Thursday, March 7, 2013

Don’t shoot the messenger-Records management, as we know it, is dead.


The death of records management came silently, almost without any warning or notice. As Bob dragged his last banker’s box from one side of the dank basement to the unlit portion of the massive underbelly of the company, he let out his last gasp. The executives were not present and indeed took no notice. No gold watches. No kind words. To add insult to injury, the e-discovery hot shot lawyer was immediately circling around Bob’s decaying middle age mass to glom onto anything of value. There was lots of value but it wasn’t packaged up pretty for the corporate world to see, so the pickins were easy and plentiful.

Riddle me this?

Is it practical to expect your employees to classify company information given today’s information volumes?
Would your executives really want all employees to spend 10-20% of their day doing records management?
Do record management procedures help the business be more agile and competitive?
Should employees be expected to go through hundreds of millions of files from the past to determine if they still harness any on-going business value?
Does your records program really apply those retention rules to all electronic records across the company—or to any of it for that matter?
Does keeping everything just in case you get sued make sense given that your company already struggles to find needed business information?
Can your records program claim millions in savings from its activities?

Truth is, most would answer each of the questions with a resounding NO.

Records management once stood for the proposition that employees could and would code each record so that it went away at the end of its useful life. Those days are over.
Records management once stood for the belief that if everyone did their part, managing all content would be easy enough. That’s never going to happen again-- if it ever happened before.
Records management once stood for the idea that people (not technology) had to make business decisions about business content. That became wholly untenable as we created nearly 2800 new exabytes of data last year alone (IDC). One Exabyte is the data equivalent of 50,000 years of DVD movies - just to contextualize the enormity of the problem.

I have spent the last several years trying to figure out how to rework records management to deal with today’s volume and complexity of managing e-information. Part of that answer is Defensible Disposition (check out www.Delve.us) —how can we take simplified retention rules and apply them to electronic content without relying on the employees to do the heavy lifting? How can we attack different chunks of data to clean house of unneeded business content in a legally defensible way? In some cases, Defensible Disposition turns into an auto-classification exercise using technology to analyze and classify data. In other situations, it is a rather different exercise, looking at junk file types and making reasonable decisions about what content can be disposed. Big picture is this—making sure that retention requirements and preservation needs are satisfied before content is laid to rest and doing so with as little employee involvement as possible. Sometimes that means taking on big chunks and sometimes that means training retention rules to a computer crawler to classify content. But what it no longer means is that Bob’s replacement is going to be hauling boxes or the electronic equivalent.

Let me tell you about Bob’s replacement. She is super smart. She is a business person first and an IT person second. She only inherited records management because of Bob’s untimely demise. She will have no problem learning records management. She will bring fresh eyes and not be clouded by the “old school” ideas of records management past. She looks at Defensible Disposition as a way to clean up a big pile of digital crud and save the company millions, while making litigation response less onerous and increase profitability by making business “faster, better, cheaper.” She won’t let perfect get in the way of practical. To borrow a line from a song, “her future is so bright she needs to wear shades.”

I sat grave side at Bob’s funeral today. There were so many nice people saying so many kind words. One colleague stood and said that without Bob the boxes in the basement won’t move so often and so quickly anymore.

One man’s demise is another’s opportunity.

Randolph Kahn

36 comments:

John Holliday said...

Great post. Near perfect assessment. Raises the broader question of where the species is headed as technology and consciousness converge.

David Gould, HP Information Governance said...

Reads better than a Scott Turow novel. Because it is so true. While we still see 50 percent of records in boxes, the electronic volume is growing at supersonic speeds. Having employees classify from complex schedules works against the rules of modern productivity. Records managers much look at contributing to the entire corpus of information, not just what is considered a record. I agree with Randy, funerals can be downright depressing and final as a record in a government archive.

QQ said...

Thanks for saying what needed to be said. It's easier to point people to something like this, well written and entertaining with a deeper message, than it is to keep preaching. I also don't get nearly as tired.

Gail's Abundant Nourishing Moments said...

The times they are a ch ch ch changin'- good reading. Thanks Randy. And I did check out www.Delve.us
(clever clever!)

Manu said...

Spot on Randy! Not only is record volume exploding, but organizations are waking up to the fact that they need a data management strategy across all records (physical, electronic, on premise, cloud, structured or unstructured). Continuing to ignore this while the crud piles and clogs IT is a guaranteed recipe for CIO failure. http://www.linkedin.com/groups?gid=3306641&trk=hb_side_g

Mark Graves said...

Great thought about information management - "won’t let perfect get in the way of practical." This goes back to the 80-20 rule: 80% of the work takes 20% of the time. Before travelling the final leg of the road to 100%, we need to understand the value of the last 20% and trudge accordingly.

BPR said...

