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.

6 thoughts on “Quantifying the value that records management adds to the organisation”

  1. I agree with not using “standardized(?)” “studies(!)” as the basis for a business case, and with most of your other points.

    However, there’s another aspect to disposition I don’t see addressed in this post – reducing liability. Whether it’s the potential impact of data breaches, the sheer cost of legal review of documents or records that could have been gotten rid of (and all of their previous versions and copies), or the potential legal liability associated with those disposition-able documents.

    Yes, good information management maturity, and discipline, and defining and adhering to best practices, using effective tools the right way, address retention and the other issues you bring up too. However, I think this is overwhelmingly the exception rather than the rule. But with disposition, I don’t have to worry about my humans being phished or falling prey to social engineering because that information no longer exists. With disposition, I don’t have to spend as much on legal/paralegal review, software-assisted or no. Make the business case as you note, but include disposition as part of the less tangible but still important case.


    1. Thanks Jesse. I don’t disagree with you in any way. I am a product of my environment and my environment is mostly state government focused where disposition to avoid liability is a bit of a different animal. In private businesses, the liability aspect is obviously important, as is cyber security with all of the privacy regulations we have popping up (I did write a post about records you don’t need to have being carcinogenic about 18 months ago).

      There’s an interesting problem that I think you see in both socialism and government records management – which is that in the absence of a well functioning market where dollars must be competed for on the basis of need, it’s easy to keep going with practices that don’t justify themselves for a long time. I think that we’re there in government records with lots of practices – and if I’m wrong, I’m happy to be yelled at in a public forum for as long as it takes people to justify the practices. I don’t think I’m 100% right, but I think there’s also enough truth that it can explain why capital allocation to records management is such a problem for 98% of the people I work with. Your comments, pointers, introductions to smart people who have this problem nailed, good information resources about this problem and any other help are 100% desired and appreciated if you have them.


  2. G’day Jessie
    I agree we need better data to value our information assets. The true costs of storing, managing, disposing, finding & opportunity cost of not having found them. Risk assessment.

    The cost of managing that electronic record over a long period is going to be more than 28c. Technological obsolescence of the electronic record.


    1. Nice to hear from you Kemal! I agree that it’s more than 28c – but I always think that if start from simple and wrong, we might get to complicated and right if we force both sides to adopt more nuanced points of view. Technological obsolescence of the electronic record is interesting – tell me more about what you mean (because my guess is probably wrong, or overly simplistic). Hope you’re well! Might see you in Canberra in October.


  3. Good article Karl.

    For me though there is nothing new here in what many people have done in the past to convince Executive Management of RM Value.

    I congratulate you though in your endeavours to educate the younger generation that has come into our profession.

    In Victoria I just hope that the new Public Record Act will strengthen RMs role by at least including stronger penalties for not including RM in Corporate Governance arrangements (eg policies procedures etc) on the same plane as Finance- Asset Management – Corporate Reporting and Customer Service.

    Budget documents should also reflect the value that RM brings to organisations as part of the overall information management matrix of an organisation which in itself requires an information architecture document integrated with an information management strategy.

    Regards Roger Buhlert


    1. Hi Roger – thank you as always for your comments.

      I don’t think I’ve ever had a new idea, it’s mostly new energy that I bring to the table.

      I think your comments are spot on. In particular your budget comments, but in order for budget documents to reflect RMs value, RM must understand its own value and mostly I don’t think it does at this point. Outside of government – maybe, inside government, there’s too much about the records act and not about records as a strategic weapon or records as a performance driver. If you want a great read, I’d suggest “seeing like a state.” We gave people surnames so that we could keep records and tax them and control immigration – and now we argue about whether it’s a 10 or 12 year sentence. We’ve lost the sense of our own power as a lever. I think there’s also the problem of no financial management being included in records management courses.

      Regarding the records act – time will tell, there doesn’t seem to be any willingness to enforce any records focused legislation though, so I’m not hopeful. The records act seems to get us to a baseline of about a 20% rate of systematic control of records, beyond that I think it has to be driven by either really bad outcomes (ICAC, royal commissions etc.) or long term focused use of records as a performance driver by committed people – and there’s no shortage of committed people in records.

      Hope you’re well!


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