Does your organisation have a measure of “records debt?”

There’s a commonly used concept in software development called “technical debt”.

It describes all the bad and dodgy (or maybe just sub-optimal) coding that was done in the past, that will need to be cleaned up later.

I think it’s a concept that we can usefully apply to Records management.

In record keeping, we need to measure two things –

  1. Direct costs – Cleanup costs and the costs of holding until clean up.
  2. Indirect costs incurred because records are no longer reliable.

Cleanup is the cleanest measure. Projects for cleanup work can be estimated with relative certainty as long as you know the information exists.

Indirect costs are obviously harder.

They include the costs of contract renewals missed or poorly enforced because their records are not managed. The generally higher costs of subpoena and information access responses, and generally reduced productivity due to increased search costs for specific records.

Records debt is a useful concept that we can take from software engineering, and a useful barometer that could be presented to executives on a regular basis.

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