to struggle to know how best to tackle issues such as the need for version control and tracking audit trails. Records managers have a great deal to offer here in terms of our experience in these issues - I just hope that within institutions that expertise is being tapped into.

However, what struck me having attended the first day of the JISC Dealing with the Data Deluge workshop in Manchester today is an even more fascinating parallel between the two agendas.

Those responsible for implementing and maintaining institutional repositories are beginning to notice exactly the same impact from the rise of Web2.0 as I have been predicting for records management. They are beginning to notice that users are turning away from the structured, formal, well managed official repository and are instead turning to 'quick and dirty' services offered by externally hosted services - and in particular to those services that people are using in their lives outside work such as Flickr etc.

The keynote speaker, Andy Powell from Eduserv advocated viewing repositories as just another web resource (as this is the way in which users do), rather than from the system architecture perspective to make sure that we start asking ourselves the right questions. That way we might start to understand what makes these web2.0 systems so attractive to users and to learn lessons from this. Andy's presentation will soon be available from slideshare but wasn't up yet at the time of writing this. Incidently, posting it on slideshare is of course just another example of how an online service is being used right here and now to store and manage a record folks...

So the repositories community are today facing what we as records managers will have to face tomorrow. The approved institutional repository may be a carefully designed, well structured and tightly managed system which adheres to best practice and adopts standard metadata but the signs are that this is not what the user wants. They want something looser and more free. Something with less boundaries and walls that enable them to reuse their material. They want to be able to call it whatever they and their community want to and to access it wherever they are, unfettered by constraint. They want to be able to find it in Google and share it with who ever they choose and if the formal systems being imposed on them can't deliver this - there are a host of online services out there which will...

Friday, 1 June 2007

The rise and rise of Office 2.0

Continuing on the theme of my last post about the demise of enterprise architectures & the rise of emergent systems.

One of the greatest challenges we as information managers will soon face is the increasing use by staff of externally provided online business applications. I mentioned a few examples of social software that falls into this category such as Facebook, what I didn't mention was the whole Office 2.0 movement.

Those in the vanguard of this movement foresee the day in the very near future where a user's PC need contain nothing more than a web browser: no applications, no content files. Just a browser. Far fetched? Take a look at this site for a fascinating glimpse not only of the incredible range of Office 2.0 applications already out there, but also of how one user is beginning to pull them together to operate in a purely online realm.

Of course the draw back of 100% reliance on online applications is that without a connection to the internet you are unable to do anything. Now this is less of a problem than it was even a couple of years ago thanks to high speed domestic broadband and the ever increasing spread of wireless hotspots around our towns and cities but there are undoubtedly still gaps in provision (I can testify to this living in rural Herefordshire!).

Now those good folks at Google appear to be actively addressing the issues raised by the online/offline gap with a product called Google Gears which will allow offline access of web resources and applications by caching them on a user's drive and then automatically synchronising when they are back on line. Interestingly the Guardian article this morning specifically comments on the potential this development could have for bringing Google closer into competition with Microsoft when it comes to business applications claiming:

Docs - which incorporates word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs - works only with an active internet connection. Allowing it to operate on a computer's hard drive would bring it into competition with the dominant Microsoft Office brand and mark the latest step in Google's slow but inexorable invasion of the Seattle-based software company's territory.

Lets think about this from the Records Manager's perspective. We may moan about Microsoft and we may complain that users never store documents in the right place on the network - but at least they are using our version of the software and storing their information on our network. The user will soon be in a position to cut out the middleman (ie the corporate structure and records management) completely.

Try selling a clunky, restrictive EDRM system to a user or a project team who can save what they want where they want and share it with who they want via Google Docs or whatever other provider takes their fancy...

Of course we could just ban our staff from using such technology and insist they use the corporate systems provided. Indeed I am sure many will take this approach at first (with varying degrees of success) but I strongly suspect we will only be able to hold back the waves for so long. Rather than pretending it doesn't exist and hoping it will go away, we might be advised to start seriously thinking about what this will mean for records management and what role (if any) it has to play in this new world.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The end of the Records Manager as 'Philosopher King'?

Colleagues who attended the Gartner Symposium IT XPO in Barcelona brought back some fascinating stuff. Not least of which was the text of a presentation by Brian Burke a research analyst at Garter entitled Architecting for Emergence: New Game, New Rules. His paper charts the decline of the hierarchical, structured enterprise architecture and what we are now seeing in terms of its replacement by emergent systems.

