Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Practicing what we preach

There are not many days where I end up thinking, ‘God, why do I bother’, but today just happens to be one of them.

Few records and information managers would surely disagree that a large part of what we preach to others are:
- managing information appropriately
- providing access to information to only those who require it
- describing information appropriately to facilitate easy resource discovery
- limiting the amount of information being created, circulated and stored to a required minimum

I suspect that even fewer of us would disagree that the number of emails we all receive represent a major burden for us all as users. Indeed, I suspect many of us have produced guidance material or run training events designed to encourage our users to manage email appropriately and broadly in line with the aims I stated above.

So why, in the name of all that is holy, is it that a group of information and records managers seem singularly unable or unwilling to apply these same principles to their own activities?

Those who are not a member of a closed jiscmail list for information and records managers and compliance officers working in the UK FE/HE sectors will not know what I am talking about, but those who are most certainly will!

Here’s how it goes. One of the important functions of the list which has evolved over time is for institutions to check with colleagues whether other institutions have received the same FOI request (so called ‘round robins’ where one person sends a blanket request to a large number of institutions are surprisingly common and it can clearly be useful to know if the request received falls into this category). Now I clearly see the value in this and have no wish to interfere with this function at all. At the same time, the amount of email traffic this generates is quite considerable and usually consists of one person asking ‘has anyone received a request relating to X’ followed by somewhere between a dozen and twenty or more people replying saying ‘received here’ or ‘no, not received here’. Useful for the requestor and those others interested in such things, extremely irritating for those already snowed under by email and who have no need for such information.

After one particularly busy day of such email I suggested applying a little bit of information management to this problem (a radical idea I know). How about we agree a consistent subject heading for such requests? How about the person who originally sends the request uses the prefix ‘Round robin:…..’. Then those who do not wish to receive these emails can simply use the ‘rules’ functionality within their email client to automatically route such messages to their deleted items folder without troubling them. Those that are happy with the status quo and who wish to keep receiving these messages need to nothing at all. It doesn’t even require an action from those who reply to the original message as when they hit reply their message will automatically use the original subject heading containing ‘round robin’.

Not rocket science I know, but simple, unobtrusive and effective.

But not, apparently acceptable to the members of the list who, I believe decided not to adopt this radical step at a meeting last Friday. Now I wasn’t able to attend the meeting so do not know why not. Maybe I have overlooked some fundamental flaw in my reasoning, but if so no one has bothered to tell me what it is. All i do know is that it does rather make one despair about the profession.

Are we really that conservative that we are unable to countenance the concept of such change? Or are we so arrogant that we feel that the rules we seek to apply to others do not apply to us?

Either way such a minor and trivial issue has utterly depressed me on a wet and windy day

Thursday, 12 November 2009

The making of a maturity model

Where to start when asked to produce a ‘maturity model’ for records management within the HE/HE sector? Maturity models and other benchmarking tools certainly seem to be popular at the moment in all sorts of areas, especially in relation to ICT. On the plus side they allow an organisation to think objectively and comprehensively about the subject in question. They encourage investigation and reflection and through the picture they paint allow organisations to celebrate their strengths and to address their weaknesses. Maybe it’s no surprise that such approaches are gaining in popularity at a time when budgets are being squeezed as a much clearer idea of spending priorities should emerge as a result of working through such a model. On the minus side I’m always slightly concerned about the terminology and the (unintended) slight which may be felt by those who cannot demonstrate full maturity in a particular area and who might, justifiably, be reluctant to admit to being ‘immature’.

I’m hopeful, however, that the emergence of maturity models for records management is, in itself, evidence of a new phase in the profession’s development. For these are not tools attempting to demonstrate the need for records management or to justify expenditure in it, they assume (rightly or wrongly) that that stage has already passed. No. The maturity model assumes that whatever it is that is being assessed – records management in this instance - is an accepted and valued function of the organisation and that what is required is an assessment of how well it is performing and the impact that it is having. Thus hopefully the very existence of such models are evidence of a new level of maturity for records management as a discipline.
But to return to my opening question: ‘where to start’ when asked to produce one? My first thought was that this is a potentially risky endeavour. After all, in order to assess ‘maturity’ this implies that you have a clear idea of what ‘mature’ records management should look like.

Starting from scratch in this regard seemed especially foolhardy. After all, it would be a pretty bold claim to assume that I alone or even we as a service were in a position to define what this would look like. Getting together a working group or consultation panel would have been another approach and would certainly have increased the chances of producing a more rounded model, but wouldn’t we then be in danger of trying to reinvent the wheel? After all, what we are talking about in terms of this picture of ‘mature’ records management is surely pretty similar to defining a ‘standard’ for records management – and, as we all know, there are plenty of those around already (as someone once said: the great thing about standards is that there are always so many to choose from!). And we certainly didn’t want to try to produce a JISC infoNet standard for RM for people to start comparing with and mapping against 15489 et al.

