Tuesday, 28 October 2008

What's in a name?

Alan Bell raises some interesting issues in a recent posting about the wisdom (or not) of ‘Records Management2.0’ as term, his main argument being that although the technology and how we need to do things has changed this has not, and should not, change our fundamental goals and objectives and that as such “ all this talk of version 2.0 is perhaps not as helpful as it could be”.

As the person who coined the phrase Records Management2.0 (though hardly original I know) it may be surprising to hear that I don’t necessarily disagree with much of Alan’s argument, as the following extract from my keynote at the RMS conference indicates:

“The archive and records management professions are innately conservative; indeed we rightly pride ourselves on taking the ‘long view’, a position that is entirely appropriate when you consider that we are responsible for record collections often spanning several centuries. But, I would argue that whilst our professional goals and objectives should remain absolutely fixed and solid, this does not mean that our methodology and working practice must do likewise. The two are not inextricably linked and indeed it is not just desirable, but necessary, that we are prepared to constantly and fundamentally challenge the way in which we do things, to ensure that we are fit and able as a profession to continue to strive to achieve our objectives”

Where Alan and I do differ, I think, is in the degree of change required; whether this does or doesn’t justify the moniker ‘2.0’ and the practical usefulness of it as a term. For all the reasons laid out in my book I do believe that the issues raised by the Web2.0 movement – and not just of a technical nature, but reflecting the changing attitudes and behaviour of users, the nature of organisations and how information is viewed in culture and society – do fundamentally challenge enough of the old order of records management to make a clear division with what has gone before both necessary and desirable. Though at the same time we should not lose sight of the fact that for all the apparent difference implied by the 2.0 suffix, it is still attached to the term ‘Records Management’ and as such there is more that unites us than divides us.

In many respects I think Alan’s thoughts and this response demonstrate that the term Records Management2.0 is serving its intended purpose. I believe the most important role it can currently play is in raising awareness of the issues and generating debate (and hopefully solutions) about what this means for the records management profession. My own view remains that the depth and degree of rethinking and change required does legitimise the decision to call it something other than just ‘records management’, and given that such change is a direct result of the impact of Web2.0 it seems to make sense to me to be obvious about that link.

For me, another advantage of keeping a very deliberate and obvious link between Web2.0 and Records Management2.0 is to avoid confusion about its aims. From some of the responses I have received both from some individuals and professional bodies I do sometimes worry that people think I am advocating throwing out all that has gone before and replacing it wholesale with the kinds of methods and techniques outlined in the book. Nothing could be further from the truth. Where records management works, great. We have ISO15489 and a raft of other standards and best practice telling us all how to do it in time-honoured fashion and there is little or no place (for now at least) to be taking the kind of steps that I am advocating. Hopefully the Records Management2.0 title makes it clear that what I am talking about are solutions designed to fit very particular issue – those with their origins very firmly in the technology and movement that we know as Web2.0.

Friday, 24 October 2008

A Records Manager's 2.0 Manifesto

Taking our inspiration from Laura Cohen's Library 2.0 Manifesto, the following 12 statements were agreed by contributors to an online forum hosted on the Records Management2.0 Ning social network held on Friday 3rd October.

The aim of this manifesto is to encourage records professionals to positively embrace the opportunities and challenges presented by the increasing use of online technologies (variously referred to as Web2.0, Office2.0 social software, cloud computing and Software as a Service) within their organizations and to actively consider their implications for records management theory and practice. By doing so we hope to encourage debate within the profession, promote research and stimulate innovation – thus empowering records managers to play a full and important contribution to the shaping of this major new IT paradigm.

A full list of those who contributed to the drafting of this manifesto is included at the bottom of this document.

1. I recognize that the world of information culture is changing fast and that records management needs to respond positively to these changes to provide systems, policies, advice and services that are helpful to my organization, my teams and my colleagues.
2. I will educate myself about the information culture of my users and look for ways to incorporate what I learn into the records management solutions we offer.
3. I will let go of previous practices if there is a better way to do things now and will actively work towards the elaboration and formulation of new principles and practices.
4. Whilst I recognize the need for final assured quality in record-keeping systems this should not inhibit constant experimentation, innovation and development.
5. I will help users to take advantage of the Web2.0 services they need to deliver the agreed benefits to our organization.
6. I will avoid requiring users to see things in records management terms but, rather, will shape services to reflect users' preferences and expectations.
7. I recognize that records management does not have all the answers and will work openly, collaboratively and constructively with other IM and IT professionals in tackling the issues we face.
8. I recognize that it is not easy for users to keep records and will endeavor to develop automated and embedded RM solutions so as not to add unnecessary burdens to their working life.
9. I will work to improve the organization’s capability of keeping and understanding its records so far as is possible, whilst recognizing that we will never have perfect solutions for capturing and managing our records.
10. I will, at all times, strive to maintain a balance between the needs of my users and the legal, regulatory and operational requirements of my organization.
11. I recognize that although technology moves quickly, organizations often change slowly and will work to expedite our responsiveness to change, whatever its pace.
12. I will strive to deliver a service both users and management can trust and that is transparent and open to all stakeholders.

Contributors to the drafting of the above include:
Steve Bailey, Matthew Brown, Clare Cowling, Nicola Franklin, Rachel Hardiman, Tony Haworth, James Lappin, Elizabeth Lomas, Ton de Looijer, Tom Munzer, Phillip Ruston, Nicole Schulz

We are currently exploring the possibility of having this manifesto officially 'endorsed' by some of our professional bodies and would love to hear from any representatives from such bodies. We would also be interested to hear what individual records professionals think about the manifesto and how best to further promote its contents to our fellow professionals

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

What happens when there are no 'clouds' in sight?

Its all very well outsourcing your mission critical applications to 3rd party providers, but what happens if they prove to be less reliable than expected?

The recent outage of Gmail for 24 hours seems to have reminded many IT managers of some of the potential downsides of cloud computing and of no longer being a master of their own domain (literally!).

"a major concern and objection to SaaS applications is their performance and availability, since they're provided by the vendor via the Internet and accessed by end users through browsers. When the applications become slow or altogether unavailable because of problems in the vendors' data centers, IT administrators have little to do but sit and wait for the problem to be fixed. This often creates extremely stressful and tense situations for them if the outages are prolonged and their end users become angry."

More details of this incident and the problems caused are available from Computerworld