Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The 10 (published) principles of Records Management 2.0

Finally, after many months of effort and angst, I have held a copy of my finished, published book in my hand. Authors are prone to equating the process of writing a book with that of pregnancy and giving birth to a child. Rather foolishly I tried this analogy earlier today to my wife who is currently 7 months pregnant….

Without sounding too clich├ęd I would genuinely love this book to represent the beginning, rather than the end, of this (self imposed) mission to rethink and reinvent records management to ensure it is fit for purpose in the modern world. I have been gratified to receive several supportive emails from around the world from other professionals who share my concerns and desire to initiate change. What I would love to do is to build on this by establishing a community of like-minded records managers, plus those from related professions such as the library world and of course the web technologists. I am sure that collectively there exists the expertise and range of skills required to make a genuine difference to our profession, its just a question of identifying the right online tool(s) to facilitate this creative discussion and, perhaps, finding the odd bit of funding to help make this happen. I make no apologies for the fact that my book raises far more questions than it answers, but now those questions have been raised and are out there for discussion lets move on to actually doing stuff: practical stuff that results in applications and approaches which can make a real difference. If anyone is interested in being part of such a community feel free to let me know, likewise if you are familiar with any ‘business models’ and/or technical platforms to help realise them (or sources of funding of course).

Finally, I thought I would end with some of the conclusions from the book (don’t worry, it doesn’t spoil the ending!). Part of my conclusion is that what we need at present is a set of guiding principles and shared characteristics which help define ‘Records Management 2.0’ and which can be used to set the parameters for any further development work in this area. More detail on each of them is given in the book and naturally they are all open for discussion (see Principle 9) but I thought they might at least get the debate started and were a fitting way to celebrate the arrival of the book.

Records Management 2.0 must be:
1. scalable to an (almost) infinite degree
2. comprehensive: with the potential to address all aspects of the management of information throughout its lifecycle
3. independent of specific hardware, software or physical location
4. extensible and able to absorb new priorities and responsibilities as they emerge
5. potentially applicable to all information
6. proportionate, flexible and capable of being applied to varying levels of quality and detail as required by the information in question
7. a benefits-led experience for users, that offers them a positive incentive to participate
8. marketable to end users, decision makers and stakeholders
9. self-critical and positively willing to embrace challenge and change
10. acceptable to, and driven by, the records management community and its practitioners

Friday, 6 June 2008

The way forward? Niche solutions for niche problems

One of the (very few) advantages of being laid up at home with tonsillitis has been the opportunity to catch up on some reading when energy levels allow.

One thing which caught my eye and which I never expected to see was an advert in the 17th May issue of The Spectator for an advert for a records management system. After all, think about it? When was the last time you picked up a major, national current affairs periodical, with no ties to records or information management and saw such an advert? I thought so.

The full page advert is for Niche Records Management Systems, a specialist system for police forces and is jokingly aimed at the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (presumably on the assumption that he should buy it for the Met Police). Of course, in reality, it’s designed to appeal to more than just one person but what we can assume from this is that this is an advert for a records management system which is not aimed at the records manager, nor even the IT manager – but the senior executive, policy maker and purse string holder.

The ad then goes on to spell out in clear empirical terms what benefits have been derived from implementing such a system by other police forces (e.g. “Hampshire Constabulary – a sex offender caught in four hours, not two days; North Wales Police – 42% reduction in case file preparation time” etc).

Now these are bold claims and I’m in no position to be able to comment on the true contribution of records management or this particular system to achieving them (so please don’t see this as any endorsement of this particular product which I know nothing about). For me the interesting thing is to contrast this with the usual way in which RM systems (and often RM as a whole) are marketed. Here it is being sold as a specific answer to a specific problem; rather than as an enterprise-wide ‘bucket’ and ill-defined answer to all information woes.

There is no mention of this system helping your police force to cope with FOI or vague promises to reduce costs. No, its selling points are its direct contribution to achieving the specific organisational targets on which senior managers are themselves judged. This is not RM as a universal panacea, nor RM as self-evidentially important. It is RM as a specifically designed niche solution to a niche problem in a niche market and as such is aggressively targeting a market which we seldom seem to reach.