I won't attempt to summarise his entire paper, but the following quote perhaps gives a pretty clear flavour of the crux of his argument:

"increasingly technology is becoming the catalyst for emergent behaviour where individuals motivated by differing goals interact to create a higher level of intelligence without the benefits of hierarchical structure. In all these structures there are clear rules that limit behaviour but do not dictate evolution"

At the outset of his paper he makes the historical comparison between Plato's concept of 'Philosopher Kings' (highly educated & solely possessed of the ability to understand abstract representations of classes of object) and enterprise architects. Plato believed the ruling class of Philosopher Kings to be an integral part of the way in which a belevolent dicatatorship functions. Burke argues that the modern enterprise is a belevolent dictatorship and that imposing such a centralised 'command and control' structure on its workers stiffles creativity and innovation and severely limits effective decision making.

To my mind Records Managers can equally be described as Philosopher Kings with the same penchant for imposing as many structures, restraints and rules on users as it possibly can. This may be for what we would argue are sound and justified reasons, but this does not lessen the burden it places on users, nor the resentment it causes.

Nor, and here is the really important part, is it scalable. We are living in an exponential age where information is now measured in terabytes and users are beginning to make increasing use of a plethora of systems to create and manipulate information. Furthermore, many of these systems are now hosted and made available by external service providers and are rapidly beginning to take over the role once performed by 'corporate' systems (for example academics preferring to use Facebook to contact their students, rather than the institutional Virtual Learning Environment or using Flickr to store photographs rather than an institutional repository).

Old style 'command and control' records management can't cope with this. What weight will arguments about retention management to save resources have when Google and others are promising to host all of your documents for ever for free? Besides, how are users supposed to apply series-level retention schedules and micro-appraise such vast volumes of data? Most of the assumptions on which the theory is based no longer apply. Equally it is futile to think the best solution is simply to ban staff from using such systems and naive to think it will never affect the organisation you work for, regardless of the sector it is in. Emergent systems and Web 2.0 are here to stay. If records management wants to remain relevant we are going to have to rethink our existing role as an enthusiastic part of the benevolent dictatorship and start considering how we can continue to play an important and meaningful role in the mangement of information in a very different future.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

"Why I prefer hardcopy" - bizarre...

I've just finished reading one of the most bizarre articles to appear in the RMS Bulletin for many a year. It is entitled 'Why I prefer hardcopy' and is by Katrina Hughes. It first appeared in Freepint and is well worth a read for its novelty value.

It really does have some odd statements in it, such as "if you do not have the computer resources to print something out, only one person can look at an electronic document at a time". Now I wouldn't like to hazard a guess at how many people are looking at the BBC website simultaneously but I wouldn't mind betting its more than one.

She also makes some rather strange remarks about the portability of paper over electronic documents. Okay, so it might be easier to read one page of paper on a bus than open your laptop but its hardly a scalable argument. New drug submissions to the FDA used to take up several lorries worth of paper. Not surprisingly they now ask for them on CD ROM...

Finally (and it was at this point I really lost the will to live) she claims that hardcopy is better because it is so much easier to find than electronic copies, noting that "when you download a document from the internet... sometimes the name of the file doesn't match the title of the document. Inevitably, the file name contains numbers and letters that jumble into a code that may even include non-alpha-numeric characters. I have difficulty finding documents I just downloaded."

Now would you like to tell this worker in the "information industry" about how to rename a document, or shall I?.....

For a far more interesting glimpse of how the worlds of paper and electronic media are converging take a look at Xerox's plans for a new printing technology which does not require ink and results in reusable electronic paper...

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Changing attitudes towards EDRMS?

To my mind there was a noticable, and welcome, sign of changing attitudes towards EDRMS (Electronic Document & Records Management Systems) at this years RMS Annual Conference in Brighton last week.

Previous years have seen a virtual total dominance of the conference agenda by EDRMS, either through vendors demonstrating them, consultants advising on implementing them, or practitioners explaining what they have done/would like to do with them. Even when a session was not about EDRM the implicit assumption throughout would always be that this was still the only goal in town.

Okay so this year's programme still saw more than its fair share of EDRM-focused sessions, particularly on day 2, but to my mind there was more than a whiff of the rear guard action about some of what was said. Having heard an excellent presentation on day 1 from Euan Semple about the challenges posed by Web 2.0 and social software presenters seemed to be working hard to try to demonstrate how developing an EDRM is still the answer to such changing and challenging times.

This was echoed by the flavour of many of the conversations I either had or overheard between sessions. More than one delegate expressed the view that they no longer believed EDRM was the answer (something rarely if ever heard even as recently as last year). The trouble appears to be that whilst people may have fallen out of love with the idea of EDRM they do not know what other options to pursue.

Why this is and where this might leave us is a theme to return to another day...