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.


Parramatta 1807 - A Fiction said...

Steve, it does appear as if the real battle is between classification and miscellany and I'm glad that's the case. The lack of success of EDRM systems is explicable only if the classification schemes have put the users off - well, my opinion anyway. So much of the new information is not heirarchial. Have you seen the You Tube video on "Everything is Miscellaneous" at

Rachel Hardiman said...

Hello Steve,

Classification must be the topic du jour; there are some interesting posts on the RMAA listserv as well, for anyone who wants to check them out (I won't quote as I don't have the permission of the authors).

I agree that we need to properly evaluate the work we are asking the BCS to do in a rapidly changing technological world, but it seems to me that a lot of difficulty arises from confusion and cross-contamination between the concepts of classifcation and search-and-retrieval, which are not at all the same thing, frequently coupled with the unhelpful presentation of what should be the back end of a system (the BCS or full file-plan) as an anti-intuitive and cumbersome front end for users.

IMO, functional classification still has an important role in the management of corporate records and recorded information, but it shouldn't necessarily form the visible interface or be the only permissible gateway to records and information. The big question is how to capture the metadata necessary for any sort of corporate classification scheme while still allowing people full use of Web 2.0 functionality and facilitating 'natural' ways of working with documents and data. Perhaps we need to think in terms of a sort of 'glove' layer in the corporate software environment, that almost seamlessly mediates access to web-based applications, only kicking in to force some sort of tagging or capture on sending and receiving from these external environments?

dasmacintosh said...

In my opinion a classification scheme serves a range of purposes as well as being able to help people find stuff

For a recordkeeper, Business Classification Schemes (BCS) serve distinct purposes.

1. They enable the recordkeeper to recognize business transactions that generate records (evidence) of the organisations business activities.
2. They provide a guide as to how those transactions and records support the organisations activities and functions. i.e. a BCS should link municipality records to their business context
3. This guide then acts as a catalyst for identifying which records need to be captured and how long these records need to be kept.
4. In turn, this means that evidence, in the form of organizational records, is systematically captured and managed for as long as they are needed to support the Organisation's business activities.

While I can see huge changes occuring in the Classification mileau, I think what records people need to focus on is how these changes will affect these distinct recordkeeping purposes.