The most logical approach therefore seemed to be to make use of an existing definition of a mature RM system; one that is current, authoritative and which has been developed collaboratively. And this is where fortune smiled on us by allowing us to combine two parallel, but related agendas. For just at the time we were planning the maturity model so I was part of the working group helping the National Archives to revise the s.46 Code of Practice on records management which accompanies the UK Freedom of Information Act. Not only was this a statement of what RM should look like in a public authority in order to ensure compliance with the legislation which ticked all those boxes mentioned earlier, but was also an initiative that we would want to be supporting for the sector anyway. When the original COP was published JISC produced the Model Action Plan for FE/HE Compliance with the COP. We could have taken a similar approach and produced another sector-specific Model Action Plan for the updated Code but felt that a Maturity Model better reflected the fact that the sector is now nearly a decade further down the line and would better appreciate tools to help assess how they are doing, rather than one which assumes they are still yet to get started!

So although firmly based on the National Archive’s Code of Practice and developed with their knowledge and assistance it should be noted that this Maturity Model was developed separately to it and any mistakes or omissions are very much ours not theirs. It also therefore follows that this Maturity Model is quite specific in its focus and the model of mature records management that it represents – i.e. a model appropriate for UK further and higher education institutions who want to be able to ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Of course the benefits of achieving such a model should be felt much further and deeper than this and in many more contexts but this remains at its core.

The Maturity Model and guidance for its use are available from today and we look forward to hearing of your experiences in using it. We also hope that as many institutions as possible will submit their completed forms to us to enable us to get an overview of the current maturity of RM within the sector as a whole and thus help inform how we can best tailor our own efforts to continue to support it in the future.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The evolution of an Impact Calculator

It’s a well known truism that it is easier to criticise something than it is to solve it. Certainly anyone who has heard me at any of a number of workshops and conferences over the past year or so ask questions of speakers regarding the evidence base for the ‘facts’ and figures they have quoted citing the alleged benefits to be realised through investing in records management will be aware that I have not shied away from the criticism side of things. Though I should, perhaps, add that these questions have always been asked not to try to trip up or embarrass the speaker concerned, but as part of a genuine attempt to understand whether the numbers concerned -: whether it be regarding how much time senior managers spend looking for information or how many copies of the same document exist in the same organisation - are (as I always hoped) based on sound, empirical evidence or (as I always feared) were as mythical as the ‘Coopers & Lybrand’ study that so many seem to reference. Regrettably, if not unpredictably, it seems as though the latter of these scenarios is more often than not the case – as demonstrated in more rigorous fashion by the literature review we published last month.

But as I said at the outset of this piece, lamenting the lack of any reliable, objective, empirical data demonstrating the quantifiable benefits of investing in records management is one thing. The real question facing us was: what to do about it?

After spending a little time wandering up and down blind alleys investigating (and quickly discounting) a ‘Time and Motion’ based approach to measurement we soon settled on a focus on the process as the basis for measurement. After all, records management is surely only ever a means to an end? We spend resources on it to improve how we run our organisations, to improve the service we offer to our stakeholders, to improve our standards of governance and accountability and to ensure we are legally compliant. Surely if we could find ways of measuring how effective a process is before we improve it and then again after we’ve improved it we should have some means of quantifying the impact we have made. Then take away the costs involved in making the change and an even more illuminating set of results emerge.

But what to measure? After all, if you were to automate a previously paper-based process you might expect to see a reduction in both time taken processing information and the space required to store records. We can’t know what it is that you want to measure so we leave it up to you to define what and how many metrics you want to include: be they square metres of storage space, pounds and pence, staff time or C02 emissions - the choice is yours.

A real turning point in the project came when we started to think about the role of RM in a process improvement. After all, there must be few occasions (if ever) when it can be asserted with confidence that records management alone is responsible for achieving an improvement. Indeed, how would we even define what is ‘records management’ in this context? To take our previous example, the introduction of an electronic workflow system to replace a previously manual process clearly has a strong RM influence but it’s also about a technology change. So should it defined as an improvement caused by a new system or RM or both?

The answer (eventually) was obvious. There would be no arbitrary distinction between what aspects of the process improvement RM was responsible for and which were due to other factors. Nor any attempt to classify what counts as RM in this context and what does not. Again we let the user decide. This wasn’t a question of ducking the issue, it was an acknowledgement that process improvements are complex and multifaceted and that individual organisational drivers may differ markedly. The consequence of this decision has been to develop a tool which not only better reflects the complexity of real life, but also broadens its potential scope enormously. Yes, you can measure the improvements realised as a result of RM according to however you choose to define ‘records management’ but equally you can apply the same focus to whatever other element of process improvement that your organisation happens to be interested in measuring the impact of, be that people, IT, equipment or the combination of them all.

All of a sudden we no longer have a tool which might help fill the current dearth of facts and figures regarding the impact of RM, but also a way of deconstructing and measuring process improvement across the board.

But in some ways the hard work still remains to be done. We are well aware that using the Impact Calculator is not a trivial task. In the spirit of ‘garbage in; garbage out’ you can only get reliable, detailed data out if you are prepared to gather raw data of a similar kind in the first place. That, I’m afraid, is down to you.

