I want to make the world safe for records management.
Scratch that. I want to make the world safe for records managers. Why? Because they don’t seem to get the respect they deserve and in most cases, neither does the information they help manage.
Based on the fact that you’re reading this blog I’m sure you agree organizations should work hard to manage information well. Certainly most have taken a crack at it with varying degrees of success but regardless of their efforts we can usually predict which parts of our organizations will succeed or fail based on their organizational mission in life. For example:
- If I’m in accounting I can usually dig up an invoice from a few years back if I really need to
- If I’m in legal I can usually find a contract (or at least sheepishly call the company we contracted with to get a copy)
- If I’m in marketing I usually wonder where the he*l that file went
I’m generalizing to make the point that many organizations have failed to realize the full benefits of their enterprise information management programs because their efforts to date haven’t been truly enterprise. Information management within many (if not most) organizations has emerged from a series of point solutions deployed to individual departments, often on different platforms.
So what are successful organizations doing right? How do they manage the ever-present tug of war between efficiency and process? How do they get buy-in from senior executives and how do they sustain the momentum of ECM initiatives to ensure they stay relevant?
The answer is deceptively simple; they evolve. They move beyond managing records as valuable in their own right to governing information as a true asset of their organization. Easy to say, hard to do. Organizations that successfully navigate this transition usually do so because they establish strong information governance practices.
What’s the difference between records management and information governance? In my opinion:
- Records management is static where information governance is dynamic
- Records management is reactive where information governance is proactive
- Records management is focused on the retention schedule where information governance is focused on enabling the business to get their work done
I am most definitely not saying that records management is not important (some of my best friends are records managers…). Organizations that successfully manage information across the enterprise (and this information includes records) realize that information is only valuable if it helps advance the cause of your organization. In the case of highly regulated industries or those with a high litigation risk there will be a strong focus on creating hard-and-fast rules for information retention and disposition. The challenge that most organizations face is that this is where enterprise information management begins and ends.
Organizations with a focus on information governance realize the importance of creating a living model that puts appropriate structures in place to enable users to manage information appropriately. This means a risk-based approach to records retention, but frankly there’s nothing especially new or unique about that. What is unique are those organizations that establish mechanisms to efficiently support the changing information management needs of their users. According to IDC individuals (rather than transactional systems) create 70% of the information in organizations; this means organizations that provide simple, intuitive and, most importantly, flexible information management structures will be the ones that succeed.
Information management structures (a folder hierarchy, metadata model, line-of-business integration, or custom interface) must make sense to the end users and fit easily into the flow of their work. This is no easy task and is only made more difficult when there is an overemphasis on command-and-control governance structures.
My advice to records managers and information management practitioners everywhere is to focus on a thin layer of standardization, then provide “guidelines” and “principles” for managing information rather than hard and fast “must do” policies. Users are much more likely to follow good practices for managing information if they feel they have some flexibility to do it on their own terms. Yes, there is still a need for certain information to be managed with more rigour, but my challenge to the records managers of the world is to find ways to empower your users to manage information rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. A little freedom might just be what your information, and your users, need.