27 April 2017

Bridging the Gap between RIM and IT

Today’s Blog is sponsored by MER 2017, Cohasset Associates’ 25th annual educational conference on electronic records management, in Chicago, May 8-10.

Last month, we talked about how to get on the same page as your Legal colleagues.  The euphemism was to make an attorney your “new best friend.”  I hope you have been successful, with both of you now singing Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.

For most of us RIMmers, or Info Governors, it is at least as important to be allies with IT.  Managing electronic records is arguably more difficult than managing paper.  That’s because, while physical records may be completely in our control (or, at least, jurisdiction), we are often dependent upon technologists to help in managing electronic records.  That applies to policies and procedures, as well as storage, retrieval, and disposal.

Just as there is often a gap between RIMmers and Legal, there may be an even bigger gulf between RIM and IT.  This near-abyss comes from differences: vocabulary, performance goals, priorities, pain points, risk tolerance, training, and personality types. 

And just like when dealing with the Legal Dept., RIMmers cannot expect the technologists to reach out with songs of peace and harmony.  Only a relatively few technologists realize that their departmental success depends upon records management.  Without RIM, IT incurs risks, wasted resources, and the drag of lots of dead weight.  But IT doesn’t know that, generally.  They don’t know what they don’t know, so it is up to RIM to launch a plan for synergy.

But wait, I get ahead of myself.  Before an organization can enjoy the benefits of cooperation, an individual needs to cross over the aforementioned abyss.  A progressive records manager needs to make an IT leader their “new best friend.”

That’s easier said than done, and it might be more intellectually challenging that getting cooperation from Legal.  That’s because the RIMmer reaching out needs to get an orientation toward, and general understanding of the way IT works.  That’s not easy, and I don’t know any shortcuts.  It’s generally not part of our training, so it takes effort, and it take us out of our comfort zone.

For starters, the RIMmer needs to understand structured data, that is, relational databases, how they work, and the challenges of managing the records they contain.  Most records people are uncomfortable with the fluidity of structured data, as it is a whole different breed from paper.  There are challenges of storage, access, records declaration, administration of legacy systems, and archiving.

Then consider the daunting – for both Records and IT -- proliferation of platforms where records reside.  We’re talking Clouds, backups, social media, mobile apps, the Internet of Things, and more.  Multiply that by the ballooning volume of the data each platform can generate and hold.  To manage this deluge, it takes both Records and IT, working together, to create data maps that locate the burgeoning number of records.

These challenges can be overwhelming, so let’s start small.  What can a records leader do to find acceptance and cooperation from IT?  Here are some suggested steps:

  1. Learn the lingo.  RIM and IT may have different meanings for the same thing.  IT has words that are meaningless, at first blush, for records people.  But the first rule of communication is: speak the language of your audience.  So learn a bit of “techno-babble”.  Subscribe to one or two trade journals.  Then read the front page and a couple articles inside each issue.  You’ll start to pick up the jargon.   
  2. Develop empathy for the ITer’s pain points.  Ask questions.  Understand the ever-present tension between quality coding and limited time.  Find out how pressures from management effect work style.
  3. As you come to understand managing structured data, learn about current and legacy systems.  How does your organization do backup and data archiving?  You don’t have to become a programmer to understand the challenges and stumbling blocks.  You can do this through “Dummy” books, trade journals, conferences like MER, and asking questions
  4. Seek ways that Records can make IT more successful.  Here are a few examples/possibilities: 
    •  Records can often show IT how the burden of backup can be eased.  Not everything needs to be kept forever, but some things must be kept a long time.  Records has the expertise to know and act on the differences. 
    •  Teach IT that important information needs preservation as records regardless of its original medium (subject to policy).  That includes email, voice mail, social media posts, mobile apps, and drawings/notes on cocktail napkins.
    • Harmonize IT policies with Records policies.  It’s more efficient and more defensible in legal depositions. 
    • Try to understand and be sensitive to techsters’ common personality traits.  For example, there’s meeting etiquette: IT people tend to be on time for meetings, and they expect to be done at the established time.  IT folks expect a meeting leader to stay on agenda.  Many are reticent to speak assertively, so their opinion must be requested and drawn out. 

While every situation is different, these points are representative of the challenges to allying with IT.  It’s not always easy, but the rewards are great.  IT gets to reduce storage needs, retire old systems, and let databases run more quickly.  The Records Dept. is more successful because more records are captured, made accessible, and appropriately disposed.  Both gain because legal risk is reduced.  The whole organization gains from better practices, smaller budgets, better morale, and an improved legal standing.

So have a “new best friend” in IT, and invite him or her to MER.  It’s a great way to cement an alliance.  You and your ITer will appreciate each other more after sessions on social media, “the Internet of Things”, email, backup media, Cloud computing, and more.  The rewards are manifold.

And for more perspective and depth on this subject, join me at MER2017 in Chicago, May 8-10.  Rub shoulders with insightful people from IT, Legal, Records and more.  It’s high-quality time.

In the “Comments” section below, please share your thoughts and experience on this subject.

17 March 2017

“You’re My New Best Friend, Counselor”

Today’s Blog is sponsored by MER 2017, Cohasset Associates’ 25th annual educational conference on electronic records management, in Chicago, May 8-10.