We are also happy to acknowledge the Impact Calculator as ‘work in progress’. We’re hopeful of funding some pilots studies within the UK HE sector soon and would be very interested to hear the experiences of all those who make use of the tool, wherever they be, so that we can incorporate any improvements into a Version 2 in the near future
Finally, I should like to pay credit to my colleague, Joanne, whose statistical skills, sound judgement and commitment to the project have all helped turn my rather sketchy and notional idea of just how such a tool might work into this finished and infinitely superior end product. Nice one.

So do please take the time to download the tool, make use of it and let us know how you get on (if you do post anything online about your experiences we would be grateful if you use the tag ‘impact-calc’ to enable us to track it).

Its available now at

Friday, 16 October 2009

What is Sharepoint for?

From the speakers and discussion at the TFPL 4th Sharepoint Summit I attended in London yesterday the answer to the question in the title seems to be ‘for collaboration but not for records management’. This is hardly breaking news, after all any records manager will happily explain how MOSS falls down as a specialist records management system. But what was more surprising (and potentially worrying) was that people seemed to view collaboration and the kind of controls that records management should provide as two completely different and unrelated beasts entirely.

I’m certain there are no sinister motives for this and that it simply reflects a genuine organisational requirement to be able to share ideas, work creatively in teams and to ensure ready access to the right information – but why are these goals and the functionality used to achieve them thought of as not requiring records management nor of having any records management implications in themselves? Is it really possible to separate the two? Surely all this collaboration is in aid of something, is designed to further the strategic aims of the organisation or to meet a genuine business need? If so, aren’t we straying pretty darn close to records management territory?

And even if we were to ignore the fact that the outputs of most of this collaboration does result in some form of evidence of a business transaction and were, for the sake of argument, to assume that all of this collaboration is in fact the end in itself, then surely this would still require the existence of some RM controls to work effectively (authentication, version control, access control, audit trails etc spring to mind)? Otherwise aren’t we in danger of straying down the information equivalent of ‘sofa government’: all cosy chats over a latte and no accountability. Of course it may be that MOSS does offer most, if not all, of the above as part of its collaborative tools (I’m afraid I’m not enough of a MOSS expert to know), but if so its interesting how nobody present at the event seemed to equate these controls with records management.

Part of the problem here lies, I think, in RM’s image problem. Whereas everyone wants collaboration so no one wants records management. Some may (reluctantly) realise they need it but only in the same way that someone with toothache knows they need (rather than wants) a trip to the dentist. There are undoubtedly many reasons why this is so, ranging from our rather impenetrable terminology through to a decade of pushing a rather negative compliance-based spin on what we have to offer. I suspect it also lies in our failure to demonstrate the relevance of RM to current, live, active records and the information streams and processes that will form them. What the views at the workshop yesterday seemed to confirm was the prevalence of the idea that RM only needs to happen way down the line as a means of dealing with the accumulated backlog. A completely separate process divorced from day to day business functions and the technology they employ. So much for the Records Continuum.

I had hoped that, despite its flaws, Sharepoint represented a way of making real steps towards closing this gap between business processes, information creation and records management but unfortunately I fear this optimism may well have been misguided.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Measuring records management in the 'post-compliance era'

I think few records professionals would argue that their profession has largely been dominated by the compliance agenda over the past decade or so, especially here in the UK with first the Data Protection Act and then FOI. Having compliance based arguments to rely upon was great. After decades of records professionals trying to get the message out that records management was important we now had far more powerful voices (government, regulators, auditors etc) saying the same thing. Okay, so none of these Acts explicitly mandated the need for ‘good records management’ (whatever that may mean) but it was certainly clear from reading the Act and from the guidance that surrounded them that it would be very difficult to demonstrate compliance without it.

This certainly helped simplify the business cases for records management we presented to management: “we have to because the law says so”. It also helped simplify how to sell records management to users: “you have to because the law says so”. Okay, so this is a deliberate over simplification but even so is probably not a million miles wide of the mark. If the number of new records management posts within public authorities over this period is anything to go by we also shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss its effectiveness as a strategy. But we should also be aware of the limitations and risks implicit in an over reliance on any one message – particularly one dominated by legal and regulatory compliance, namely:

• The ‘big stick’ approach rarely results in the kind of positive and constructive buy-in from users that records management requires
• Managers will understandably be reluctant to spend anymore than the bear minimum to ensure compliance
• And may even decide against the bear minimum, preferring to favour instead more ‘positive’ investments – especially if the perceived risk of detection or subsequent punishment appears low.

This is not to say that compliance-based arguments have no place in our professional repertoire as clearly they do (and to a degree that will vary according to the sector and appetite for risk in question; but does serve to remind us that putting all your professional eggs in one basket is always a risky tactic, especially if the basket in question is not necessarily a particularly attractive one in the first place. This would be true in times of economic plenty but becomes even more so in periods of economic downturn where budget cuts mean much harder investment decisions and a necessarily more hard-nosed attitude to risk.

