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...


RAMI said...

Interesting question. I agree in part in that Records Managers are at serious risk of being marginalised by IT and left behind. To extend your metaphor we are perhaps less likely to be willingly passing on the baton of RM then having it wrenched off us, or the race proceeding without our participation or knowledge.

However, isn't the integration of electronic records capture within IT infrastructure exactly what we want as records managers? I agree with the 30 year report in that Record keeping shouldn't be "bolted on" to the IT infrastructure as a afterthought, but should rather be part of an integrated and mainstreamed records management strategy within those systems.

Why does it matter who is doing this as long as it is being achieved? If the records manager can't offer anything then they have no right to complain their role is being usurped.

Is it not the role of the records manager in this rapidly changing and challenging information environment, to advocate, advise and manage the integration of recordkeeping within the IT systems?

DaviMack said...

In a way ... well, in a way that might actually be a good thing, as the IT guys are the ones who make those decisions on a number of levels (I'm thinking about email policy & relational database records). If they were held accountable for records as a whole, then we might just turn them into proper Records Managers.

On the other hand, I notice that "electronic record capture" was included ... but what about destruction? Automatically keeping records, OK, I can see that as being a concern, but what about being able to actually find and use those records?


Seth said...

OR, walk down to the IT department and meet your new boss. The need for RM expertise will still exist even if the responsibilities/reporting structure shifts to another department.

Adam Pope said...

If records managers haven't been working closely with IT - or vice versa - to develop a strategy then truly they have missed the boat.

Larry Medina, Human Being said...

Not quite ready to turn over the baton yet, but I see where if this goes through, Government RIMs in the UK may have problems in the next 15 years. And the benefits versus cost seem questionable to me.

Given the FoI system works well, is it logical to assume that the cost of responding to 20k FoI requests per year is more expensive than the $75M pounds it will cost to deploy this change?

Also readers should pay special attention to the section on the report dealing with the challenges surrounding the management of records generated in electronic formats. The report recognizes the need to evaluate the status of these on a 10 year cycle, and if turnover is at 15 years, it may be too late to do anything about the condition of them. And once they ARE turned over, who manages them to ensure persistent access exists in perpetuity? And who pays the cost?

The implementation timetable suggested shows this all coming to a close and the 15 year rule being fully implemented by 2024. Sooner than that, the great majority of records will be generated almost exclusively in electronic formats.

Is it REALLY worth going through all of this expense for the existing paper records, or would the money be better spent developing a means of protecting the electronic records being generate3d so they will be accessible to the public when their 15 years are up?

But then again, what do I KNOW... I'm just a US Citizen and an RIM?? Now remind me, where is the IT office I'm supposed to be handing my keys to the kingdom over to? =)

Larry Medina
RIM Professional since 1972

Jen Parker said...

The comment there is really advocating a streamlined and automated approach to records capture, rather than denouncing our expertise i think? But i think the "Records Manager" will soon be no more (it just smacks of paper !). We'll just become the new "Information Architects" working alongside our colleagues in IT depts. (I think the current definition of an Information Architect will soon evolve).

But we can't continue to apply old theories to new technologies; we must be open to discussing new theories with our IT counterparts and be ready - and able - to apply them. That's the personal and professional challenge, i guess.

Anonymous said...

On a more positive note records managers and archivists were consulted as part of this review process. The Society of Archivists submitted a response that is available as part of the evidence. (Calls for comments were made on the listservs and the final response ironcally received more discussion in Australia than the UK). It advocated that records should be captured and managed from creation onwards, involving support from a range of functions and not negating the role of records managers. I think that the intention of the comment highlighted was to draw attention to the reality that electronic records cannot wait 30 or even 15 years to be managed.


Chef said...

I can't say that I agree with your conclusions Steve. The recommendations from the review seem to me to be heading along similar lines to Enterprise Content Management.

I think its more a case of records managers and IT need to work more hand-in-hand.

Anonymous said...

Steve - I take it that you don't buy the idea that records management could be considered part of Information Technology? That's interesting. Why do you think records management needs to sit outside of and apart from Information Technology?

Clare said...

Nice one, Steve. Except that some of us have also missed the boat re records stores as well - they are increasingly either outsourced or run by Facilities depts, not us...

Luckily there's such a massive backlog of mess to sort out, both electronic and paper, that most of us will be in work for a few years yet.

Anonymous said...

Great, does this mean the I.T department will handle all the FOI and subject access requests?

Seriously though, it's more a case of moving departments and adding to our skills than saying we're now all obsolete.

Sara Somerville said...

There will always be a place for people with RM and IM expertise. Like Information Management professionals before them, the RM profession is changing and RMers have to move with the times. I disagree with Jen, RMers shouldn't try and morph into Information Architects or other professions, they should be proud of their skills and expertise and be advising and educating IT depts on how to safeguard digital records.

It makes sense to ensure your IT strategy contains elements of IM & RM best practice and doesn't signify the end of the profession!

My head of dept (IT) employed me (an IM/RM professional) to manage the EDRMS project because he understands the value of having non-techy people in the dept. The approach requires you to choose your battles, be pragmatic and embed best practice as opposed to making everyone records management experts though!

Patrick ten Broeke, Head of Department, Gemeente Arnhem, Netherlands said...

Nice to see that the focus of rm is moving from registration and managing the km's of miles of paper to giving advice to other disciplines on how to manage their information so it will be well kept en searchable throughout the years.