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.

1 comment:

  1. Gordy, great post on the MER conference. I feel like I was there. Especially relevant comments on the importance of metadata and cost-justifying RM. Couldn't agree more.

    Chris Ryan