‘Impact’, ‘return on investment’ and ‘business benefit’ are now the order of the day. Organisations need to know not only that they will get ‘bang for their buck’, but also how big the bang will be and for how many bucks. This is not new territory for many records managers, but at the same time it is not necessarily where we are most comfortable – not least because so many of the benefits we have previously prided ourselves on delivering (compliance, maintenance of the ‘corporate memory’ etc) have all been largely ‘intangible’ in nature and therefore, by definition, virtually impossible to measure.

But I doubt there are few records professionals who have not also made claims at some point in their careers of the more tangible benefits to be had: reduced overheads, increased efficiency, more productive use of staff time etc and have found figures to support these claims. Indeed open any industry whitepaper or article in the professional literature and you are likely to come across all manner of statistics confirming how long senior managers waste looking for information or how much time can be saved by digitising your entire physical record collection. But how reliable are such sources? How was the data gathered? Who gathered it and why? (And, indeed, in one or two notable cases – does it even exist??).

If records management is to be able to survive and thrive in difficult economic conditions it is essential that is has confidence in the evidence base supporting the claims that it makes, but is this currently the case? JISC infoNet today launches the first deliverable from its ‘Measuring the Impact of Records Management’ project – a selective literature review which aims to look at the extent of evidence available to support claims of efficiency savings made by the records management. This literature review is the prelude to an ‘Impact Calculator’ to be released in November which will provide a framework for organisations to be able to address these apparent shortcomings for themselves and to establish their own empirical evidence demonstrating the costs and return on investment associated with whatever record or information management initiative they are undertaking. Further information on both is now available from our newly revamped Record & Information Management Portal Page, also launched today, which also provides links to all our other resources in this area.

The findings from the literature review confirm that there is both a growing appetite for and a current shortage of ‘impact evidence’ in relation to records management. Hopefully this project will help address both of these.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Business archives in the press

It was good to see a piece on business archives and the positive contribution that archivists can play within commercial organisations in the Financial Times last week. Hopefully such positive press reminds senior decision makers that the effective management of its records is not just a ‘nice to have’ extra - useful for pulling together exhibitions of attractive curios to help decorate their foyer, but actually represents their company’s ‘corporate memory’ and as such has the potential sharpen its competitive edge and increase its profit margins. Certainly now, more than ever, such messages can only help strengthen the position of the corporate archive and its archivists.

What was, alas, a little more disappointing was not to see any mention within the piece of the vital role that records professionals (archivists and records managers) can play - and are playing - in ensuring the effective, efficient and legally compliant conduct of business operations. Nothing about the business benefits to be gained from knowing what information assets you hold and for introducing measures to ensure that such information is retained for as long as it is required (and no longer); nothing about the risks and costs (legal, financial and environmental) of retaining vast quantities of information for too long; nothing about how we can help tackle the increasingly high profile problems surrounding information security – particularly in relation to personal data or the role we can play in identifying and protecting vital records as part of disaster recovery and business continuity planning.

Of course there are limits to what can be covered within one newspaper article and it is clear that in this particular case the FT’s ‘angle’ was deliberately focused elsewhere. My concern is just that such a piece may still leave the CEO of a relatively young company or one without a rich visual heritage to plunder wondering ‘why is this relevant to me?’ whereas the reality is, of course, that it should be of relevance too all CEOs with an interest in how their business functions.

Monday, 29 June 2009

The lost art of problem solving

A Tweet from @Northumbria_RM caught my eye the other day. It was a quote from a contributor to their AC+erm e-Delphi Study along the lines that “RM is something that should be done not something that can be bought and installed.” Nothing too controversial there you might think, after all its what we records managers always say: ‘no quick fixes’, ‘get the processes and standards right first’, ‘try to install a system on a mess and you just have an expensive mess’ etc etc

But what if we are wrong? What if this conventional wisdom is more a reflection of the nature of most records management technologies than representing a universal truism? Sure it’s a certain recipe for failure to attempt to rollout an EDRMS without having prepared every inch of organizational, procedural and cultural groundwork in advance but maybe that’s because of their nature: their size, the (unrealistic) scale of their ambition and their sheer (over?) complexity. But need it be so? After all, most of the technology which is transforming our organizations and our lives seems to be heading in the other direction. We now live in a widget-led world with people designing simple specific apps to solve very specific problems or achieve very specific end results. Take the recent Apple i-phone advertisements extolling the eclectic range of apps available for download, or the simplicity of something like Twitter.

It seems to me that what our users actually want and that we should be finding ways of providing are simple, specific ‘RM apps’ that can be quickly, cheaply and simply ‘bought and installed’ to solve specific problems. Maybe the underlying problem is that we have spent the last decade looking at the problem from the wrong end of the telescope. We’ve been focusing on trying to fix the entire organization whilst hoping that eventually some of the benefits might trickle down and be felt by the ordinary user; where, with hindsight, we might have been better off working out what the problems were that were holding back individual users and building specific solutions to fix them.

