16 December 2009

Mr. Records Neighborhood -- a play for two actors

MR. RECORDS: (sings while donning cardigan):
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor.
Would you be mine? Could you be mine?
Won’t you please …won’t you please….Please won’t you be my neighbor?

MR. RECORDS: Good morning, boys and girls. I’m so glad you’re in the neighborhood today! I’m Mr. Records. What’s your name? Names are important. Our neighborhood has a name, too. It’s called the Records Center. Can you say that? Can you say, “Records Center”? [Pause] That’s right…Records Center.

I use records every day, and so do you! There are a lot of records here in the neighborhood. There are even more records in the Land of Make Believe, mostly on digital tape. In fact, if you tried to count all of the records in the Records Center and the Land of Make Believe, it would be more than you or I could count. That’s a lot of records!

Today I want to talk with you about records where you live and play because, y’know what? Records are like people. Every record is special! That’s right. No two records are exactly the same, just like no two people are exactly the same. If they were, then one would be a copy, and copies are not records. No! But just like people, every record is special.

And do you know what else, boys and girls? Every record has an owner. There are no orphan records. Every record belongs to someone. From the moment it arrives or is created until the time to get rid of it, every record belongs to someone. Isn’t that a comfort? So if you’re a record, you’re never alone.

Do you remember last week, when Mr. McFeely was supposed to deliver five messages, but he could only find four of them. He got very upset and a little bit grumpy, didn’t he? Ummm-hmmm. He had to learn an important lesson about where he put important letters so that the Postmaster General wouldn’t indict him. I’m glad he learned that lesson. He set up a records program to be sure he would never lose a letter again. That was a good idea!

Today I thought we would pay a visit to our neighborhood’s Records Center Manager, Lotta Lectrons. She knows all about taking care of records.


Hello, Lotta, it’s good to see you again.

LOTTA: Hello, Mr. Records, it’s nice to see you, too.

MR. RECORDS: Would you tell the girls and boys about all the kinds of records that you have here?

LOTTA: Sure, Mr. Records. We all know that a record is information that is important…if it is not important, then it isn’t a record. And we all know about the records like Mr. McFeely was looking for, the kind where the information is printed on paper.

But did you know that what’s important about the record is the information in the record, not the way it is stored? So, information stored on a computer is just as much a record as information stored on paper, even though it is stored in a very different way.

MR. RECORDS: So whatever way important information is stored, it’s still a record?

LOTTA: That’s right. It could be stored in flash memory or on a USB drive or on a DVD. The medium doesn’t matter…it’s the information that is important.

MR RECORDS: Do you mean that someday, these boys and girls might have podcasts of Mr. Records on their MP3 players?

LOTTA: Yes, they might. And it doesn’t matter what kind of format the information is in: It could be in MP3, but it could be a text or a TIFF file. It could be a PDF or a Wave file. Remember, what’s important is the information, not the way it is stored.

MR RECORDS: What else do the boys and girls need to know about records?

LOTTA: Well, it’s important to know that getting rid of records is as important as keeping them. We call it disposition. Can you say, “disposition”?

MR RECORDS: Dis-po-ZI-shun.

LOTTA: Good! Disposition is important because the records you keep when you shouldn’t have them are as harmful as the records that you should have that you can’t find.

MR RECORDS: Well, we know about missing records from Mr. McFeely.

LOTTA: Yes, but do you remember when Daniel took a cat nap instead of getting rid of King Friday’s records according to the retention schedule? When the lawyers found the records that should have been disposed, they made King Friday pay a big ransom. Daniel was very sorry and felt bad for a long time!

MR RECORDS: Yes, he did. He was a very sad, scaredy-cat. And all of those leftover records made it hard to find the other records that were still important.

LOTTA: That’s right. There’s one more thing here at the Records Center that I would like the boys and girls to know.

MR RECORDS: What’s that, Lotta?

LOTTA: Well, sometimes certain records are put on “Hold”. That means that we keep them until the “hold” is over, even if the regular retention schedule tells us it is time to dispose of the records.

MR RECORDS: Does that mean that our retention schedule is strong, but a “hold” is even stronger?

LOTTA: Exactly. Now you know how the Records Center works.

MR RECORDS: Well, thank you Lotta. That’s a really important lesson to know. I think Mr. McFeely, King Friday, and all of us will do better knowing more about records.

LOTTA: Thanks for visiting, Mr. Records


MR RECORDS: Lotta Lectrons is really smart. She pays attention to the information, not the medium. She keeps records as long as it says to on the retention schedule, and then, she gets rid of the information. And she always keeps records that are on “hold”.


It’s such a good feeling, from your head to your toes
It’s such a happy feeling, when its time to dispose
No holds to keep what you have retained
And with a snap, lose more than you’ve gained.
It’s such a good feeling, a very good feeling…
That I’ll settle back with a Coke and some rum
With a smile on my face when the auditors come
And you’ll have files you want to store a while,
I will too.

