Value producing elements of Records Management vs the costs.

Things in records that produce no value:

  • Storing a record.
  • Sentencing a record.
  • Archiving a record.
  • Destroying a record well.
  • Destroying a record badly.

Things that produce value in records:

  • Retrieving and using the record as an input to a process that produces revenue or reduces cost.

Keeping a record produces no value and incurs a lot of cost.

All the value is in the retrieval and use of the record.

We can be as altruistic as we like in records but we will not be taken seriously by executives, and funded like a serious business unit until we connect ourselves to revenue and cost reduction.

How useful is the evidence that we are keeping?

I think this is a useful framing question that every records manager should keep in their mind when working out how to prioritise projects and activities.

The problem with asking this question, is that it’s always subjective, so I’m proposing categories:

  1. Possibly useful to an unknown person, for an unknown need at an unknown time in the future.
  2. Likely useful for a specific need at an unknown time in the future.
  3. Useful for an ongoing and specific need.

It quickly becomes obvious where we should work first.

Why do we bother with “compliance is mandatory?”

If we don’t mean it, and our organisations don’t mean it, it just makes us look silly.

Here’s how you know your organisation is serious abour compliance:

  1. Your records are perfect.
  2. You know how many instances of non-compliance there have been.
  3. People have been fired for non-compliance.

Has anyone ever worked in that organisation?

A records strategy has to underpin your digital customer service strategy.

Most people don’t put these two things together, but they are essential for two types of organisations:

  1. Any organisation that expects to service a customer more than once and wants the past business to enable a good second experience.
  2. Any organisation that creates an entitlement that they will be expected to follow through on later.

It’s going to shock many organisations that when they try and adopt digital service, the first thing they’re going to need to do is get their records in order.

Questions they will have to be able get a machine to answer:

  1. Does the organisation know who this person is?
  2. Have they done business with us before?
  3. Do we have an obligation to serve them?

The only way to answer these questions, is with high quality records.

If your records can’t answer those questions it becomes a cost problem. The organisation will serve customers it isn’s supposed to, it will end up in court (by not serving customers it should), customers will choose to go elsewhere, or customers will be forced to engage via a more expensive channel in order to prove that the organisation does actually have to serve them.

There is a fourth question that’s also important – “What information are they entitled to?”

This question becomes of paramount importance when an organisation tries to build customer service portals. One of the many functions of portals is to provide people with information that they’re entitled to so that they don’t have to come and ask a person to get it for them.

Logic tells us that the information presented in a portal has to come from a records system.

These points do leave us with a good question to ask – why is it that so many organisations think that they can do digital customer service without records being involved?

Evidence Based Non-Custodial Records Management

Records management is a practice with thousands of years of history.

Or at least, custodial records management is.

Non-custodial records management though, isn’t the same thing.

It’s being practiced every day in systems that aren’t designed for it, by people who don’t understand it – or want to understand it.

So where is our evidence for the way we practice in this environment?

The more I read, the more I see re-interpretation of old ideas.

The problem with this is that the old ideas are based on old economics, and the new ideas are based on ideas about convenience that we don’t believe in, or that just don’t work.

Three examples –

  • Our ideas about disposition are influenced by the economics of storing a box for $5/month, do they still make sense when the cost to store an electronic “box equivalent” for 100 years is less than $1?
  • Sentencing on creation through integration of a business classification scheme and a disposal schedule is an idea that has been put into practice everywhere, but I find that about 2 in 100 organisations trust it enough to actually dispose of records based on the sentence, the others check manually – at $25+ an hour.
  • Function/Activity/Transaction is the gold standard for classification scheme design, but does it lead to higher quality records? My own experience has been that classification schemes are often a large barrier to records system usage.

Where is the evidence about what works?

How much of what we do by default now is more dogma than effective evidence based practice?

We can’t tell business units that they are the custodians of their records and then tell them that they’re not their records.

This is a strange dichotomy that I’ve run into continually over the last few years.

I’ll talk to a records team who will tell me that they’re not responsible for the quality of the records in the system because the business are the custodians of the records.

They’ll then talk to the same business unit who are not doing what the records team wants them to do, and tell them that the records aren’t theirs, they’re the organisations.

So which is it?

