The only two choices for organisations creating records

Are badly or well.

Whatever definition of records or records management you choose, there’s not an organisation on earth that isn’t creating them every single day.

So the only choice is whether to create, keep and manage them well, or to create keep and manage them badly.

Records has a serious brand problem at the moment. This means that organisations aren’t making this as a conscious decision. They don’t know what records are, and they don’t know what records management is – so they’re looking for what we can do, but don’t know how to ask for it.

Every day, they’re bombarded with ads about “increasing the trustworthiness of your company’s data,” or they experience problems that they don’t link back to poor systematic control of the creation and maintenance of records.

Doing records badly badly has predictable consequences – no one trusts the information and data that the organisation has created, this means that every activity they try and execute takes longer because of bad records.

These are real problems for organisations, and they’re actively looking for ways to fix it. Records Management has the answers, all we need to do is talk to them about the improvements they’ll see when they go from managing records badly, to managing the well.

DIKAR – The acronym that everyone in information and records management needs to know.

One of the problems for people working in Records Management, is that people aren’t really attuned to the problems that are caused by poor records management. In the absence of catastrophic failure, this leads to the perception that chronic under-investment in records has no consequences.

DIKAR is a model that highlights the problems that people have because of poor organisational record keeping.

DIKAR is an acronym for:


The essence of the model, is that results are determined by everything that came before them. People take data and apply a context to get useful information that they interpret using knowledge, based on their interpretation they take action – and the action leads to specific results.

When the results are bad, it has to be a consequence of something that came earlier.

It’s at this point we have to ask, how many processes rely on recorded information and data?

If you’re in a government or bureaucratic organisation, the answer is simple – all of them. If you’re not, the answer is almost all of them. While capturing new information may be a part of most processes, they almost all rely heavily on records that the organisation already holds.

This means that the quality of the recorded data, and recorded information is largely responsible for the quality of the outcomes from a process. No knowledge, no matter how good, can compensate for bad data or information – not without significant expenditure on fixing the bad data and information. With good records management practice in the organisation, this just wouldn’t be necessary.

Unfortunately for all of us, this systematic relationship isn’t always obvious. DIKAR is an excellent model that everyone should know and use because it puts the value of records in the only context that matters – the context of how it affects the quality of results.

The real problem with Robodebt was poor records management.

Robodebt had lots of problems – but one of the larger problems was that records management was obviously failing in the years leading up to the program.

As Records Management professionals, we should be asking why the agency did not have access to or did not use evidence that allowed it to run this program without issuing incorrect notices.

We had notices issued to:

  1. People for debts that they didn’t have.
  2. Deceased people.
  3. Disabled pensioners.
  4. People with mental illnesses who were known to be unable to manage their financial affairs.

An agency with a good records program would not have issued notices like this.

Any time an agency (or any organisation) will rely on prevously recorded information, records matters.

Records management standards came from quality management – so why don’t we spend any time on quality management?

One of the more interesting discoveries about Records I’ve made over the last couple of years, is that our ISO standards were initiated in the mid 1980’s by people looking for guidance on how to implement quality management standards.

The logical conclusion from that, is that records are integral to quality management – and we can see today that ISO9001 includes sections about records management.

So why is there so little talk in records management circles about raising the quality of the outcomes that the organisations we work for achieve?

Why the fixation on destruction schedules?

Legislative compliance?

Metadata standards that actively work against user adoption?

Why not just a relentless focus on lifting the quality of outcomes for the organisations we work for?

How many organisations have problems because they constantly reuse poor quality information that has been recorded as evidence of business activities?

How many are just waiting, begging, for someone to fix it?

The worst type of loyalty experience is one that can’t remember you – and it’s a records problem

I know that my mobile phone providers’ records management program isn’t effective.

I know because they constantly send me emails with offers if I sign up for their NBN service – which I’m already signed up for.

When they do occasionally send me something relevent, it generally directs me to a web page that asks me who my current mobile phone provider is (spoiler – it’s them).

These processes fail because organisations don’t have efficient and systematic control of the creation, maintenance and use of their records.

If they did, their marketing teams would know who their subscribers were, and probably wouldn’t make such basic mistakes.

I also wouldn’t have hit unsubscribe to all their marketing last week.

So they’d be wasting less marketing money on people who weren’t possible buyers, getting more sales, and keeping people subscribed to their marketing comms – resulting in more future sales opportunities and more revenue.

All this because they had efficient and systematic control of the creation, maintenance and use of their customer records.

How to help an organisation understand that it has problems that records management can solve.

One of the things that’s happened to records management in the last ten years, is that we’ve stopped talking about records.

What started as a sensible effort to define something core to what we do, turned into a religious argument and lost its connection to practice – and most people tired of the argument.

So now we don’t talk about records.

So no one knows what we do – or they know what they think we do (like the senior executive sponsor in one organisation who thought it was about managing all their paper).

And so they don’t connect the problems they have back to poor records management.

And they should – because records management is just how you get systematic control of recorded information.

And what is the only sensible way of measuring the effectiveness of records management? The outcomes that the organisation produces that can be linked back to it. They’re everywhere – but they don’t know it.

The customer service people who keep stuffing up – because they don’t have access to recorded information about the things customers are doing with their organisation.

The marketing people who keep running campaigns that annoy high value customers because they treat them like they don’t already have a relationship with the organisation.

The service people who treat high value customers like the organisation doesn’t have an obligation to service them because they didn’t have access to a contract.

The legal counsel who stuffs up because they didn’t have access to all of the correspondence about a contract before they had to write it.

The operations managers who keep making mistakes because they are forecasting on past production and demand data that’s not quite right.

All of these people have problems that records is exactly the right skillset to solve.

Organisations have masses of problems caused by poorly recorded information. Every time a process relies on information that the organisation already has, or should already have – records has a horse in that race, and if it’s going badly, they want our help.

The key is to talk to them about how we solve problems caused by poorly recorded information.