Good bye, boys and girls. Good bye.


08 December 2009

A Haiku

Controls, governance,
That's why I smile when I see
The auditors come

23 November 2009

Esoteric No More

My whirlwind visit to the Greater Anchorage Chapter of ARMA last week opened my eyes to the widespread thirst and need for understanding our discipline, Records and Information Management. As the Chapter convened under the able leadership of President Toby Allen, I saw that the attending practitioners sense that thirst in their organizations, and they came for tools to quench it.

Generally, I think of RIM as an esoteric pursuit. Merriam-Webster.com defines “esoteric” as, “understood by the specially initiated alone,” and, “limited to a small group”. When people ask me, “What do you do?” I generally answer as quickly and succinctly as possible, aware that my kids call me the master of TMI (too much information -- they give me the referees’ time-out tee with their hands rather than wait for a chance to get the words in edgewise.)

I didn’t expect people in general to be interested in what we do…until now. Today, the craving to effectively deal with a glut of information is widespread. Maybe hermits and isolating survivalists aren’t besieged with TMI, but almost anyone with an email account is. The incessant drumming of headlines about lost records, lost information, and breached security raises our anxiety to the pay-rapt-attention level.

Much of the populace is bewildered by their own records, and torrents of attorneys and other leaders realize their organizations live and die by their records’ potential effect. On the plane to the 49th state, I answered my neighbor’s query, “What do you do?” and he pummeled me with questions about his personal records retention. At the University of Alaska -- Anchorage, students in Brian Saylor’s “Public Administration and Technology” class saw a great, amorphous cloud of info begin to take shape as they internalized the rudiments of RIM.

I know you know that the practice of RIM is rising from the basement to the boardroom. Now it is clear that RIM is also broadening from an esoteric niche to an underpinning of society. The need and demand for help with records runs broad and deep.

This may be unsettling for introvert records managers who entered the field expecting to serve away from the hubbub. Today’s RIMers need to forcefully and authoritatively interpret their discipline to the highest levels of management. What some may not realize is that those leaders are eager to hear the truth as RIM knows it. There is no need to be shy and self-effacing.

RIM is esoteric no more. Our organizations desperately need us, whether they know it or not. In the world I see, more and more organizations recognize that need, and they plead for our help. Let’s give it to them!

[Footnote: The slides from my presentation, “The Synergy of Records and Content Management” are available at www.slideshare.com.]

21 October 2009

The Disney World According to GARP

Last week, I high-tailed it down to Orlando for ARMA International’s 54th annual conference and expo. About 3500 other record-heads joined me for the official introduction of GARP, the "Generally Accepted Recordkeeping Principles" that have been brewing for over a year. I see GARP, and an accompanying maturity model for evaluating compliance to this new standard as a significant contribution to the burgeoning field of information governance. Both GARP and the model appear on www.arma.org.

This initiative coincides with the business community's spike in interest in information governance, as evidenced by a spate of news reports and recent acquisitions by leading ECM vendors. Conference speakers touted GARP as a way for records/information managers to say to top management, "You want info governance, and we've had it all along."

Indeed, GARP is not a novelty as much as a codification of long-evolving recordkeeping ideals. GARP distills Records & Information Management (RIM) best practices into eight categories:
  • Accountability
  • Integrity
  • Protection
  • Compliance
  • Availability
  • Retention
  • Disposition
  • Transparency
Comprehensive in nature, GARP is likely to extend the value of RIM in the eyes of executives with responsibility for compliance, finance, operations and information technology.

Fewer than 10 years ago, the stereotypic records manager was a basement-dwelling librarian safeguarding boxes of paper. RIM stock rose rapidly after 2002, thanks to a rushing embrace of digital records, a cry for help from corporate defense attorneys, and a multiplication of electronic records volume and media that has challenged existing information systems and schema.

The key issue switched from storage to controlling and exploiting large amounts of content/data. Over the last few years, the unit cost of digital storage plummeted while the number of available media skyrocketed. The key question switched from, “What are the practical limits of storage?” to, “How can we control and use the information we are acquiring?” Recent case law adds the question, “Who is responsible for and in control of the rapidly expanding information within many organizations.”

Records management practitioners have dealt with these issues for decades, if not centuries. In classical RIM governance, every record has a custodian at all times, and records without a reason for being are disposed. GARP neatly packages this discipline and offers it in a readily usable format.

As information governance ascends in importance, that is, as organizations seek better control and value from their data, records managers should find themselves in the calm eye of the hurricane around them.

Among the vendors on the expo floor in Orlando, nearly 100 offered products and/or services related to document and content management. Many of those -- also stalwarts at AIIM -- reflected a growing sophistication and appreciation for how ECM serves records management programs in large and midsized organizations. They clearly understood how their software solutions support organizations that ascribe to GARP. Lamentably, the booth staff of several other leading ECM vendors appeared clueless about how their products related to RIM.

