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23

May

Records management – it’s just about storing stuff? Well, isn’t it?

Exposing the top 10 records management myths.

I’ve just finished reading a short article in IDM magazine where Jim Delande makes the following statement: “A comprehensive e-storage system is the solution to today’s digital mess.” And I have to respond – that’s like saying all IT departments need is a digital vault – no process, no governance, just store stuff. Or like a company’s HR department saying all we need is people; they don’t need training or policies, or support – they will work it out themselves.

 

Records Management

 

Storage is one element in an increasingly complex area, and I agree with Mr Delande when he writes that the format of records is changing, but then it has always evolved, just as society has evolved. From clay tablets to papyrus, to paper, to digital… and we as the records and information management profession have also evolved – perhaps not as quickly as any of us would like, but we are used to dealing with change. It comes with the territory.

Now, I don’t think for one moment that the author is really suggesting that records management is only about storage, but we do hear it said a lot that records management is where we “send stuff when we are finished with it”, where “records go to die” and so on. And that is so far from the truth. So I thought we would play a little game of mythbusters. Here are my top 10 myths. Please leave your comments and your own myths. And if you disagree, let us know – we would love to hear your thoughts.

 

Myth 1: I don’t use paper at all – records management is irrelevant to my role.

The format of the work you produce or receive is irrelevant to records management. Our concern is helping to ensure that businesses, public sector agencies and other organisations do business well, and have the evidence to not only prove this – providing accountability and transparency in their decision-making processes – but also that this information can be leveraged, allowing lessons to be learnt, providing “evidential based decision making” not gut feel decision making. Records management plays a role in helping business processes to be streamlined, made lean, and enabled by sharing business-critical information across work processes – making it more available for use and, by design, more useful.

 

Myth 2:  Records Management is where I send paper files when I don’t need them anymore.

This is an age old perception – the image of dusty boxes in basements where no sane person ever treads, where things go in but don’t come back out. As most records teams will tell you, they do spend a portion of their time conducting file retrievals – and yes, I can hear you yawning from here. But consider the case where a large council saved itself a million pound pay-out because the records team provided a legal deed of dedication which proved the council’s case – and incredibly fast I might add – also saving time and money for the legal system, a point the judge acknowledged. Or the case where a person who has been adopted wants to trace their biological family and understand more – that information, held usually in paper files and in electronic systems, is brought together by the records team to help you deliver service to your clients.  Have I convinced you yet?

 

Myth 3:  Records Management staff are really librarians in disguise.

While we share many competencies with our librarian colleagues – and are very proud of that, by the way – we aren’t the same profession. We do have members who come from library backgrounds, but we also have former IT professionals, people from performing arts backgrounds, from communication and legal backgrounds, business analysts, strategists and so the list goes on. Our profession is deliciously diverse, as are the people in those roles, and we are rightly incredibly proud of that diversity – it makes us a unique bunch of people, and a community of varied expertise for both our colleagues in the profession and our organisations to call on.

 

Myth 4:  We have a PRA (Public Records Act) compliant EDRMS, so our records management needs are fulfilled.

As a vendor, this is one of my favourite myths and one of the most inaccurate. *Puts head on the chopping block.* No EDRM system will, by itself, ever be PRA compliant, or compliant with any regime. As anyone who has worked in compliance regimes will tell you (records or otherwise), a compliant organisation has three things: Effective, trained and supported people, effective and monitored processes and policies, and enabling systems (electronic or otherwise). It’s what I often refer to as the perfect mix; an equilateral triangle. For the best environment, there has to be a balance across all three areas. And in all honesty, and as anyone who works in technology will tell you, technology can only ever do so much; it isn’t perfect, and we all make compromises for other business reasons – user experience, system performance, mobility, business process improvement, to name just a few. The R in records management stands as much for risk management as it does records.

 

Myth 5: Records management is a public sector issue; it doesn’t apply to private sector.

I guess it depends on whether doing business well is a public sector issue? Records and the information they contain are strategic assets for any organisation – and, like our finances, our people, our buildings, our plant, they require managing to make sure we leverage maximum value from them. The private sector has just as many requirements, if not more, though they will be described a little differently. For example, consider the pharmaceutical company who needs to ensure all of the information about the development of a new drug is appropriately captured so that they can make the right decisions about development, moving through to human trials and then making sure that a competing pharmaceutical company doesn’t gain a competitive advantage by being able to access their intellectual property. All businesses in a post GFC (global financial crisis) environment need to do more with less, so again we need to make sure we have that magic equilateral triangle mentioned earlier: effective, trained and supported people, effective and streamlined business processes, and enabling systems (electronic or otherwise) to help them reduce costs, increase innovation and not repeat failures of the past by learning from the knowledge the organisation has itself captured.

