Quantifying the value that records management adds to the organisation

The two big questions on my mind are:

  1. How do we do this?
  2. What happens if we don’t?

The majority of people that I talk to aren’t doing it.

They’re also struggling for funding because executives making capital allocation decisions are allocating their capital to everything else.

Why though would an executive allocate scarce capital resources to something with no quantified value? If no-one is quantifying the value, all the executive is going to see is the cost. Left column – -$1,000,000, right column +0.

So I think what happens is what we’ve got now – records chronically under-funded and poorly understood.

I think though that the problem is even larger than that.

When we don’t quantify the value of what we do, we adopt practices based on ideas about value that may not exist.

Disposition for instance hasn’t changed in 25 years yet the cost of storing information now is about .1% of what it was 25 years ago.

We also justify disposition by talking about things like FOI and how long people spend searching for information – but the numbers either don’t exist or are virtual. No one believes them because they’re “IDC says” or “Gartner says”. They’re not – I sat with John in accounting for a day and he spent 3 hours trying to find accounting records, or I sat with Julie in our development team and she spent 3 hours trying to find old development records.

We also end up with users trying to decipher disposition focused classification schemes – because without a rigorous, value focused practice, it’s acceptable to put an incomprehensible classification scheme in front of a user and consider our job done.

So how do we value records practice?

I want to hear from people who have achieved this, who have real world, in their own business, rigorous valuations of practice. We all need that evidence.

My view on how it should be done is simple.

  1. We need to evaluate each practice in terms of its options and their relative costs and values.
  2. We need a bit of information taylorism – time and motion studies.

Option evaluation is simple – as an example, disposition has no inherent value. It is a solution to a problem. The problem used to be that in order to store more records, we had to buy more buildings, but in an electronic world, that’s not the case.

So what are the other solutions? We could not destroy a record at all. This actually makes sense – the cost of storing a 300KB word document for 237,000 years is 28c, so if we run a disposition process that costs us $1 we’ve spent 700,000 years of storage costs – so we should probably not talk about that practice being good value if we expect serious people making capital allocation decisions to take us seriously.

But what about the cost of finding information? (It’s the logical question for anyone in records right!)

This brings me neatly to point 2 – if we’re going to be taken seriously when we talk about productivity based improvements, we need to measure them rigorously – which means time and motion studies of our own organisations (because no one believes numbers from a research vendor doing studies commissioned by search vendors are in any way relevant to their own organisations).

Time and motion is a simple idea. You sit with a stop watch and record what people are doing and how long it takes them so that you can find better ways of doing it.

For search, someone needs to sit with a stop watch and see how long it takes people to find things, they also need to pay attention to the person’s behavior while searching – how often do they open a document only to find that it’s the wrong one etc. This might seem a little detail oriented, but when I worked for Dell, I had a research analyst from one of the big four accounting firms sit behind me for four hours timing how long I had to wait for an application to deliver me the information I needed – it was lagging and they wanted to make sure the upgrade didn’t cost more than the problem. This is how businesses and disciplines that are serious about organisational performance do things.

Once this is done, you can actually start to find out how performance can be improved, and I’m going to bet that 98 times out of 100 it’s not going to be disposition because titling can have a bigger impact, metadata enrichment can have a bigger impact, designating files of a certain age as old and having them not show up initially can have a bigger impact – there are 90 other tools that can have a bigger impact and cost less money.

The point of all of this is to say that we need to quantify the value of what we do rigorously before we can expect serious people to give us real money.

The really good news is that nothing I mentioned here is outside of records management’s control or skill base. It’s all stuff that we can do and I think that if we can bring the money element back into records management we become much more likely to get executives making capital allocation decisions to take us seriously, and get funded.

The best records systems are built by…

People who aren’t thinking about records.

This is something I’ve noticed consistently.

The best records systems are built by people who are thinking about the information that people need to get their job done, and how they deliver it to them when they need it.

No other focus gets people thinking as hard about classifications that match the way people think about their work.

No other focus does as well at making sure people understand what’s in it for them when it comes time to put a record in the system.

No other focus ties the records system so clearly to organisational performance – and that gets managers and executives focused meaningfully on records without actually knowing that’s what they’re doing.