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.


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  2. "basement dwelling librarian"

    gee thanks for perpetuating a stereotype, since I joined the profession 30 years ago I've rarely known a librarian to be a records manager, so to call a records professional a librarian is a bit much.

    20 years ago I was involved with issues involvign electronic records (structured and unstructured). what happened in circa 2000 is that after years of records professionals forecasting the coming tsunami of e-records the tsunami finally hit and the IT world realized that they didn't know what to do.

    As for AIIM giving "ever more energy to RIM" I don't think so. I see the comments of many folks who have taken their classes who equate an AIIM certificate with the CRM certification by putting those initials behind their name like they do the CRM designation.
    I remember seeing early ERM products on the ARMA exhibit floor in the 1990s but not on AIIM showroom floor

  3. Gordy, I think your post here is extremely thoughtful and spot on. It seems to me that here you are implying ARMA, finally, has found its voice; and I couldn't agree more.

    Call it Inforamtion Governance, RIM, whatever, the fact is, what RIM professionals have worked so hard for all these years is finally seeing the light of day. It needed an identity, an understandable scope, a defined set of principles, and now we have that in GARP. It allows us to more confidently and swiftly take the lead we always new we should, but weren't invited to take.

    As for AIIM, well, it is a different perspective than ARMA, that's for sure. Without question it is far more focused on the tools than the principles. Fact is, we need both - tools without principled approach are worthless, and principles without application are nothing but hot air. I will be watching with great interest just what transpires over the next two to three years as GARP learns to walk and then run. Exciting stuff!

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  6. GARP (Generally Accepted Record-keeping Principles) is looking to quite useful for record keeping. In fact, It is good to know that GARP distills Records & Information Management (RIM) in to 8 categories. This is really surprised thing for me.

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