Randy, good post and I agree. I see so many companies that are grappling with RM because the problem is so big and complex that they basically "kick the can down the street" hoping that 1. they will retire before being asked to make a decison or 2. some miracle technology will magically appear and solve the problem. Number 1 is the more likely scenario.

I do have one word to watch for...Watson.

Bud

Neil Parrott said...

This is a good assessment. Most electronic records solutions have focused on what to retain and some go a long way to ease the burden of records capture and classification. But in most cases the ROI of these systems is little more than insurance against future litigation requests. But, this is only part of the issue. Scant regard was paid to records disposition and, just as important, the disposition of non-records. Defensible disposal can address the content lifecycle in a more holistic way and, perhaps more importantly, enables organizations to realize immediate business benefits.

Kristine Jacobson said...

Great post Randy! I own a relatively young and small company but find the volume of structured and unstructured data that we manage and store to be overwhelming. In a few years it will be even more so!

I have tried to get everyone onboard with a common naming nomenclature and storage protocol. But, that remaining 20% ... so hard to control!

I am a business person first and simply anal about records management; I whole heartily agree that organizations large and small need a sound data management strategy.

galina datskovsky said...

Randy,
What a great post. ARMA's strategy around information governance is right in line with your thinking

galina datskovsky said...

Great Post. ARMA's information governance strategy is right in line with your thinking. It will help records professionals to stay relevant in today's complex world.

RIMA Foundation said...

Great Article! I hope we would have the pleasure of hosting here in Africa during one of our Information Management Programmes.

Brian Albin said...

Riddle me this?

Are you kidding me?

Isn't this sad?

Unfortunately true, but don't throw up the white flag just yet.

Still plenty to do in order to find that needle in the haystack.

Marcel Rodriguez said...

An excellent post. Most entertaining, but while many have incorrectly predicted the death of records management over the course of the past twenty years, it's still survives, long past document management, knowledge management and content management. Long live Records Management!!!! I could wax poetic but I've got a stack of files and a couple of shared drives full od records that I need to classify........

Paula said...

Sorry guys but this isnt a death its an evolution; yes a necessary one, but thats the way our profession has always been.

The perception of records managers as basement filing clerks is dead - and long may it be so. The records managers you speak of have long been involved in information governance, accessibility, transparency and business improvement, so perhaps the writer may like to look to revise what is frankly an outdated perception.

Evolution people, its called evolution.

higglewiggle said...

I agree with Paula, it is an evolution. Yes, the basement archives is dead, but there are still records to be dealt with. Your program needs to be flexible because records and how they are stored are always changing. Before long we might not even have "electronic" records. They could very well be virtual (i.e. not stored in any particular place or on a server but entirely in thought.)

We can't have employees doing the classification, because they won't do it or will do it incorrectly. However, we can and should build the indexing/classification behind the scenes so it doesn't need to be thought of and then records management becomes part of the business as usual and not the after thought that it was in the past.

Great post Randy!

Sarah said...

Hmmm… whether this is true or not depends on...

1. Terminology (it seems that ‘your’ records manager is completely different from ‘mine’.)
2. Where you work, and which continent you work in.
3. Whether you love the term context.
3. Whether you are a continuum vs. life-cycle thinker.
4. Whether you embrace metadata.
5. Whether you understand function-based classification and disposal.
6. Whether you understand the concepts behind macro-appraisal.
7. Whether you are able to understand the key differences between data, information, documents, records and archives, and how they should be managed based on these key differences.

The more we understand these points, the more the question changes from 'is records management dead' to 'what / where ARE the records we need to concern ourselves about?'

Earl Johnson said...

RM is dead? I think not--no disrespect intended, and please don't write that eulogy just yet. I'm one of those "old school" RM'ers (since 1983)who has seen alot of trends come and go over the years, and agrees wholeheartedly with the term "evolution," that others have used here. IG is the latest buzz word... hmmm, wonder what it'll be in 5 years? Whatever it is, most likely it'll still be compared to RM!

Good food for thought Randy, thanks.

George D. Darnell, CRM said...

Randy, Last month ARMA-NOVA & NCC-AIIM held a follow-up conference to the one you spoke at last year on Autocategorization. See our websites for brochure. Case studies proved that computer assisted categorization is alive and well on both ends of the information life cycle. But there is still room for well organized paper record keeping.

Bruce Bailey said...

