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.

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