Monday, 18 April 2011

Calculating the impact of the Impact Calculator

Back in October 2009 I posted on the launch of our new Impact Calculator, a tool designed to address the worrying dearth of reliable evidence supporting the various claims that are often made in favour of investment in records management (‘increasing productivity’, decreasing overheads etc’). Well, here we are, 18 months, 270 registered downloads (and lots more unregistered) of the Impact Calculator, 6 completed pilot projects and 1 published research paper later.

Hopefully, the paper in question – based on the findings from 6 UK universities all of whom used the Impact Calculator to measure the return on investment (or not) realised through improvements to records management – within the Records Management Journal (Vol. 21 No.1, 2011) will finally drive a stake in the heart of that oft-quoted but seemingly completely mythical previous ‘source’ of ‘data’: “the Coopers & Lybrand study” which has been doing the rounds of lazy records management presenters and authors for about the past decade!

Of course data based solely on the experience of 6 universities is always going to be limited in terms of its broader applicability and the evidential weight we can place upon it, but at least their methodology and the workings of the calculator are transparent and consistent and therefore a considerable step forward on what has gone before.

And the conclusions from this work? Well, there are several and its difficult to summarise them adequately in a blog post, but the following statements all feature in my RMJ paper’s conclusion:

- There is no single absolute threshold of data purity and evidential rigour appropriate when measuring the impact of records management
- the cost effectiveness of records management is closely linked to questions of volume
- measuring impact represents a challenging new role for records professionals
- There are pros and cons to judging the impact of records management in terms of the tangible benefits realised

And the following statements, also based on the outputs from the same pilot projects have also featured in presentations on the Impact Calculator that I have given to post-graduate students at both University of Aberystwyth and San Jose University, California:
- retrospective appraisal projects rarely deliver a financial return on investment
- implementing a retention schedule ‘from this point on’ can deliver cost savings
- RM is only cost effective above a certain scale of operation
- investment in better processes and systems is more cost effective than increased reliance on cheaper labour

Although the full text of my RMJ paper is only available via the Records Management Journal from Emerald Publishing, the full results of the 6 pilot projects with commentary is publicly available from the JISC infoNet website.

As noted above, the jury is still out as to whether seeking to measure the impact of records management purely in statistical terms is a good thing or not and certainly there are lots of other reasons (legal, regulatory, historical etc) as to why it makes sense to appraise legacy records even if the evidence suggests that it will never recoup the money you spend on doing it. But at least now there is a tool and the beginnings of an evidence base out there for those who do feel that the business case for investment in records management within their organisation would be strengthened through the addition of some relevant and reliable data regarding its financial worth.