6 Questions to ask if your records system isn’t valued in your organisation.

There could easily be hundreds of questions in this post, here are 6 that I think are important.

1. Whose job does the system automate?

Most records systems only automate one job – ours. If it’s only making our life easier we’re losing a valuable opportunity to give business users another reason to use a system that will inherently be less friendly than the average file server.

2. How many people use the system to organise and drive their work?

People love systems that make their work form an orderly queue. If you can make your records system perform this function, people will pretty quickly feel like they can’t live without it. If you don’t provide this, people will invent it for themselves, somewhere else.

3. How much of a barrier to easy system usage have we put up?

In records, we LOVE metadata. How we capture it though, can create a significant barrier for users. A user who gets a project plan delivered to them with 37 documents in it, who then has to select from one of 25 record types and populate 11 pieces of mandatory metadata for each is unlikely to use the system for very long. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it, it does mean that we should weigh the value of each piece of metadata against the drop off in usage that capturing it will cause.

4. Does your business classification scheme match the way people organise their work and think about their jobs?

This is related to point 1. If people can’t see their job in the classification system, you’re fighting with how they want to organise their work, and you’ll lose. People will struggle with how to add information to the system, then they’ll struggle with how to find it. Eventually they’ll keep working data somewhere that makes sense to them, and eventually they’ll stop using the records system.

This does present a bit of a quandary for records managers. Function-Activity-Classification is an important part of standards compliance and an accepted part of records doctrine. I also think it’s partly responsible for many failed records programs.

5. Have you automated as many capture points as possible?

The best way to have people use a records system is as a place to go and get things out of, rather than a place to put things in. When we automate the capture of records, this becomes possible and completely obvious good things happen.

What’s less obvious is what automation does for our ability to report. If we can automate capture at a process initiation point, we know how many times a process was initiated. When we know how many process instances we have, we can work out how many records we SHOULD have overall and can report against that number. With good reports, we can give managers data to manage their teams – making records performance management a much simpler task. Which leads us to point 6.

6. Are you providing leading indicators to your executive that at some point in the future your organisation will fail critical compliance audits and enable corrupt?

Poor Recordkeeping has been found to be an enabler of corruption and abuse an uncountable number of times. An organisation that is investigated by a corruption commission, a royal commission or a regulator risks being wound up or heavily fined. This is C-level risk and we have to treat it that way. If we are not reporting organisation ending levels of risk to people senior enough to deal with it, we are missing the largest piece of leverage that we have. This level of risk cannot be ignored – and if it is, we should ensure that it has to be wilfully ignored.

Evidence that poor records performance represents this level of risk can be found in the recent AUSTRAC actions against the banks (resulting in over a Billion dollars in fines) and Corruption and Royal Commission reports – in particular the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in which section 8 is entirely dedicated to Records failures.

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