Should we be abandoning records standards and systems to get better results in records?

What is the highest impact factor in our ability to manage records?

It has to be actually having the record – however poorly organised, and in however poor a state. 

From there, we can work on record quality – but the capture has to come first. Otherwise we’ve nothing to manage.

So why are we so focused on records standards and systems?

We use records systems because they implement the standards, and other systems just can’t. We do this despite the fact that we know records systems are a major barrier to actually getting adoption of records. While there are other factors, we know records systems are a barrier because we have network fileshares with amazing adoption rates.

I regularly talk to records teams who will tell me that they have a catch rate of 10 to 20% in their compliant records system.

These aren’t a rarity.

This is normal.

I also have to note that these people are well qualified, knowledgeable, experienced, expert practitioners.

And they’re failing to get people to use the records systems.

Yet every one of them spends inordinate amounts of time focused on ensuring that they have a compliant system, because a non-compliant system is unacceptable, even if 80% of the organisation don’t use it.

This could all actually still work.

We all know that records is cultural, and culture comes from the top.

If records was taken seriously by the executives who sign the compliance statement every year, and they managed it as the records acts and standards expect, this could all actually work. 

But in general, that’s just not the case.

So why do we continue with standards and systems that only serve the organisational purpose of ticking a compliance box? A compliance box that isn’t even taken very seriously? 

Why aren’t we just helping our colleagues organise their information for convenience (AKA productivity), and making sure they do it somewhere we can stop them deleting things?

One of the things I wonder, is if this is where records has gone wrong – if it’s where I’ve gone wrong.

I’ve always typically started from the point of view that we should be figuring out ways to get users to put things in the compliant system.

I wonder though, if what we should be striving for, is something like “eventual compliance.”

A process of starting from the point of view that we should help groups of users organise their information for convenience – with just a little structure.

I don’t think that this would actually be much of a process change.

We just make sure information isn’t deleted, and we sell the benefits of small scale centralisation and organisation for convenience of small groups of users aligned around a function or activity.

Then we can work on quality – and eventually capture in a compliant system. Because we all know that effective records is about 95% cultural.

And when a compliance regime appears that senior executives take seriously, we will have large groups of users who appreciate the work that we’ve done, and will probably bend to it.

What I’m really interested to understand, is who has taken this approach, how did you get it across the line with your executive, and what results have you had?

Final note – Yes, I know about manage in place approaches and the vendors with tools in the space. What I’m talking about is far more lightweight but I am interested to understand who has had good results with these tools. I know of 5 who have bought the technology, and none who have had good results with it (yet).

2 thoughts on “Should we be abandoning records standards and systems to get better results in records?”

  1. “I’ve always typically started from the point of view that we should be figuring out ways to get users to put things in the compliant system.”

    IMHO you shouldn’t be relying on, or requiring, users to do anything. A compliant system captures records. The ‘system’ is more than just technology – it relies on records managers to define policies and embed them into business processes to enable capture of records at key points.

    As records managers we have tried to get everyone else to do our job and then complained about lack of success – we want users to move records here and there; we want execs to advocate the value of recordkeeping on our behalf; we want IT vendors to magic-up auto things and make it all happen by default according to our demands.

    Successful RMs – and they are around – make use of technology and design ‘systems’ that support their users’ business and capture records of key activities for information and evidence.

    It’s not rocket science, and it’s our job. It will never be done until we do it.


    1. Sonya, I never took you for an individual responsibility advocate! 🙂

      They do exist – I even know one. In this organisation, the executive advocate for the value of recordkeeping (and fund it), they’ve got mulesoft who have magiced up software that auto-integrates everything, and it mostly happens by default. They also have a team of developers, and about 5 in the records team supporting an agency of about 200. That’s what it takes to achieve a non-reliance on users doing anything. Building systems is expensive.

      I don’t think we can just say “do your job”. You might say that it’s not rocket science, but if it’s not, why are so many struggling to get to a meaningful catch rate?


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