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.