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!


Matthew Zawadzki said...


I've been reading your blog with interest since it began, and it is both thought provoking and pertinent to many of the issues practicioners are grappling with today. As an observation though, and a mild counter argument I think the implied criticism of EDRMS needs to be based upon more solid foundations. For example (and notwithstanding the significant issues that implementing EDRMS brings) I am clear why we, as an institution, purchased an EDRMS. I can see the clear benefits it could bring, if it were properly resourced and rolled out in terms of capturing and managing large quantities of unstructured data. I regularly see the problems of not managing electronic data consistently or with little regard to the benefits of proper information management, and this in turn provides me with solid arguments as to why a different approach should be taken to managing electronic records (by whatever platform / application). Simply to say though(and I summarise your blog entry here) that there are a growing number of practicioners who are openly questioning whether EDRMS is the panacea to their problems is not particularly convincing. What exactly are the issues? How exactly do practicioners who aren't convinced by EDRMS propose to deal with the issues of electronic record keeping within their organisations? By expanding on these issues you might well start to expose the 'false gods' in a far more effective way than simply stating it with little evidence to back it up.
I think your scepticism is healthy and challenging for the profession, especially with the the rise of web2.0, but it needs a more robust evidence based approach if it is to start truly convincing organisations that there are better / different alternatives to EDRMS.

With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

Steve Bailey said...

Hi Matthew,

I don't disagree with what you say about my 'review' being a gross oversimplication. In my defense I was limited by the available space for this reflection to around 300 words or so - which is not much to try to summarise my thoughs about an entire profession over 12 months! Its probably also worth saying that I was describing what I (rightly or wrongly) perceived to be a general change in attitude amonst the profession, rather than attempting to provide a detailed critique of EDRMS.

You are right to point out that it is a complex and varied subject and it would be equally as misguided to claim that EDRM is 'always a bad thing', as it is to assume that it is 'always a good thing' as i have been trying to caution against for some time.

Detailed debate and well founded argument are definitely vital and if this blog can in some small measure help encourage this then it will be achieving its aims.

Finally, you might be interested to know that there will be a debate on whether EDRMS are a good thing or not at next year's RMS conference which should prove extremely interesting and provide more scope for detailed discussion.

Best wishes


Red Kite said...

Thoughtful and thought-provoking as ever, Steve.

My main concern is that you (seem to) classify EDRM systems as static, never-changing, monolithic systems.

Nothing could be further from the truth. They are rapidly evolving to keep up with the challenges posed by Web2.0.

As far as the Microsoft 2007 RM offering is concerned, I'm not convinced it does what it says on the tin. For the records management industry to pin its hopes and invest considerable time, money and organisational skills on an unproven architecture looks a bit premature to me.

Steve Bailey said...

Hi Red Kite,

I wouldn't necessarily disagree with what you say about MOSS07. However, the point I was making is a different one from a discussion of its actual RM merits

"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"

I always get a bit twitchy when we records managers start to think that just because we give something the seal of professional approval/disapproval that that should be the end of the matter. In reality there are a host of other factors which will influece an organisation when it comes to system selection and the point that i was trying to make was that for the non-RM specialist MOSS07 appears to be close enough to an EDRM to make it a viable alternative.

Anonymous said...

Steve, I think you are on the right track. In my experience EDRMS work well if you have a team of specialists inputting and retrieving but they usualy fail to get other staff to input & retrieve. A product like MS Sharepoint offers weblike environment that most people understand and hopefully is more readily usable. It doesn't have the nice RM components yet but maybe over time it will. I see it as contest between having little content managed well and lots of content managed not so well.
Mary Ann