When I first started out in records management in 1996 it seemed to me that records management was about finding creative and practical answers to genuine and specific problems in relation to how people managed their records. We needed a means of coordinating retention actions across multiple systems, so we designed one. We needed a way of maximizing the storage space we had available so we designed a location control module that meet our needs. Now of course the talk is of enterprise-wide solutions and international standards. I have no problem per se with either of these but do wonder if together they have unwittingly led us to a situation where all we have to offer is a homogenized, ‘one-size-fits all’ version of records management where we have little choice but to try to shape our problems around the available solutions and where our only route to success lies in trying (and largely failing) to first achieve organizational and cultural change on a scale which is frankly beyond both our reach and our pay-grade.

So it was with rather envious eyes that I read about the forthcoming Repository Fringe Challenge with a bunch of repository developers fired up to come up with genuine, workable solutions to an actual specific problem that is taxing their user community. This isn’t sitting back and hoping that the standards bodies and vendor community eventually acknowledge the problem and build in functionality to their products that are designed to suit everybody. This is a bunch of enthusiastic guys sat round PCs, thinking the unthinkable and finding cool ways of making it happen and then giving it out to the community to use as they see fit.

It’s a way of working and thinking which records management seems to have lost, and I think we are all the poorer for it.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

It's the conversation, stupid

The thing l like most about Google Wave (at least from the YouTube presentation) is about how everything is geared around the content. Technologies and even concepts that we take for granted as essential, distinct entities in their own right such as email, blog posts, word processing software - even the document itself- all start to seem strangely artificial and inconsequential: what matters is the content and, most importantly of all, the conversation that it represents. It is this conversation or, to be more accurate, these multiple and ongoing conversations that are central to the Wave philosophy with everything else built to enable, support and manage them.

Now from the records manger’s perspective this might all sound like a bit of a nightmare: seamless, perpetual conversations with everyone free (by default) to edit everything. Where is the record? Heck, what is the record? But just as some of the concepts underpinning Wave require us to rethink most of what we take for granted about information creation so too it will its management.

Funnily enough this is similar to a point I made yesterday during a Podcast discussion with James Lappin, Elizabeth Lomas and Stephen Dale (I’ll provide a link when it’s up) which was made before I had any real knowledge of what Wave was about. That is that records management in the future will not be about managing individual objects all with finite and predictable lifespans but about capturing the numerous links between them as part of an ongoing thread if, when and how they are used.

It’s about the context. It’s about the conversation.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

A step closer to making Records Management2.0 a reality?

Readers of ‘Managing the Crowd’ will be aware that I ended the book with some suggestions regarding how records management functionality could be successfully integrated into and applied to Web2.0 content. One of these was to create “a folksonomy service that can penetrate ddep content, at an individual content level, across multiple service providers". I argued that the logic underpinning social bookmarking tools such as Delicious already took us many steps forward in this direction. Obviously at present they are only used for resource discovery but (I argued) there was no reason why this functionality could not be extended to also allow the individual user and the ‘crowd’ to which they belong to also assign retention and management criteria alongside search metadata.

At the time of writing the book the main factor preventing this from making the leap from theory to practice was that “at present, Delicious works at a level above that required for our purposes. It may allow users to tag individual web pages, but does not extend this functionality to enable tagging of ‘deep web’ content, for example documents within a Google Docs account and presentations within Spresent.” (pg 131).
Earlier this week I was sent the following email announcement being sent to all owners of lists hosted by the JISCmail service.

“From Tuesday 16th June, every list homepage and every posting stored on the JISCMail online archives will include a bookmark/share button which will have links to a selection of social bookmarking/sharing sites.

Social Bookmarking allows you to share, store, organise, search, tag and manage webpages you would like to be able to revisit in the future, or share with others. For example if a posting is made to a JISCMail list that you know will be of interest to someone else you can email a link to that person using our button. Alternatively you can choose one of the social networking sites you are registered with, e.g. Twitter or Facebook, to share the link with a group of people. You might use the sharing button to bookmark a link to your list homepage or a particular posting on a list that you can revisit at a later date on a site such as Delicious.”

So there we have it: it is now possible to extend the reach of social booking down to an individual file level (in this case the millions of emails archived on the JISCmail website). Now, of course there may be many other technical, professional or practical obstacles preventing the realisation of my idea but it seems to me that one potentially major one may just have disappeared…

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Is it worth investing in records management?

Regular readers of this blog will know of my concerns regarding the state of the evidence-base supporting the quantifiable benefits of investing in records management. Lots of claims have been made (and endlessly repeated) over the years, but scratch beneath the surface and most turn out to be flawed in methodology, years old, biased in approach or simply apocryphal (or, in some cases, all three!!).

I won’t rehash the dangers of this here as I have posted on this not long ago. Instead I wanted to point readers to work that colleagues and I from JISC infoNet are doing to attempt to address this apparent void.