I noted two technical areas that promise significant advantages over the next several months. The first (previewed by IBM and referred to by other vendors) was software for content analysis using textual and syntactical analytics for 1) auto classification of potential records and 2) building taxonomies. Potentially, this removes the human factor in deciding which documents are records and need to be preserved. This tactic will be useful when the accuracy of the software matches the acceptable level of risk in an organization.

The second involved improved techniques for taming MS SharePoint 2007. Compared to last year, the vendors showed greater understanding of the RIM issues SharePoint raises, and they offered better tools to contain, control, and cure its viral growth. SharePoint, however, may be a moving target, as the 2010 version should include significant changes. Also, a potential SharePoint competitor with its own set of problems and challenges lurks on the edge of vendors’ radar screens: The Google Wave, now in beta.

The relationship between ECM vendors, as associated in AIIM, and RIM practitioners, as associated in ARMA, has matured significantly over the last few years. “Records management” appeared as buzz words at AIIM’s conference in 2002. Many content managers saw RIM as a technology to add to their tool belts along side imaging, workflow, report management, forms processing, and others.

Seven years later, AIIM gives ever more energy to RIM, and many of its leading vendors recognize that acquiring vast quantities of information and easing its manipulation is only part of the challenge. Information needs organization and governance. With its release of GARP, ARMA declares that it is a prime source for organization and governance. Businesses that seek to glean the maximum value out of their acquired information need look no further.

10 September 2009

"In Search of Objectivity" or "Listening to Those We Often Ignore"

Last week, an unexpected overlap “slapped me upside the face”: A prime challenge of corporate Records & Information Management matched current events, political opinion and social tumult.

First the RIM part: The Records Director of a large financial services corporation called to ask for help implementing an enterprise RIM program. Apparently, the program is well written, comprehensive, and ready to deploy. But that is only half the battle. The implementation is beyond the RIM staff’s resources. Gaining acceptance, investment, and full participation is daunting. Rolling out the new program requires, among other things, advocacy, diplomacy, education, training and – above all else – effective communication.

This RIM program will only meet its goals if it receives universal endorsement or, minimally, grudging participation. Clearly, top officers and directors need their records managed, but so do the mail clerks, couriers, and temp workers. Everyone needs to pull together.

Knowing human nature, I am sure some people will resent and resist participating in RIM. Some won’t want to be bothered. VIPs may feel they are exempt. Many will find the change unsettling, difficult, and offering scant improvement for seemingly painful effort.

For a successful launch, the Records Manager and staff will need to interpret their efforts to all participants in the language of the staff members. But at least as important, the RIM staff will have to listen to the conflicting views. The RIMmers will have to consider the issues their efforts raise and evaluate the objections. They may need to use carrots and sticks to get cooperation, but most important, they will need to listen to the concerns and fears of workers at all levels of the corporation. Constructive criticism and program adjustments may contribute to success.

How does this overlap with current events? Last week I attended a family reunion. There, relatives from the generation before and after mine asserted opinions that they declared The Political Truth. My problem was that they based their conclusions on information from sources from only one end of the political spectrum. Their exposure to the day’s news and its interpretation all came from the same brand of talk radio, cable news, and print journalism. In fact, a single man owned most of their news media.

These relatives asserted their right to claim objectivity without exposing themselves to dissenting opinions. They claimed to know what the other side supported, but that “knowledge” all came through reading/listening to their one-sided favorites.

I assert that there is value in hearing both sides of an issue. No one gets it right all the time. We need to challenge our views by considering them in the light of opposing conclusions. Without abandoning our values, we need to consider how the advocacy from “the other side” relates to what we hold dear.

Information and reasoned opinion – as opposed to demagoguery – are always valuable. They enhance and inform our thoughts and actions. They may even contribute to or temper our strategies and tactics. It is important and valuable to listen to those who hold opposing values or practice divergent thought processes.

When rolling out a RIM program, RIMmers cannot afford to roll over objectors and their objections. RIMmers need to listen, consider, possibly adjust plans, and in all cases, give full credence to those who don’t want to change their records management practices (or lack thereof).

Successful RIM is dependent upon full cooperation and participation in an organization, from top to bottom and everywhere in between. Technology people, Legal people, Finance people, Operations people, and those from other departments may all make valuable contributions to a RIM program during both construction and implementation.

RIM professionals are subject matter experts, but they are not know-it-alls. They need not be spineless or appeasers, but they do need to listen to and consider all opinions. When RIMmers listen, their programs improve.

19 August 2009

The Unobserved Need

Last week I traveled to rural Indiana to research a case study of a mid-size manufacturing firm. While the subject is interesting in its own right, it is symbolic of a huge, unobserved need.

