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.