 

Myth 6: Records managers don’t like to talk to people. So how can they understand my needs?

Anyone who knows me is probably laughing at this one, and while I have to admit that we have people in the profession who are a little shy, there are many – and some of them are my good friends – who love nothing more than spending time talking to their organisations, and their stakeholders; and for many of us this is actually how we spend the majority of our day. Records don’t exist in a vacuum; they are a natural by-product of your business processes. And for any records manager, the key to success lies in understanding the organisation, its needs, its stakeholders and its business processes in order to determine how we can best support you – for that is our role. We aren’t a front of house service (well, unless something goes drastically wrong), but we are a supporting service, an enabler for you – and that can’t be achieved without talking and more importantly listening to you.  So we have people who specialise in the change management and communication side of our profession, those who came from a business analysis background and relish the opportunity to use those skills and share that discipline with the wider team and community.

 

Myth 7: Records Management adds no value to my business.

We do hear a lot of this from many sides, with comments like: “It costs too much to deliver this programme,” “Show me where my savings are coming from,” and “You’re not a front of house service so where do you add value?” 

I love this challenge, and it is one that we take on every day. Yes, records management isn’t a front of house service, but it is, with other areas, delivering strong foundations for that house, and without strong foundations the front of the house will eventually collapse. We often see “value” as meaning “financial”, costs reductions and revenue generation. And while we can absolutely deliver these things, another value-adding outcome are increased customer satisfaction, as information is not only made more available to people through self-service, but also enabling staff to more quickly complete business processes. And happier customers in a private sector enterprise are typically more loyal, will spend more with you and less with competitors, and in both private and public sector organisations, the less time you have to spend dealing with complaints, the more time and people can be directed to front line services. Other value adds typically include storage cost reductions (electronic and physical) – as we make the best use of storage options based on our use of those business records, increasingly efficient business process – as information is easily shared across system boundaries, while still allowing the right level of security to be applied wherever needed to protect the organisation or the individual.

 

Myth 8:  Records Management means that everyone has to think like a records manager.

Only if you are doing it wrong. As a good corporate citizen, you need to be aware of the organisational context in which you are now working. Are you a public or private organisation? Does your board or executive care about protecting IP or protecting the rights of citizens? and so on. We don’t expect people to think like a finance manager, but we do expect them to be aware of their obligations, what they can and can’t do, and to follow the framework and procedures we have laid down. The same is true for records. We need you to be aware that it matters and for many reasons, follow the framework that has been put in place and talk to us if you need more help. Simple, isn’t it?

 

Myth 9: Records Management is dead; we care about content now.

You say tomato, I say tomato, and while this is a source of great debate within the profession, many will tell you that the lines between document, information, record, knowledge, content, and wisdom are becoming more blurred by the day. The professional associations across the world have accepted this and over the last few years we have seen many of them include “information” in the names, not as a marketing ploy, but to acknowledge that the role and responsibility of our profession is wider than has been traditionally accepted. This is largely because the way we work has evolved to the point where we aren’t working in traditional paper paradigms any more, where records are easily identified.  Now we not only have traditional paper files, ministerial and legal memos, but also emails, text messages, intranet and internet sites, RSS feeds, social media, born digital records, records in your EDRMS and records in your line of business applications. And since records management cares about “stuff” at point of creation (and before, to be honest,), our conversations and our responsibilities start right at the beginning.

 

Myth 10: Records Management is dull!

I can’t tell you, the reader, what you will find dull or exciting. What I can tell you is that for me, there is nothing more exciting than a profession that allows you to work with virtually every person in an organisation, across all levels of the hierarchy, in multiple contexts. That allows you the opportunity to be a Strategist, Change Manager and Change Agent, System Designer, Business Analyst, Consultation and Communication Manager, Information Advisor, Vendor Relationship Manager, Internal Relationship Manager, Marketer, Trainer, Information Architect, System Support, Policy and Procedure Maker, Storage Advisor, Monitor, Performance Manager, Governance Officer and so much more – how can that not be exciting?

 

So, that’s my top ten – what’s yours?

Posted by: Paula Smith, Practice Manager, Cloud Solutions | 23 May 2013

Tags: Records Management, Data management, EDRMS, Manager, private sector, public sector, Records


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