In the U.S. alone, there are close to 100,000 small to mid-size businesses. Different numbers define this SMB group, but I see it as organizations with between 100 and 1,000 staffers. Outside the business world, there are thousands of non-profits and governmental units with similarly sized staffs.

The vast majority of these organizations suffer from a vacuum or near vacuum of records management. Worse, most don’t recognize the resulting risk. In the SMB world the discipline of Records & Information Management is a little known concept. Record keeping systems (or lack thereof) grow in reaction to operational needs, not RIM concerns.

But these small and mid-size organizations expose themselves to serious risks:
  • Those without disaster recovery plans gamble with their very existence
  • Without intentional records retention and destruction, they risk crippling legal judgments
  • Poor records management puts them at an operational/competitive disadvantage
  • Demonstrating regulatory compliance poses a risk for many modest organizations, even though they are generally less regulated than large corporations. (Smaller businesses that supply or serve large organizations usually have to comply with their customers’ regulations, a requirement generally beyond their rudimentary or absent RIM program)
  • The list goes on….

A Fortune 500 company, becoming aware of its lack of RIM, simply hires a records manager to launch a program (and, yes, there are Fortune 500 firms that do not have a single, dedicated records manager.)

SMBs typically diffuse their records management responsibilities among existing staff and departments, but those efforts are uncoordinated and may be uninformed. Within a single organization, one section may discard important records while another retains meaningless documents in perpetuity. It’s the Wild West out there, where stationmasters set their own time..

Ironically, some of these SMBs currently have tools they need to, at least, make improvements. Their corporate attorneys may have valuable advice on regulatory compliance, if only they would ask. One or more departments (or the whole enterprise) may own document or content management software that contains unused tools for RIM. Their IT departments may have credible disaster recover/business continuity programs that could include records, if only they were aware of the need.

Sadly, few small and mid-size organizations know their needs, so their risks continue unmitigated. The need for education is great, but few address it. ARMA’s priorities focus on large organizations with sophisticated RIM programs or the challenges of subtle, new technologies: for firms still seeking their first records inventory, considering big-versus-small record buckets or the possible advantages of RIM in cloud computing are meaningless.

SMBs personify the work-a-day, blue collar, grind-it-out side of RIM. It may be as unglamorous as a midsize manufacturing business in rural Indiana. But the need, and the potential rewards, are as great as any at the largest, highly-staffed, multinational, corporation.

22 July 2009

RIM Underpins Society

Last Thursday at Paddington Station, I had tea with Andrew Griffin, UK Director of the International Records Management Trust (www.irmt.org). Andrew had recently returned from Sierra Leone, the West African democracy only two years removed from a devastating civil war. Sierra Leone ranks dead last in the United Nations 2008 Human Development Index.

In Sierra Leone, Andrew is a ghostbuster. He advises the emerging government’s anti-corruption task force to rid the national payroll of phantom workers: deceased, retired, or fictional people drawing real salaries. Good records management discourages this kind of fraud.

The new government, led by President Ernest Bai Koroma, is in a race against time. It needs to build effective, functional bureaus that win the confidence of the citizens before drug cartels and factional forces exploit any state failures.

The state of records management in Sierra Leone is abysmal. You may be amazed to see the graphic evidence on a video at the Trust’s Website http://irmt.org/video_ghostBusting.html (You may be disturbed by the images of record mismanagement, but I predict that you will enjoy the reggae-inspired soundtrack.)

When I see the situation in Sierra Leone, I realize how absolutely foundational RIM is to society. Americans, for example, take for granted that their birth certificates, college transcripts, Social Security benefits, credit histories, and stock portfolios are safe, accurate, and accessible. But what if they weren’t?
  • What if I couldn’t prove that I was born in the USA and, hence, had a right to citizenship?
  • What if I couldn’t produce my academic credentials on demand
  • What if I retired from work but the Social Security Administration had no record of my earnings?
  • What if I sought a loan but my credit history had vanished?
  • What if my stock certificates – all held by my broker – disappeared?

These things do happen, but it is the aberration, not the norm, and there is often redress in court available in developed nations. Fraud and negligence are punishable offenses. And victims of bad records management often have backup systems or fallback positions to cushion losses.

In contrast, Sierra Leone’s annual per capita income is $530 US according to the World Bank and as low as $150 US by other estimates. Most families live on the edge of economic ruin, Griffin told me, and any interruption of income can be disastrous. Good records management stabilizes payrolls, starting with government workers. By reducing fraud, it ensures money is available for legitimate civil servants. The widespread poverty creates a strong incentive for fraud, so efforts to combat deceit must be similarly aggressive.

The IRMT, working with the government’s ghostbusting task force, already has saved over a half billion Leones (about $154,000 US) each month since February. The project identified over 600 ghost workers and retired employees still drawing salaries. Now the government can afford to pay 600 real people working for the common good.