What are the predictable outcomes from that option?

How can records be a credible supplier of service if it doesn’t talk about its impact on organisational performance?

I’ve been looking into benchmarking of records across organisations.

Benchmarking is one of the simple ways that a functional area of an organisation can show that it is a credible supplier to the organisation it serves.

The problem I’m finding is that none of the benchmarking studies address organisational performance, or even the ability to perform to objectives that make sense.

State records studies are particularly odd.

They address attitudes, knowledge, access to training and many other things.

It’s what they don’t address though that I find odd:

  1. Actual compliance.
  2. Outcomes and the costs to achieve them.
  3. Ability to comply with administrative reviews and other reviews that records is purpose built for.
  4. The impact of records on business performance.

If we can’t benchmark these types of things, how do we know we’re credible suppliers of service to our organisations?

If we can’t compare ourselves to one another, how do we know who is doing well, and who we can talk to about how we improve our practice?

How do we know we’re any good?

If you’ve found a great benchmark that’s helped you benchmark and improve your practice – I’d love to know what it was.

The function that should be part of every records team

Is internal audit.

One of the things that keeps organisations (particularly government organisations) investing in records is the threat that the organisations process will be subject to a legal or administrative review.

So how do organisations test their ability to respond to these types of reviews effectively?

Generally they wait until they’re the subject of such a review, and then make heroic efforts to find everything they need.

But why is that?

Why isn’t internal “administrative auditing” a regular part of records management?

How do we know if we are being effective if we don’t audit?

The executive value of a records management program.

Senior people, what’s the thing they are most focused on?

That’s an impossible question to give a single answer to, but you can bet its one or two things that are large, complex and important, and that they want to stay laser focused on.

Ultimately, this means that a records program has three types of value to an executive –

  1. It can help them succeed at one of the things they are focused on.
  2. It can reduce risk to the things they’re focused on.
  3. It can stop them being dragged away from the thing they’re focused on.

Assurance of success, prevention of failure, and the prevention of fires that will drag them away from what they’re working on.

I think that’s it.

What do you think?

The two places records management programs are most likely to fail

The two places are:

  1. Program Governance
  2. Frontline value

Program governance is a failure to have records management performance managed by line managers throughout the organisation. It’s really a failure to prove value at the executive level, and to translate that value into a framework that executives can act on.

Frontline value is a failure to establish enough “very soon, to me” type value to frontline workers.

Records managers don’t have enough power in an organisation to get people to keep records well, and they are never going to. This means that the first order of business for a records management program needs to be securing executive support.

Every records program needs the whole organisation to commit to implementing the program. Without someone who can exercise authority at the whole organisation level, the best you can have is silos of excellence – and if you can’t get senior executive support, that’s what you should aim for. Whatever piece of the organisation is underneath the most senior manager who will commit to managing their staff on records outcomes is where your effort will be most highly rewarded.

The important thing to focus on with program governance is ensuring that sanctions for non-performance are implemented with certainty. Recidivism theory tells us that certainty of punishment for a transgression has the highest correlation with non-recidivism. This means that whatever reporting mechanism you design, it needs to deliver simple, actionable information to managers so that they can act with both certainty and minimum effort.

If you get program governance right, frontline value is less important. As much as it sticks in my throat when I say that, it’s true. There are some records programs that seem to go out of their way to make things hard for frontliners, and deliver no value that a frontliner will ever see in their work – but are effective (at least in the short term) because of good program governance.

That said, frontline value is (to me) the most important component of long term success for records – both at the program level, and the industry level. Programs that fail on frontline value often don’t get to the point where they are self sustaining. They require larger amounts of continued management pressure, and sooner or later, management get tired, and move on to other things.

The simple truth is that frontliners must value the records that we ask them to keep. The value must be tangible and real, and they must have a feeling that value will be provided “very soon, to me.”

Programs that achieve this become self-policing.

Active governance becomes assurance and eventually just monitoring.

What I think is most important to realise, is that none of the issues above are technical issues, and while technical issues are important, programs will not fail or succeed purely because of them.

This should be a caution point for every records manager in their choice of daily issues to focus on. Is the next thing in your to do list a technical issue? Or an issue of executive of frontline value that’s going to really impact your chance of success of failure?