Randy, I agree with the idea and love the presentation.
Information Governance has a foundation in compliance. As long as the federal records compliance laws and regulations are what they are now then the federal bureaucracy (which for the most part is not your heroine in the story but rather Bob reanimated from the grave) will continue as it is doing and has been doing. The promise of auto-classification is great but in the federal arena the prospectus is bleak (without a paradigm shift, based on regulatory reform).
As several others noted, there will still be boxes to manage for a while (see NARA FRC, especially classified backlog). But regardless of all of your and the other Info Gov expert points made here, the Federal space is permanently stymied by the Federal Records Act and NARA. Until there is a standardization of retention policies which incorporates the concepts of agile, risk based information governance based on standardized lines of business, there will be no real gains in the federal space.
Bruce E. Bailey, CRM

Allen Podraza said...

Great blog article and food for thought. Record Managers always need to look at new ways of handling business processes in the current environment. Let me add that not only is Bob dead but in many organizations IT and Legal will follow Bob’s path because they work in the days of past. To survive, IT, Records Management and Legal all have to come together and look at managing their information in new and smarter ways that will meet both regulatory and business requirements. And to be fair to poor old Bob, in some organizations it is easier to walk on water than to get that to happen. It is the forward thinking and advocates like you and many records and information managers that will continue to move the profession of Records and Information Management forward and keep it alive.

RobFather said...

Agree! Companies are either developing teams and addressing the problem of governance strategically or putting their collective heads in the sand. It takes leaders to influence change and to keep trying to find allies to manage the growth of information. I believe it is the death of traditional "records management" but the birth of information managers that report to a Compliance Officer.
Thanks Randy for a stimulating debate. Rob

Laura Zubulake said...

Cannot argue with this.

Cinman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cinman said...

Darwin works faster in the modern business world of adapt or die. Those in RIM, IT, Legal, etc. who deal with company information issues either will adapt to IG or fade away. It will be a painful process as always. Many resist change and forcing new lines of thinking.

Martin said...

Hi Randy,
Well said. I think what the golden nugget is the ‘Riddle me this section’? The points made, although everyone agrees with them, defines the current ‘way of doing business’ for many organizations. Add up the business costs. Probably when all is said and done it represents quite a tidy sum. There’s the rub. We have a client with over 6 petabytes of information, 35K nodes in the taxonomy, and over 2K governance policies and have eliminated manual tagging. Tools available? Of course. Was their records management a mess relying solely on human tagging? Yup to that too.

But the issue still remains that somewhere in this value chain information governance, and compliance (and garbage) must all be assessed and processes defined to suit how information is most effectively managed in the organization, which tools can’t do. What Delve does is what we (as a classification/taxonomy tool) do not do. Adding the expertise and knowledge to deliver quantifiable results is the key.

Aaron Taylor said...

Excellent post, and good points made also by Sarah in comments.
The "big bucket" concept is a no-brainer in most if not all current RIM approaches if anyone hopes to get their hands around records management. Perhaps a more far-reaching aspect of RIM is the realization and acceptance of how other requirements are impacting and, in many cases, now driving records management practices. I am referring especially to litigation management - requirements for highly-accurate and rapid response to litigation demands for records identification, collection, preservation and production are helping place new emphasis and importance on RIM practices. Perhaps even elevating RIM to its rightful place in organizational structure and importance.

Melisa Baize said...

Great article, Randy. And you are absolutely correct about employees not taking the time to categorize their electronic records. Hell, it was all I could do to get them to clean out their file cabinets.

I also agree with the idea that records management is not-so-much dying, but evolving. Humans will continue to record their activities, processes, histories, etc. "How" they do this five-years from now.....ten.....who knows? It's still evolving....

Reed Irvin said...

A great piece of writing - I’m looking forward to the movie version! It’s too bad Bob didn’t see this coming and evolve himself. There is more opportunity to manage enterprise content today than ever before - and don’t even ask me about Big Data! Thought leading organizations are all responding to the change. ARMA is helping to facilitate this discussion with The Principles and EDRM with the IGRM (Information Governance Reference Model). Note the name includes “Information Governance”, not “Records Management”. And on top of the explosive content growth is the accelerating trend to utilize private cloud delivery models. Bob probably couldn’t get his head around the idea of his content being outside the firewall yet better managed and more secure – oh wait, some of his boxes are probably offsite in a secure warehouse – Humm. Did you happen to notice if his coffin had a bar-code on it?

Reed Irvin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen Payne, CRM, CPO said...

The critical phrase is "as we know it". Agree with Paula and Sarah -- evolution. The hybrid RM aligned with IT. It will happen.

Unknown said...

Hi Randy. This is a good overview of the current state of records management in the digital era. As others have already indicated it is an evolution of the task of managing physical records to the needs of the logical world. With Petabyte and Billions of files the new common order of magnitude intelligence in software is required to automate the task for historical records. However, I still believe there is a level of responsibility the records creator has going forward. My opinion is that "tagging" or classifying data as close to, if not at the point of creation is key. I'm just now seeing such a process rolling out within my organization. Of course it needs to be simple and as non-disruptive as possible.

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