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.