Griffin reports that, although these are great achievements, the key has been “getting the records straight” and ensuring that there are up-to-date personnel records to maintain a clean payroll in future. “With reliable records and record keeping systems, and reliable data against which to audit the payroll, irregularities and fraud should be a thing of the past,” he notes.

Sierra Leone is just one example of the Trust’s vital work. Trust consultants have contributed their insights to 33 developing democracies in Africa, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean islands. Several projects are reported, with accompanying videos, at the Trust’s Website. This is important work, contributing to freedom, peace, well-being and democracy around the world.

The IRMT addresses RIM needs in developing democracies in several ways. The trust’s work in education is, potentially, even more significant than its project work. But that is a subject for a subsequent posting. Stay tuned.

I invite you to share your comments and experiences.

-- Gordy Hoke

05 July 2009

Daily Value

For those of us trying to whip a Records & Information Management program into shape every day, we may view records as objects, challenges, obstacles, risks, clutter, detriti or worse. It’s hard to stay objective about records’ real importance and value.

But sooner or later, reality or exigency enters our lives, and we re-connect with the real value of the “stuff” we manage daily. (I wonder if jewelers lose their appreciation for the beauty and clarity of their stones? Do art dealers start thinking of a masterpiece as “that canvas in the antique frame”?)

I travel outside the USA irregularly enough that, when an international trip approaches, I always have to pause to muse, “Where’s my passport? Is it up to date?” This isn’t usually a critical issue. However, when my college-age daughter was bussing around Scotland on her own, with no determined touch-points, I wanted to be able fly there immediately on Fatherly Airlines should trouble beset her. She returned, hale and hearty, but if she had needed me, I didn’t want to have to search for my passport.

Birth certificates, property deeds, proofs of insurance, receipts, certificates of deposit: these are all records with real personal impact for most of us. Professionally, the records we manage may be as insignificant as the number of ants in an anthill, but frequently the records are vital to somebody – some faceless anybody who depends on the effectiveness of our programs for health or fairness or justice.

In recent months I have had conversations with fine records people at Medtronic, St. Jude Medical, and Boston Scientific, three firms that make implantable medical devices. People’s lives depend on the consistent effectiveness of those companies’ products. Imagine the calamity when, say, a cardiac pacemaker is recalled because a weakness has come to light. Are the records of the recipients of the particular model in question 100 percent accurate? Are they 100 percent retrievable in a readable format? They better be because lives are at stake.

Clearly RIM controls, with regular audits, help us bring our programs’ error rates down close to zero. But there is a human factor here too. As leaders, we can not afford to get jaded about the value of what we do. We can impress upon our staffers that our work is vital, whether a record series is or is not.

But there is always that complacency issue, the boredom, the routine, that is our enemy. That risk is always with us. Our challenge is to continually strive, to battle to find ways to stay fresh, to recognize that each record is important to someone.

And when I figure that one out, I’ll turn my attention to the quest to make love last over decades.

-- Gordy Hoke

24 June 2009

Innovation, from Within

Historical objectivity is always difficult. I never give full credence to, for example, the American Film Institute’s lists of movie superlatives because they always seem skewed toward recent films. That’s not surprising. Can anyone born after 1940 really appreciate the impact of Charlie Chaplin’s silent films?

Fully recognizing my historical subjectivity, I nonetheless suggest that Records & Information Management is evolving rapidly. Is there any need to rate the change as the fastest ever? Is there any need to compare the relative profundity of Rembrandt and Warhol?

The previous post here discussed changes to RIM imposed by external forces: technology, law, and economics. Now let’s consider how RIM changes within an organization can address those forces. The key is neither a technology nor a tool. It is not a strategy or tactic. It is not an instruction or directive. It is a culture of innovation.

No one knows the next force that will require significant changes. No hardware, software, training class, or taxonomy will necessarily prepare a RIM program for its next great challenge. But a culture where innovation is encouraged, valued, rewarded, and applied is most likely to stay afloat in a sea of change.

Tom Koulopoulos, in his 2009 book The Innovation Zone: How Great Companies Re-Innovate for Amazing Success defines innovation as, “…a process of change with measurable value.”

For a RIM program, this suggests that the procedure for change must be built into the program’s governance. Innovation needs to be encouraged, and its consideration, evaluation, adaptation and application should be part of the RIM process.

I have previously written that every worker participates in records management through defined roles. (“Everyone is a records manager.”) Today I suggest that the invitation, no, the expectation that workers innovate be written into every job description. The assumption that most workers are the experts in how to improve their own jobs is part of a culture of innovation.

Generating innovation is only a start, however. Similar to Koulopoulos’ writing, the innovation process must add
1. Evaluation of innovative ideas
2. Storage for ideas that are ahead of their time
3. Sponsorship of the ideas with current value
4. Application of the new ideas to current issues
5. Measurement of the innovations

This last is key because innovation that can’t be measured is useless. Measurement (part of Controls) has always been a cornerstone or RIM, and innovation is no exception. Change is not a synonym for improvement. Only measurements prove improvement.

