Why are we ignoring the cheapest and most powerful tool in the record keeping by stealth arsenal?

This post is really about asking for help resolving a conundrum that I’ve been wrestling with recently.

I have significant belief in workflow.

Simply put, I think it’s the simplest, cheapest (because almost everyone owns it already) and most powerful tool for record keeping by stealth.

I believe this because I think that the route to failure in record keeping is to try and get everyone to come to a records management system.

To me, the real challenge of records is “how to put record keeping in the critical path”.

This is something that workflow does amazingly well.

Create a workflow, make it the “how” work gets delivered and done, and people will come to it because it’s now in the critical path and “how we do things here”.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my reasoning here must be flawed. I’d estimate that about 1 in 10 organisations that I talk to who own workflow actually use it.

So what am I missing? Why isn’t it being used?

If you are one of the rare organisations using it, if you’re adding more workflows all the time, and you’ve got great penetration and buy in, I’d love to know how you got there, and understand what you learned along the way. I’m sure everyone else would love to know too.

”Record keeping by stealth”, and the two approaches to making it work.

Record keeping by stealth is an approach that attempts to move the burden of record keeping from people to software, or impose it in a way that is not noticeable to the user.

The concept recognises that there is an inverse relationship between the level of record keeping compliance, and the amount of effort that compliance imposes on the user.

Simply, if it’s high effort, people will do less of it.

This makes it logical to try and drive the required effort to zero – because theoretically that would get you have 100% compliance.

There are generally two approaches –

  1. Process based capture – embed record capture into a workflow or process management tool.
  2. Use tools that scan unstructured data stores for content before machine classifying them and providing a policy implementation engine.

Generally speaking, process based capture is well proven. It generally involves users adding information to the system that they do the bulk of their work so the burden feels very low.

There are only two real problems with this approach –

  1. It’s impractical to implement a process management tool for every process.
  2. Most process management tools aren’t compliant with record keeping standards – although this is generally dealt with through integration to a system that is.

The second approach (tools that scan unstructured data stores for content and machine classify them) has less volume of usage, but has advanced significantly over the last ten years and is in active use.

Almost all problems encountered in this approach come down to the use of machine classification. While it has advanced, and has in many cases been proven more accurate than human classification (exceptions definitely exist – blurry images is a common one), it does require careful set-up and tuning. The general approach now is to use machine learning approaches that are trained using pre-classified documents.

Record keeping by stealth is a useful concept for anyone engaged in trying to get a large complex organisation to keep records, particularly if it doesn’t have an embedded information governance culture. Whether its techniques are used or not, everyone can benefit from remembering the relationship between effort and compliance, and working actively to adopt approaches that minimise effort involved.