One of our first tasks is to try to ascertain whether the picture concerning the current evidence base is really as bleak as I have just portrayed. True, the literature review that we are currently conducting seems to be doing little to alleviate these fears, but of course to rely only on published papers and articles would be to ignore the fact that many organisations may well have conducted their own work in measuring the impact of records and information management initiatives for their own, internal reasons. As a result, loads of potentially invaluable data, plus the experiences from those who obtained it may be lurking behind closed doors.

In an attempt to unlock these doors we are currently running an online survey, open to all who have attempted to quantify and measure the impact of records management initiatives on their organisation, regardless of the sector or country you operate in. Further details and links to the survey are available from a post published today on the JISC infoNet blog.

Hopefully the results of this survey will provide a truer impression of the current evidence-base and, perhaps, provide us with a few leads to follow up on from those who seem to be really active in this area. All of which will help inform the framework that we are hoping to develop and release over the summer which will help those who wish to measure the impact of their records management activities and demonstrate if and when they achieve a return on their investment.

Friday, 24 April 2009

New horizons and records management

I’ve just been reading the 2009 Horizon Report which explores what emergent technologies are likely to hit the higher education sector over the next few years. It’s a fascinating read for anyone interested in new technologies – and not just those working in HE.

As readers of this blog will know, one of my constant concerns for the records management profession is that we are getting further and further behind ‘the curve’ when it comes to new technology – and thus need to be doing all we can to futurewatch and to consider the implications for our profession.

Here are just a few snippets from the report and a summary of how they might be relevant to records managers…

The notion of collective intelligence is redefining how we think about ambiguity and imprecision. Collective intelligence may give rise to multiple answers, all equally correct, to problems. The notions of collective intelligence and mass amateurization are redefining scholarship as we grapple with issues of top-down control and grassroots scholarship

Anyone who has read ‘Managing the Crowd’ will (hopefully) appreciate how this chimes with my own thoughts on how ‘the wisdom of the crowd’ could be used to inform information appraisal.

Students are different, but a lot of educational material is not. Schools are still using materials developed decades ago, but today’s students come to school with very different experiences than those of 20 or 30 years ago, and think and work very differently as well. Institutions need to adapt to current student needs and identify new learning models that are engaging to younger generations.

Today’s students are your workforce in 1-3 years time. So if you think that change will never come to your workplace – think again (a point I made during my keynote at the RMS Conference in 2008)

In countries like Japan, young people equipped with mobiles often see no reason to own personal computers. A recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project predicts that by the year 2020, most people across the world will be using a mobile device as their primary means for connecting to the Internet

We need to start ensuring that whatever tools/systems we are designing to manage records are equally at home on a mobile device as they are on a PC or laptop. How many EDRMS work fully and seamlessly on an iPhone I wonder…

And how about the following for examples of technologies which automatically contextualize content (which is, after all, a large part of what records mgt is about). Consider the concepts underpinning these and think what they could mean for information classification in the future…

Applications designed for mobiles can take advantage of built-in features like the microphone and the camera. For instance… Snap-Tell ( use the camera to record a photograph of a CD, video, or book, then identify the artist or author and display that along with reviews of the piece and information on where to buy it...

Devices we commonly carry with us increasingly have the ability to know where they (and, consequently, we) are, and to record our coordinates as we take photographs, talk to friends, or post updates to social networking websites…

Whatever the technology that embeds the capacity for attaching information to an object — and there are many — the result is a connection between a physical object and a rich store of contextual information. Think of doing a web search that reveals not pages of content, but the location, description, and context of actual things in the real world…

Some food for thought for the weekend…

Monday, 20 April 2009

Budget cuts and back office functions

With the economy as it is it will come as no surprise to anybody that tomorrow’s Budget from the UK government looks set to include proposals for spending cuts, reportedly as much as £5bn by 2011.

These will undoubtedly come in many guises and I’m more than happy to leave the economists and political pundits to pick over (and argue over) the details. What Records managers working in the public sector in the UK (and I daresay in other counties similarly affected around the world) should be paying close attention to, however, are the predictions that many of these savings will be made from "efficiency savings" expected to target staff working on "back office" functions rather than frontline services".

As a classic ‘back office function’ records management may well find itself vulnerable – especially as there is so little evidence to demonstrate that what we offer will realise a return on investment and quantifiable, empirical business benefits.

Now you know and I know that there should be more to investing in RM than just the bottom line (accountability, governance, compliance etc) but tighter budgets may well inevitably lead management to raise the risk threshold in such areas to protect ‘frontline services’. After all, one person’s ‘ensuring high standards of corporate accountability’ might well be viewed by another as ‘bureaucratic red tape’.

I’ve repeatedly expressed concern at the lack of evidence out there to demonstrate the impact of RM on organisations – something we are currently looking to address by creating a common framework to enable organisations to measure for themselves.

For our profession’s sake I just hope that this isn’t too late…

Friday, 3 April 2009

University take the (inevitable) next step into the Cloud…

I was very interested to hear from James Lappin’s recent conference report that the University of Westminster has not only outsourced its student email to Google, but its staff email too.