Few records managers work solo.  Nor should they.

Today’s RIM requires expertise and contributions from a variety of disciplines beyond the scope and/or capabilities of any one person.  Not many RIMmers are technologically super-savvy, and few techies understand RIM.  Similarly, I have never heard of a law school class on RIM (although elements may be included in Discovery).  Nor are there many records manager with “JD” after their names.

The point is: no one can know everything, so our success depends on collaboration with other disciplines.  That’s easier said than done.

 Let’s talk about members of the Bar.  Many obstacles inhibit a natural cooperation between attorneys and records managers.  They have different backgrounds, training, perspectives, priorities, resources, status, budgets, salaries, and pain points that keep them up at night.  

There tend to be personality differences too.  Consider: many lawyers decide on their career relatively early in life.  They are survivors; their rigorous training weeds out the weak.  By the time they receive their Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, they are the elite.  And while stereotypes are always problematic, corporate lawyers tend to be risk-averse, non-committal extroverts (or over-compensating introverts) who are self-aware of their authority as members of the Bar.  They accept that, in corporate law, there are many ambiguities.  Nonetheless many have a need to be right, and the Law backs them up.

Records and Information Managers are in stark contrast.  They tend to enter the discipline in mid-career. Few have degrees in the area.  There are no RIM measures of expertise until one goes for certification.  In the corporate or governmental prestige pecking-order, RIMmers may not even make the top half.  Both their budgets and salaries are low, relative to lawyers.  On the personality scale, RIMmers tend to be introverts and/or perfectionists.

Records people usually know only as much law as they need to, perhaps Civil Procedures 26(b).  They may have heard of UBS v. Zubalake.  When it comes to contract law, intellectual property law, or other corporate law, most of us draw a blank.

General Counsels and their staffs generally know little about records retention schedules and taxonomies.  They have little or no experience in writing records management policies and procedures.  They know about declaring legal holds, but they may not know how to apply them effectively.  

Despite these significant differences, organizational success depends on law/RIM collaboration.  It improves litigation defense, and it guards against charges of spoliation.  Collaboration with a contract attorney protects records stored offsite, as well as information gathered online or by mobile apps.  Conversely, lawyers help validate RIM; the General Counsel’s office may even help fund records initiatives. 

Here are five key steps records leaders can take to improve collaboration between these disparate groups: 

  • ·       Get your basics down – hopefully committed to memory: 

o   If you’re not already, get conversant on the records portions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the derivative case law.
o   Avail yourself to the resources of The Sedona Conference (www.thesedonaconference.org), notably the Sedona Principles.  Sedona is a key intersection between records systems, the law, and the resulting implications
o   Go to MER 2017 (www.merconference.com) [the sponsor of today’s Blog post] and immerse yourself in the creative synergy that happens when some of the most perceptive minds in both records and the law come together.  If you can’t attend in person, sign up for remote access to the MER presentations.
o   Exploit ARMA’s estimable resources, including the Bookstore and Chapter libraries and meetings.

  •           Find an ally.  Ask how a Records/Legal collaboration can best advance your organization’s goals.  Who, within the Legal team, can collaborate to move the organization forward?  Check Legal’s organizational schema, including in-house counsel and outside counsel.  [Note that while employees of your organization are called in-house counsel, attorneys from independent law firms are never called out-house counsel.]  Who can best contribute to success?  Make that person your “new best friend”. 

o   Are Discovery issues most pressing?  Then your ally may be an eDiscovery attorney. 
o   Is the biggest issue unmanaged records outside the firewall?  Then your new partner may be a contract attorney. 
o   Is regulatory compliance difficult to prove?  Then you may want to befriend a regulatory specialist. 
o   If software doesn’t meet policy requirements (such as systems that can’t put holds on data), find the most tech-savvy attorney who can address it.

  • ·       Learn the parameters, frontiers, and basic vocabulary of your ally’s specialty.  A simple Web search will reveal many resources.  Each focus has its own publications.  Read a sampling.  When you see a reference to a salient legal case, find it on the Web and read the abstract.

  • ·       Meet informally.  I prefer a lunch where you can learn a bit about each other (family, interests, political leanings, and more), and also dispel preconceptions.

  • ·       Remember your differences and work to bridge the gulfs.  Seek points of congruence that emphasize shared concerns.  Ask questions that solicit legal opinions and, when possible, refer to seminal legal cases (see above) that relate to his/her opinions.

  • ·       Follow up: 

o   When you see a pertinent article or legal reference in a magazine, send your friend the link. 
o   If some new case or technology effects your work, ask your ally how they relate to your current legal situation. 
o   Have a second luncheon meeting, and a third.  Look for ways your collaboration can improve your organization and show those to the counselor. 
o   Be prepared to involve attorneys with other specialties.

Following these steps, I have found great openness and surprising acceptance.  That’s because records managers solve lawyers’ problems that they can’t solve for themselves.  It relieves stress and contributes to their success.  In appreciation, they might even pick up the tab for lunch.

The same principles extend to other groups, such as IT or Audit groups.  The personality types, pain points, publications, etc. change, but friendship always accelerates essential collaboration. 
Get to know a “new best friend” today.