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.


Aaron Taylor said...

A very thought-provoking commentary, and a subject which I have been concerned about for a number of years. It seems that, in the US, we seem to accept vague numbers and assurances that our RM work is valuable without the empirical data to back it up. I do believe some areas are measurable - reducing email volume through training, structuring, etc. Measuring or determining the ROI on productivity is another matter, as has been stated so often - estimates of time spent searching for documents, for instance, has a feel of having been "pulled from the air". I would suggest that one area that possibly could lend itself to measurement would be in capital projects, especially when efforts are made to organize and manage existing knowledge, lessons learned and so forth; many project managers of large projects have told me that if they could only have a trusted and accessible knowledge base that they could go to, new projects would begin much more smoothly. Perhaps this is one area that can be explored in more detail in terms of providing supporting documentation for RM.

Aaron Taylor

Edgar said...

Steve, often people look at returns only in the familiar area
- reduction in headcount
- individual can find their doc 5mins quicker (x2000 individuals x 2000 yearly retrieves)
- reduced hard copy retrieval
- improvement in compliance …. reduces exposure to regulatory by xxxxx
- storage space

All these savings will add up and as you alluded to - process efficiencies. Where projects took seven years they may now take six. These projects could be to deliver products or process efficiencies

A product may make 500,000 a year
A project delivering an efficiency may be improve the bottom line by 200,000

Scale these up to 3 products and 3 effiecieny projects …. £2.1M ….
Add to this the savings in the familiar areas (£250,000 a year). There is the figure where you can barter for some money.

Add to this patents and one of the extremes – Pharmaceutical companies. The big boys (and girls) are going for the $1billion a year drugs….. if they miss their target then it is as extreme as no revenue. This $1billion can be factored into EDRMS efficiencies.

Records Management must be involved in document creation / document content / processes / etc to ensure they gain the most for their organisation.

Steve Bailey said...

Edgar, I agree with some of what you say but my concern is that we have no way of proving that we contribute to any of the areas you mention.

It's one thing to make the claim that RM can directly contribute to achieving the gains you mention but quite another to be able to prove it to the satisfaction of others...

Paula said...

Hi Steve

This is something that is currently on the radar for us in New Zealand aswell. I think we have used the statistics that Edgar has quoted far too often and 'shared' the stats for RFP/Business Case purposes without any knoeledge of where they actually came from.

My concern is that there doesnt seem to be any methodology that can be employed by a records/information manager in order to generate those statistics, or the RoI on various RIM projects.

If you would like some assistance in your JISC project please let me know as it is something that the RMAA New Zealand branch is also very interested in.


Steve Bailey said...

Hi Paula,

I completely share this concern, indeed it was a growing sense of unease at hearing so many unverified (and frankly unreliable) 'statistics' quoted and accepted in a seemingly unquestioningly way that started me down this road in the first place.

I agree that it is far harder to address this problem than it is to raise it! I've been doing some initial work looking at possible ways of producing empirical data regarding the effectiveness of RM. Its still early days but a summary of some of my thinking can be found in two of the presentations i gave at a conference we held earlier this month. Both 'Lies, damn lies and statistics' and 'Towards a common framework for measuring records mangagement' are available from and should give some idea of the direction we are taking.

Look foward to hearing what you think!