When a RIM program inculcates a culture of innovation, the program creatively responds (or even anticipates) changes in technology, law, and business requirements. It enjoys continual process improvement that spills into other areas. RIM contributes to profitability instead of being a drain on it. RIM principals become resources for the entire organization.

The “how to” of innovation is well documented and publicly available. My hope is to alert RIM leaders to the current critical need. For practitioners, it is difficult to step back from day-to-day challenges to consider building innovation into the program governance. Doing so, however, can be the difference between a program that is, on the one hand, reactive and dependent on corporate largesse and, on the other hand, creative and intrinsically valuable. The latter is better.

I value your thoughts about this. Please drop a comment below.

-- Gordy Hoke

23 June 2009

Innovation (1)

If the roots of Records & Information Management are at least 2300 years old, why is Innovation a top RIM priority in 2009? Beyond the truism, “Stagnation is death,” the answer identifies key, even vital, roles for records managers and their programs.

Certainly, innovation is a hot topic. It is the cover story of the June 15th BusinessWeek and the focus of a fast-selling book, The Innovation Zone, by Delphi Group oracle Tom Koulopoulos. In RIM, innovation takes two forms, and each is so important that it deserves its own posting.

First, external changes -- in technology, law, and business -- compel RIM to innovate. Yes, the discipline is ancient, but today’s savvy practitioners understand the imperative to create new strategies and tactics. If the stereotype of the librarian-in-the-basement were ever true, today it is as outmoded as carbon paper. The same forces that transformed the mousy subterranean records clerk into the superhero Chief Records Officer demand powerful innovation in RIM today.

The axioms haven’t changed, but the derived formulae are breathtakingly new.

Technologies and their applications evolve daily. Last week I wrote about how Web 2.0 is changing democracy. This week the news reveals how Twitter enabled the Iranian version of Virtual Mob to invalidate a fixed election and question the stability of the government. (While the Obama administration has been officially “hands off”, it did ask Twitter to delay a planned maintenance outage so Iranians could continue to organize their protests in cyberspace.)

Within the framework of classical RIM, today’s leaders address technology-related issues that were only imaginative a few years ago. How does one manage the records of:
 Mobile computing
 Cloud computing
 Web content
 Metadata
 Federated repositories
 Random Access Memory
 Ephemeral formats and media forms

Similarly, the evolution of case law challenges RIM practitioners to react quickly to a shifting environment. Like records leaders, judges grope and grasp to understand technology and its implications, and their opinions do not always reflect the world as we see it. Nonetheless, their interpretations stand (until reversed), and records officers sometimes need contortionist flexibility to innovate practices that conform to the law.

This hammers us when judges differ on storage/retention requirements, admissibility, production, and the scope of data maps. Add the spate of new laws and regulations effulging from government executives and legislators, and only innovative approaches will enable RIM success.

The final external demand for RIM innovation comes from economics, the business climate. Records officers who want to be taken seriously by organizational leaders in finance, technology, law, operations and other areas must consider the business implications of their programs. A decade ago, records management was simply a cost of doing business. Today it may not be a profit center, but it needs to contribute to a business’ profitability. RIM should reduce risk and improve business processes, customer response, security, and more.

How do we address these changes in technology, law, and business? The answer is innovation. We need great minds and perceptive analysts to develop strategies and tactics to manage these evolutions. The need for innovation applies to entire RIM programs, from the Chief Records Officer to the mail clerk: Innovation knows no status. Like Web 2.0, everyone can contribute, and the best programs are those than encourage, enable, enact and reward innovation.

Check back soon for the next posting on the needs for innovation within RIM programs.

-- Gordy Hoke

10 June 2009

Idol, Obama, and RIM

Last March, I spoke to ARMA’s Denver Mile High Chapter about the synergy of RIM and Enterprise Content Management (ECM). Afterward, a respected colleague questioned my slogan, “Everyone is a Records Manager!” He was willing to concede that everyone touches records, but not everyone manages them. It’s true that I am given to hyperbole, and that he has a point, especially in the paper records era.

However, that world of atom-based records (paper and microforms) are vestigial: still important but left over, analogous to the crocodile as a left-over from dinosaurs. They can still bite you, big time, but they’re not the leading edge of evolution.

There’s more to running a RIM program than just keeping the records safe and accessible. Much of a modern RIM program’s success (or lack thereof) comes from the willing and informed participation of the many people who touch records. These people need to be invited, courted, and accepted into a RIM program community. Concepts from Web 2.0, social networking, and participatory democracy all contribute to a vital, vibrant RIM program. When workers who create, touch, process, organize, and communicate records have a personal investment in the success and progress of RIM, the program itself flourishes.

