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…


DaviMack said...

Ahh, well: corporate amnesia has always been desirable anyway, to a certain segment. This just makes it easier for them to say, "oops, we're sorry, we really meant to keep those damning records, but we couldn't afford to. my bad."

Steve Bailey said...

You might be right - but either way I fear that it doesn't help RM much.

I suppose it could be argued that if enough organisations do adopt a high risk strategy in this regard that the law of averages means that a few will get (badly) burnt which may then refocus attention on what we have saying all along.

The trouble with this is:
a) It relies on a lot of 'ifs and buts'
b) It won't help us much in the short/medium term
c) If past experience is anything to go by (ie Enron) people will soon forget and little will change anyway...

Paula J Smith said...

Hi Steve and others

I agree that RM must find a way to demonstrate its value to organisations, we rely too much on intangibles and have very little cold hard data that would be accepted by C level executives. Now thats not to say that the intangibles are not worth the effort merely that for many organisations, even at the best of times they want to see hard statistics not fluffy statements.

RM has, for too long, been a faceless back office function. It is easier to cut the budget and the people from a department that is never seen, or that issues faceless policies. Harder to cut them when they have become integral and useful in a variety of projects and programmes of work.

But as ever, noone is going to rush to protect us on a white charger - we must protect ourselves

Jon Shepherd said...

Having just read your e-mail of 29/04/09 to the list serv and listened to you presentation at the last but one RMS local government group meeting, I am pleased to see that something is actually happening on this topic.

With regard to this at the last meeting of the above group on 27/03/09 in a workshop on 'What exactly do RMs/IMs actually do' I had to fight tooth and nail to get the phrase 'If any of this ROI is to be used in a business case it will need case studies and figures to prove the actual returns to an individual organisation' included. One experienced practitioner continually assured me that statistics did exist.

I am very interested in the approach you have chosen to adopt and can sympathise with the ideas that there is waste in our own RM processes in terms of waiting for 'approval to destroy' and being 'cautious in appraisal'. Fascinated to find out more and see how it works in practice.

Just reading your book at the moment Steve!

Steve Bailey said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your comments. In response to the views of the 'experienced practitioner' all I can say is that if statistics do exist - we've not found them yet after several dedicated weeks of trying!

I'd certainly love to be proved wrong on this score but have a feeling that I won't be. So far every time we have got close to something that resembles 'evidence' about impact and ROI it crumbles to dust on close analysis.

Well done for sticking to your guns and fighting to get a statement on this included. Judging from the responses I have received in response to recent comments on this subject I get the impression that an increasing number of professionals are (privately) coming to the same conclusion.