Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I never properly learned how to type. Lately, the Shift key and my fingers have been at war. I think changing keyboards at home and work have somehow messed with my modified hunt and peck style of typing.

So why is this worthy of blogging today?

Well, think about it. When I was growing up, typing was something that clerical workers did. In the late 1970's, I was attending a college prep school. They still offered a traditional typing class -- the room full of IBM Selectrics and all that. They also offered a computer programming class. Back in the day, I lived 13 miles from my high school and rode the bus every day. In retrospect, probably a bad idea, but I did get a very good education, even if I didn't do much there outside of school hours. There really were no comparable Catholic college prep high schools nearby at the time, so I was stuck. What that meant was that I was very limited in what I could do before and after school. I played football and belonged to a couple clubs, but any after school activities meant that my grandfather had to drive out there to pick me up.

And this is relevant how? Well, back in the day, my parents had a typewriter. It was some sort of old Smith Corona electric beast. I can remember playing with it as a small child. Problem was, if you took typing, you really needed to use the Selectrics. My mother had one at work, but using her primary tool at work to practice wasn't going to happen. So my other option was practicing after school in the typing room. But that would have meant no after school job and an extra trip for grandpa, plus my Dad wasn't enthused about paying for bus service and not using half of it.

Besides, I was going to college... I was going to have a job where typing wasn't required. Or so we thought...

Geek that I am today, why didn't I take a computer class? Well, same reason. The computer at school in 1978 was a PDP-8, which used Teletype interfaces. No monitors. Just a keyboard, a roll of paper, and a punched tape reader. You type the input, the machine would echo back the characters on paper and store the input. You would then run the program. If it worked, you would then generate a punched tape output of the program so that you could load it again. Problem was, the computer room was not much more than a big broom closet with three Teletype machines. There were a couple more in the science labs, but you had to sign up for time on the machines. Yep, after school. And if you couldn't type efficiently, life was going to be miserable.

So I start college in 1980. First thing out of the box, I need to buy... a typewriter. We lug that old Smith Corona to school and I discover the joys of Wite-Out. That old beast let everyone know when you hit the carriage return. We later bought a Brother CE 50 correcting typewriter (which I still have, although I have no idea if you can get ribbon for the thing). Now this is the height of typewriter technology in the 1980's -- changeable Daisywheel and a lift off correcting ribbon that will remove the entire previous line of type.

So the way that I learned to type was purely hunt and peck. Today, I have a better idea of where the keys are, but since I never properly learned how to type, I still type looking at the keyboard and with only a couple of fingers (I am pretty fast, however). It's just that pesky Shift key these days...

One of my challenges in never learning to type properly was speed. That meant that I had to pretty much get it right the first time. What may have been a draft for many people was a finished product for me. That tends to focus the mind a bit. Somehow, I managed to muddle through. It has been helpful today in thinking through what I write before I put fingers on keyboard.

The computer and word processing software was a huge breakthrough for me. Where I once thought that being able to retype one line of a paper was a big deal, I could now insert new thoughts, rearrange paragraphs, and compose whole new sections. My first computer (a Kaypro IV) became part of my life in about 1986. The rest is history...

Was I going to make a point? Oh yeah. Besides explaining random lapses of capitalization in my posts, I wanted to point out a revolution that many people may not have grasped. While typing was offered to many people in the past, and college-bound students often had to learn to type, that skillset often went away once the person entered the working world and had secretarial staff available to type letters. The limited resources also meant that far fewer written records were created. Today, small children are learning to type. They have to. They all have email accounts. It is a given that every child (at least in my neighborhood) has basic keyboarding skills and is able to use a computer before they leave 8th grade. Looking at high school course lists, typing (as such) is rarely taught today. It is generally bundled with a class on using word processing software and basic computing. What this means is that everyone is a typist. And if everyone is a typist, everyone creates and files records. Welcome to full employment for records managers!

If I had only known then, what I know now...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


My ten year old is getting a telescope for Christmas (all this travel yields a fair number of Amex points which converted nicely to a decent telescope). Don't tell her that.