The cover of the May 25 issue of Newsweek featured a very tight close-up of the President and an overlaid title “Obama on Obama”. This must be the zillionth-and-one portrait of 44 to hit the newsstands this year. Just a few years ago, this would constitute “overexposure”, and public ennui would limit sales of redundant publications.

The Web 2.0 world is different, however. People involved in social networks, frequent phone texting, Twittering, and Instant Messaging expect to be in constant contact with their important relations, the President included. Facebook lists over 500 groups that include the name “Barak Obama”, and there are over 500 more under “White House”.

Amongst people involved in Web 2.0, the President is no more overexposed than their best friends or close relatives. There is always something new to know.

This is an aspect of the new participatory democracy, as opposed to the old representative democracy. Web 2.0 people, believe that their thoughts and actions count, that they make a difference. Understanding this sense of involvement allowed Candidate Obama to engage, enlist, and activate the hordes that carried his campaign to victory.

In doing so, the Obama campaign capitalized on the new proliferation of media and their burgeoning use. One of the first mass users of this technology and consciousness was American Idol. Idol really convinced teeming millions that their votes were truly important and easy to cast. For these people, it was a short jump from realizing that they could choose the next superstar to realizing that they could choose the next president.

Their involvement continues. For readers with a primary, personal relationship with the President, there is no over-exposure.

This may seem to be a long way from a modern records management program. But today’s most successful Records Officers recognize people today, especially young people today, feel empowered and eager for participation and responsibility. These ROs invite suggestions for and contributions to the RIM program. They encourage Tweet-like comments, wall postings, Wikis, and other expressions to build community and encourage personal investment in the RIM program.

The necessity/desirability of incorporating aspects of Web 2.0 in a RIM program will vary greatly from organization to organization. But the savvy Records Officer will consider the cost/benefit of exploiting new technology.

Today, the success of RIM is dependent on community, more than ever. As I previously quoted Cohasset’s Carol Stainbrook, speaking at MER, “RIM is an umbrella organization…it takes a team.”

Simon Cowell (Idol) got it. Barak Obama got it. And so can we.

01 June 2009

How Did We Get Here? Five Technologies that led to electronic records

The RIM world still wrestles with the progression of paper records into electronic records, as well as the integration of the two. Paper or plastic? Isolated or federated? Local or remote? The choices are endless. To successfully address these issues, it helps to know the back-story. How did we get here from there?

Until the mid-1980s, almost all business records were physical, that is, the medium that held the information was made up of atoms. Most of that was paper, which, by today's standard, is an often-inefficient form for storage. The rest was mostly microform – pretty much the same idea, but denser. Paper had advantages. Reading required no power source, if there was a nearby window. And file systems were straightforward. It’s not surprising that records management borrowed heavily from Library Science. To this day, most degrees in records management are conferred by schools of Library Science.

Toward the end of the 1980s, five technological advances laid the grounds for the sea change we see today.

1. Digital scanning. Paper-image copiers of the 1960s-1980s used xerography, a photographic process. This is in contrast to digital scanning, where each small patch, of a sheet of paper, that is, a bit of information, is identified as either black or white. This sequence of identities passed through a wire for either storage or remote reconstruction as a bit-mapped image. The first mass application of digital scanning was for facsimile (fax) machines.

2. Dense, low-cost digital storage. On the heels of the fax boom came optical disk storage. This used the newly popularized and finally affordable laser to burn laminated disks with the sequence of white/black bits coming from the scanner. When the technology raised its capacity and lowered its costs, digital storage of images became practical. Users, effectively, faxed images to themselves and stored them for later use.

3. Computer power. The bits of information that a scanner produces need control and direction, meaning they had to pass through a computer. In the mid-80s, personal computers had limited processing power, and mainframe processing was expensive. As the decade waned, however, prices for personal computers with Intel’s 80286 microprocessor lowered, and for the first time, the processing power to handle images was widely deployed.

4. Image displays. Before the mid-80s, computer monitors generally showed only plain, alphanumeric characters. Any variations were indicated by markup language. The second half of the decade witnessed the release of increasingly sophisticated monitors that could display bit-mapped images as well as characters.

5. Laser printers. Early printers used wires to print dots in a matrix, with a resolution too low for most graphical applications. Character printers of the time essentially automated the capabilities of a typewriter. By contrast, in a laser printer, the image is organized by a digital sequence such as that which makes up a digital image. The first, mass-produced laser printer arrived in 1984, so the technology was ready when the other components came together.

These five technologies made possible electronic records, the boon and bane of today’s records managers.

The evolution of the application of these five technologies is another story, the subject for a future post.

22 May 2009

Musings from MER

Sunday, I jumped on Amtrak’s Empire Builder, which carried me to Managing Electronic Records, Cohasset Associates’ preeminent conference in Chicago. There, some of the most thoughtful minds and ardent seekers gathered to share needs and potential solutions.