When we were putting the briefing paper together providing guidance for those institutions considering outsourcing their email towards the end of last year all of the examples we could find seemed to be limiting the scope of their projects to student email only – the belief being that doing the same for staff email opened up just too many legal and practical cans of worms. Though I must admit that even back then I was pretty sure that it would only be a matter of time before this changed (even if this was as part of a deliberate 'devils advocate' role – and so it has proved.

I’m sure many other institutions and organisations are going through a similar thought process at the moment – hence our interest here at JISC infoNet in seeking to provide some guidance in this area (as members of the list will be aware). As this development indicates, the challenge will be to provide guidance that is both comprehensive and definitive, but at the same time flexible enough to keep pace with the rapid rate of change. I’ll be discussing this and related challenges with colleagues later this month as we start to plan our approach.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

"The new operating system for business"

Interesting little interview with Don Tapscott discussing his views on how Web2.0 is fundamentally changing the nature of business.

I was particularly struck by the comments: “In his view, business models and strategies must be restructured to reflect the highly ‘networked’ nature of society in the Web 2.0 age. For Tapscott, social networks are nothing less than “the new operating system for businesses
businesses must understand and incorporate the learning and working styles of the generation that has grown up with the Internet if they are to attract the best talent.”

I couldn’t agree more with both these statements and indeed, as readers of this blog and my book will already know, have repeatedly made very similar comments over the past couple of years.

If Tapscott is right and social networks are ‘the new operating system for business’ the imperative for records management to adapt to meet this challenge seems every bit as urgent as I have been suggesting.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Measure for measure

Those who’ve heard me present at various events over the past year or so will know of my growing concern that the RM profession regularly appears guilty of making unsubstantiated claims about how investment in this area will increase organisational effectiveness, decrease overheads and generally offer a positive return on investment. Note: I’m not saying that none of these are necessarily true, simply that there appears to be no empirical, reliable data to prove these assertions. There’s no shortage of 'statistics' banded about but, despite my best efforts, none of those quoting them have so far been able to provide me with the definitive raw data from which they are apparently derived (the mythical Coopers & Lybrand study being the most noteworthy and oft quoted example).

Delegates at our Building Bridges conference held in Newcastle earlier this week spent much of the second day debating whether or not this is, indeed, the case and whether it in fact matters – after all, there has always been more to RM than simply the bottom line with improvements to corporate accountability, legal compliance and maintenance of the historic record all being important, but essentially immeasurable, benefits. But, at the same time, I remain fearful (particularly in the current economic environment) that RM remains vulnerable if it cannot be seen to pay its way. I know of several RM projects that are multi-million pound initiatives. Is it really conceivable that an investment on this scale is unable to demonstrate the ROI? Even if it was during the boom times I very much doubt whether this is the case now – or will be for several years to come. Moreover, as budgets diminish so our organisation’s risk threshold will, by necessity, get higher leaving even our tried and tested compliance arguments more open to scrutiny than before. Worse still, we run the risk that if we are unable to prove that we are, indeed, part of the solution that management may mistakenly start to view us as part of the problem – representing an administrative overhead and bureaucratic lily-guilders that can no longer be afforded.

I’m currently embarking on a JISC-funded project to discover whether it is possible to quantifiably measure the return on investment of RM and, if so, to produce data which proves this once and for all (at least for the F/HE sectors). That this work should be happening against the current backdrop of economic turmoil is completely coincidental, but may yet prove the most important driver for completing it that there could be.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

More on the end of records management as a profession

Rather than try to respond to the significant number of comments that my last post generated individually, or within the comments area I thought it might be worth expanding on my theme a little in a new post.

As you might expect, I had considered whether the comments in the review that I alluded to and the thinking that lay behind it, actually represented a positive step in the development of RM. If I genuinely believed that this was evidence of the growing influence of the RM profession and our emergence as a profession into the IT mainstream I would see it as a source for optimism. Alas, however, I fear this is not the case for reasons I shall explain, but first a point of clarification.

It is worth noting that my previous post was entitled “The end of RM as a profession in its own right” and I think we need to draw a distinction between the aims, principles and methods which lay behind records management as a discipline and the Records Management profession as the practitioners of that art. I have long said (in my book and in numerous other places) that the aims and objectives which lay behind records management are now more needed than ever before but that the way in which we, as a profession, currently try to achieve them will shortly no longer be fit for purpose. I think the recommendations of the 30 year rule reflect this. Yes, organisations and society need records management now more than ever but it is no longer automatically considered the role or preserve of the records management profession to deliver this. That role is now (rightly or wrongly) assumed to fall to IT and that seems to me to be a significant shift (and not a positive one for our profession).

I have always been of the opinion that there is nothing particularly complicated or difficult to understand about records management theory. It is not alchemy nor some other arcane ‘dark art’, nor does it require the kind of specialist knowledge that say medicine, dentistry or nuclear physics does. It is a particular perspective, a unique viewpoint and set of priorities regarding how a certain subset of information should be managed. In short, we have been interested in elements of information use and management that nobody else to date has been. This is not to belittle the profession, this unique viewpoint has served us and our organisations well but it also means that we are vulnerable. For a decade now myself and a few select professional colleagues have foreseen the day when the IT profession would ‘get’ records management: when their priorities would change (or be changed for them by circumstances) so that they had to start considering things from the records management perspective. And that when that day came, the records management profession may well find that their former USP had suddenly gone and that they were struggling to demonstrate the value that they could bring. In this situation our organisations would inevitably start to look to the IT department, not the records manager for answers and solutions and this, I fear, is what the statement in the review reflects.

