Records – why aren’t we recording the future?

I’ve been chewing on a series of posts for about a week now and I just can’t quite nail the full thought process behind them.

I have a belief that records achieves real value through a specific sequence:

  1. Record (past tense).
  2. Record in real time and drive action.
  3. Take the real time recordings and make them predictive.

Records should be catalytic.

What I mean by that is that having a record should prompt action of some kind.

The basis of this is that if it’s important, it’s a record. 

Data, information – who cares. 

Records are important.

So recording information entering an organisation, should prompt action – or else why would we bother recording it?

The shorter the window between receiving and recording – the faster the action that’s possible.

So we need to record first, and record in systems that allow the orchestration of a lot of actions. 

This is the essence of the move from Recording (past tense) to recording in real time – it’s the move from people doing things and then recording them, to people recording things so that action is then driven at scale by a system.

Simple example – a biosecurity officer who gets a notification of a bio-hazard will coordinate a group of people to perform actions – then record what happens. 

A system that records the notification in real time can drive the actions automatically, and at scale. When we do this, we remove the delay of waiting for a human to do things in serial, and we put them in a system that can do them in parallel.

I think once we reach that, the only logical step is to predict the future.

Because at this point, we know what people do with the information that comes into our organisation.

We know what the volume is.

We know who it goes to.

We should be able to harvest that information, and use it to predict capacity for the future, to analyse trends and stop problems before they happen.

Where I’m stuck, is in working out whether this is something that records SHOULD do. I feel like we’re treading dangerously close to IS/Analytics and Operations territory here. 

Should Records be advancing this area?

I’m not sure.

What I’m also not sure though, is who else is going to do it. So it’s an opportunity.

On structured data, there’s already lots of work in progress. 

In some ways, that represents a loss for records – because it’s work that could have become part of records and contributed to the value perception of records in the organisation.

On unstructured or semi-structured information, records are still the holders of the information, and very few organisations seem to be doing the work to harvest value back from it. So we could – and add another source of value to our kit bag.

But should we?

The measurement a records system needs to be effective

How clearly is a “fit for purpose” level of records system performance defined in your organisation?

One of the clearest correlations in any IT system, is the correlation between responsiveness, and usage. Systems that are responsive, get used – others don’t. 

Unfortunately there is a tendency in many organisations to buy a records system, sweat it until it breaks, and then buy it again.

The most common correlation I see in those organisations?

Is between performance and maintenance.

As soon as I hear “Our staff hate records”, I’m almost guaranteed to find a records software version that’s 5+ years old and hasn’t been maintained (if it’s been maintained, it’s often fine at that age).

There are always two ways to measure – 

  1. Listen to your users.
  2. Formally measure.

Users will tell you when a system isn’t performing – they’ll whinge. Unfortunately, whingeing is susceptible to the “it works for me” problem (who hasn’t had that from a manager before?) and is easy to ignore, mis-read, or to have management ignore.

Formal measurement is much harder to ignore. It’s also excellent because if you match system performance measures against key usage measures (ie. documents being checked in) you will find that there’s a certain point at which usage drops off dramatically (if you’re willing to let it get that far).

If your organisation understands the value of what records delivers, and gives you an appropriate maintenance budget, you’re in good shape.

Most organisations though, need to be shown that the lack of maintenance is having an impact. Measurement of records system performance will help you do that.

How to be serious about paperless office.

Remove all your printers.

Stop buying notepads and pens.

Stop paying for your PO Box.

Stop accepting information on paper.

That’s being serious about paperless.

It doesn’t say “we’re talking about this”.

It doesn’t say “change when you feel like it”.

It says “we’ve done it”.

It says “we’ve changed”

We spend so much time studying innovation, change and the latest methods for everything.

Sometimes I’m worried we overthink it.

We don’t need to solve every complex problem with a complex solution.

How to find the record keeping advocates in your organisation (even if you think you have none).

Look for the people most likely to end up in court.

If court appearances are routine for them (for whatever reason), you’ll find that they’ve already got their own informal records system.

And they’ll advocate for yours.

Because they spend their life looking for records, and managing them as evidence.

Do we make training too complicated in records? (And everywhere else)

One of my favourite demonstrations of neuroscience comes from a speaker who uses finger and thumb movements to demonstrate that it taken your brain 60 to 100 repetitions of an action, to create a new neural pathway. Once you do this, it goes from being awkward and slow, to fast and easy – because your brain actually created new connections to perform the move.

How often do we use this principle in our training though?

Another effect is the “Mere-Exposure effect” – which says that people develop fondness for things they are familiar with.

If we put these things together, I think what it points to is that we shouldn’t be treating training like a functional “how to” overview, we should be treating it like an endurance training program.

There are two basic things that people come to a records system to do – store a record, and find a record.

Your training program:

Open the records client x 60

Store these specific records x 60

Find these specific records x 60

Your performance management framework is going to have to include records in a privacy focused world.

There are two surprising things about privacy law:

  1. How large the fines are.
  2. How important it makes records management.

Privacy hinges on a couple of capabilities – 

  1. Secure data about a subject.
  2. Find data about a subject.
  3. Package data about a subject.
  4. Destroy data about a subject.

These are all squarely in Records’ wheelhouse.

The main thing it’s going to need though, is everyone toeing the line.

No spreadsheets with subject data in uncontrolled repositories.

No copies of subject documents in uncontrolled repositories.

This means that record keeping will be everyone’s job.

Because getting it wrong can be an existential threat to an organisation.

And unlike your friendly local records agency, the privacy regulators are playing with live ammunition.

Allow improper access? 400,000 Euro (French Real estate company Sergic)

No destruction program? 14.5 Million Euro (German Architecture firm die Deutsche Wohnen SE)

Not very clear with people about what data you capture? $56 Million Euro (Google)

The work stream we need in every records program to get records to where we all want it to be.

Is “Records Management for Decision Making”.

Every records engagement should start with the question “how can we package the information this process captures so that it can be used to improve decisions?”

Which senior executive isn’t going to invest in the part of the organisation that makes them more likely to get decisions right?

This is a burning platform.

Organisations are hiring “data” people by the thousands to do what records have the skills and information to do.

Or we could just keep sentencing and destroying.

And not getting the budgets we need.

Why your audit budget actually needs to go up when you automate compliance processes.

Automation provides two possibilities – 

  1. Get things right at scale.
  2. Get things wrong at scale.

When things go wrong, they’re going to go wrong at scale.

This means that audit needs to happen more often.

This is how an ATM software bug ended with the Commonwealth Bank being fined $784 Million by AUSTRAC.

Things went wrong at scale for CBA. 

The only organisation that noticed was the regulator.

How long does it take to make change in records?

I have a client that I learn a lot from.

She runs successful project after successful protest after successful project.

Not surprisingly, her organisation has an amazing records culture and she rarely struggles for budget.

One thing I’ve learnt from her is that every records change takes two to three years.

She’s never said this directly, but…

Every time we talk about a major project – two to three years.

Time it took to get everyone off paper – two to three years.

Her latest automation project, timeline – two to three years.

Two to three year intervals seem to work.

What’s your two to three year plan?