Conference organizers focused on legal issues: litigation readiness, records production, e-discovery, risk mitigation, datamaps, and more. Lawyers and judges intimated and intimidated the plenary sessions with reports and opinions regarding bad faith, adverse inference, spoliation, and multi-million dollar searches for records long past their disposal dates. These are not boys crying wolf. Hopefully their warnings are heeded.

Perhaps the most potent message of the conference, however, did not get the center stage. It first appeared in a SRO track session. It got an encore in the closing plenary after roughly half the attendees had left. That message is that records managers, content managers, lawyers, CIOs, and other stakeholders have vastly underestimated the importance of metadata.

Julie Gable received a rock-star reception for her passionate presentation on the many aspects of metadata that have been under-considered. She went further to suggest that for multi-national organizations with petabytes of documents/records in diverse and diffuse repositories, the only effective way to manage the information may be through metadata. Reinforcing Gable’s point, at conference-end, David Weinberger provocatively offered that all information is both content and metadata.

Riding back on Wednesday, I collected some of the trends and most perceptive concepts encountered amidst the sessions and conversations:

 “RIM is an umbrella organization…it takes a team,” opined Cohasset’s (and fellow Minnesotan) Carol Stainbrook. The principles of RIM now reach into every significant facet of information use and storage, but it may fall to the Records Manager to assemble the stakeholders, build the alliances and forge the programs that safeguard the organization’s very existence.

 Especially in “these tough economic times”, a RIM program must cost-justify itself. One center for savings, often overlooked, is e-discovery. “Shrink the universe of documents that must be checked for relevance and privilege,” suggested Conor Crowley of Daley & Crowley.

 The Big Bucket plan for records classification and retention retains currency and staunch support. Nonetheless, it is clear to me that “Big Buckets” is one strategy among many. It has no inherent value of its own. Its value varies with how well it supports an organization’s business process. It helps in different degrees, but by no means is it universally valuable.

 Session leaders expressed reservations-bordering-on-fears of trying to manage records in cloud-based information systems. While I have seen no comparative statistics, I suspect that most of the valid fears apply equally to systems with local servers. Whether cloud computing is appropriate or not is really a risk management issue.

 Although he denies it, David Weinberger is the rightful heir to Marshall McLuhan, the 1960s-era Canadian philosophy professor/megastar. McLuhan’s catch phrase “The medium is the message,” is directly analogous to Weinberger’s, “The difference between content and connection is gone.” His reference is to the Web 2.0 world where hyperlinking and participatory democracy proliferate knowledge, if not wisdom.

As a RIM conference, MER continues to set the pace. The session quality is consistently high, the networking opportunities are rife, and the conference administration is flawless. The only limitation is timeliness. Session proposals for 2010 are due next October, meaning the ideas have to be formulated 8-10 months in advance. In a field that evolves as quickly as electronic records (with technology, regulations, and case law unfolding almost daily), it is hard to predict the most relevant issues.

Nonetheless, MER is almost guaranteed to enrich, provoke, and expand the thinking of serious RIM professionals. Kudos go to Bob Williams and Cohasset Associates.

11 May 2009

Welcome & Why

Welcome to Positively RIM. Here I hope to present and give perspective to the profound, curious, and even funny aspects of Records & Information Management.

Why post Positively RIM?

Records & Information Management is a tremendous force for good in the world. Our avalanche of information – physical and digital – is worse than useless if we can’t organize it and find it at appropriate times. Certainly, without RIM, businesses can barely operate. But more than that, society depends upon secure, readily available records and information.
  • Regulatory compliance is not just a game. The regulations are there to protect people and ensure justice. Organizations prove compliance by producing documenting records.
  • Democracy depends on records management because RIM ensures fair elections. Voter registration/roles, making sure no one votes twice, processing absentee ballots, and more are all dependent on high quality records management. In new democracies, these may be new concepts, and that’s why I support the International Records Management Trust (www.irmt.org). But if we had better records management here in Minnesota, we would have a senator by now.
  • Both business and government depend on RIM to function. How confident are you that the Social Security Administration will have accurate records of your work, so someday you may be able to collect a pension? How confident are you that, when the big plasma TV you bought goes blank, the manufacturer will be able to find your warranty registration? It depends on the quality of their RIM.
  • Whereas criminal prosecution may turn on, literally, a smoking gun, most civil legal cases turn on the presentation of records. RIM is essential to justice.
In my perspective, RIM is one of the glues that holds society together. The thousands-year-old discipline of records management makes a dynamic, positive contribution to culture. Sure, records managers keep businesses running. But, together with our sibling archivists and our cousin librarians, we encourage the wealth of human culture, fostering peace and justice. There is no end to this endeavor.

Thanks for reading! See you soon.