So, yes, I agree with many of those who left comments, when they say that we should view this as a positive step for records management but I still remain concerned that it marks a milestone in the decline of the records management profession – at least in its current guise.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The end of RM as a profession in its own right?

I'm sure most of you (in the UK at least) will be aware of the review commissioned by the Govt into the 30 year rule. Likewise I suspect many will have read Lord Dacre's findings and recommendations. I say 'suspect' as there doesn't seem to have been much discussion of them so far on the usual RM and archive lists, but maybe I've just missed it in the information (and literal!) blizzard.

I'm sure all will come to their own conclusions about the pros and cons of moving towards a 15 year rule and don't propose to comment on this here. What I did find particularly illuminating was paragraph 8.23

"We recommend that electronic record capture should be an integral part of the
IT infrastructure of government, and not a ‘bolt-on’ activity. Work on creating an IT
strategy to ensure that records are automatically kept needs to be accelerated

The message seems pretty clear to me. The capture, management and maintenance of electronic records should now be considered an IT function, integrated within the mainstream of IT service delivery. Reference to records management as a 'bolt-on activity' confirms my fears that we have effectively allowed ourselves to be increasingly marginalized over recent years whilst the game moves on and upwards without us.

So, Records Managers, its time to open the office door, walk down the corridor to the Head of IT and pass the baton marked 'Records Management' over to him or her to deal with and for us to return to our warehouses full of paper and hanging files...

Monday, 2 February 2009

Hats off to Travis County, Texas

I was very impressed by the route that the RM team at Travis Country, Texas have decided to take to inform their approach to email archiving. Rather than trying to solve the problem themselves, buy in a 'solution' or hope that the issue will just go away they have embraced Web2.0 technologies to start a debate within the profession and to canvas the views of fellow professionals to inform their decision making.

This approach involves a series of web pages outlining the situation they find themselves in and explaining the three basic routes they see ahead, each clearly explained by means of a series of short YouTube clips.

They are then encouraging all RIM professionals to contribute their views and opinions via a project blog

Not only is the integrated use of such tools for this kind of purpose pretty unusual in our profession, but the content is also thought-provoking too. The three options under discussion span the range of thinking in this area and their observations that records management is now operating in 'a new dynamic' and that many of the approaches that we still try and employ were originally designed for a (completely different) paper-based world certainly rings true to me.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Every cloud (computing) has a silver lining...

Interesting to read in the Financial Times yesterday that "the current economic crisis could force Web 2.0 into the business mainstream" as "A downturn raises questions about how organisations are structured and how they tap into the knowledge and expertise of employees, suppliers and customers". Indeed the mere fact that the FT sees Web2.0/Enterprise2.0 as a topic worthy of analysis is, in itself, evidence of its growing acceptance throughout the worlds of commerce and industry.

The piece also offers a nice summary of the perceived advantages of Enterprise 2.0 which provides organisations with most of what makes the Web 2.0 movement so exciting whilst also providing the reassurance of offering "audit trails, access control, version control, authentication, provisioning and back-up" (all words to warm the cockles of a records manager's heart).

As those who have read Managing the Crowd or heard me speak on this know I have always been a little sceptical about whether Enterprise 2.0 really is a sustainable longterm option or whether it will always be a compromise too far which ends up pleasing no one. I still have some concerns on this score, but, by the same token if it instead represents a temporary stepping stone towards a bolder future then that may be a different matter altogether

Friday, 9 January 2009

New year, new predictions

It always fascinates me how the dawn of a new year seems to bring out the soothsayer in us, with all manner of commentators and observers from all walks of life taking the opportunity to predict what the year ahead will bring. Well this is a temptation that I intend to resist, but that doesn't stop me from being interested in the efforts of others.

One, in particular, has been brought to my attention my Andrew Warland, a fellow contributor to the Records Management2.0 Ning site and relates to 2009 being the year that the internet truly goes mobile

Coming after a year when data loss scandals were virtually a weekly occurrence it remains to be seen whether this hints at a solution (with less losable data being stored locally on remote devices) or a likely escalation of the problem. Hopefully the former...

I was also struck by the sentence "The brittleness of PC metaphors on mobile devices coupled with the concept of context speaks to an emergent and important trend on the horizon – smart and intuitive interfaces that predict user intent through an understanding of relationships", not least because I'm trying to find time at the moment to write a paper for the Records Management Journal entitled 'Forget Electronic Records Management, its Automated Records Management that we desperately need' which will say that this is exactly the route that the RM community also needs to be going down: using technology to intelligently assess both the information and its context and to automatically make management decisions accordingly.