Owning a telescope in a metropolitan area leaves a lot to be desired, I suppose. When I was a Cub Scout, I recall that one of the things that we had to do to get a merit badge was see a satellite in the night sky. I recall all of us laughing at that because we could hardly see the stars! And in ca. 1972, there were no Internet sites that would enable you to schedule a time to see one fly over. There also were a whole lot fewer satellites in general.

When I moved to Quincy, Illinois to attend college, I can still remember going outside one night and looking up and suddenly seeing all sorts of stars in the night sky (along with a few airplanes and satellites). It was amazing. I wish I had that telescope then.

The infinite reaches of space always amaze me. It boggles my mind when you look at a star and realize that what you're seeing today happened many years ago. The star may not even exist today. I have a hard time with the whole "Earth is round" thing. I know it, but I have never really experienced it. I can certainly understand how people felt thousands of years ago. Guess I need to join the Flat Earth Society.

I was watching a program the other day that discussed how people would travel to Mars some day. That sort of math is far beyond my meager abilities. It looks so simple in a computer simulation, but the math behind it is insane. And I have to sit and shake my head when some astronomer talks about getting glimpses of the formation of the universe because of the vast expanse of space and time. My head hurts.

So I always have to laugh when someone wants to assign a retention period of "Permanent" or, periodically, "Infinity". Sure, yep, we'll get that calculated for you right away...

Virtual Worker, Virtual Workspace

In a previous post, "The Two Minute Commute", I talked about moving to a situation where I will find myself working at home with regularity. In that post, I walked through a number of issues that I wanted to address. Since then, I've been exposed to some additional information about how some organizations are going to handle the increasing need for lower real estate costs -- and the increasing need for lower IT costs.

I tend to be conservative in my approach to records management. I think that is a trait shared by many of us in this profession. We look for risk around every corner. We look to mitigate that risk, protect records, and ensure that we have a consistent records management program. The sea changes of the past 20 years in computer technology and the last ten years in email and Internet technology have messed with our nice neat world of color codes and file folders. On the one hand, we now have the ability to better track files and boxes through bar codes, RFID, and computer databases; on the other hand, we have an incredible proliferation of electronic records that we struggle to manage.

Twenty years ago, offices were just beginning to use personal computers. There were limited networks, but a desktop computer on every employee's desk was still not the norm. The tidal wave of personal computing was coming, however. If an employee had a computer, it tended to be a "green screen", or mainframe terminal. Desktop computers tended to be used as word processors, with the output printed, put into an envelope, and mailed. Some files were retained on floppy disks, but the record copy was a paper copy for most folks. In essence, the computer user rarely was responsible for retaining electronic records. The green screen user relied upon the mainframe to retain information; the PC user relied on paper copies. There were many users who, when faced with a corporate bureaucracy that wouldn't buy personal computers, would bring in their own PC from home -- or buy a PC on an expense account. These pioneers found great utility in the home PC and made them work in the office. It wasn't long before corporate IT departments found themselves buying PCs for every employee -- and upgrading those PCs every two to three years.

Flash forward 20 short years. Today, we have utter and total anarchy when it comes to electronic records. Very few companies have their act together. The end user has a variety of managed and unmanaged repositories for information. The volume of information being retained is growing exponentially. And now we want to drive those end users out of the office and into locations where we can't see what they are doing? Yep. And we want them to bring their own computer to work, too. WHAT?!!! Yes, you read that correctly. As corporate IT departments are faced with escalating costs for storage and management of information, they are also faced with the costs of PC and laptop replacement -- and support. Users are complaining to IT that they have a PC at home "that is better than what is at work". The upgrade cycle continues and that is a serious drain on an organization's resources. Add in the cost of support and you have a serious cost issue.

At the same time, many employees are working from home on home PCs that are powerful and use the same software as the employee has at work. The employee wants to use his or her home PC when working from home. The employee typically has some sort of broadband access. For many companies, the company-issued laptop sits idle when the employee is at home. This makes for an interesting financial calculation. The employer has a tremendous investment in computer hardware that often sits idle much of the day. The employee fully owns the "personal" in "personal computer" and hates the IT department for preventing the installation of unsupported software or the customization of desktops.

Many companies are now seriously looking at providing employees with an annual allowance to purchase and support their own computers. These companies are also investing in technology that will protect the computing environment from viruses and spyware (and ill-configured computers), while allowing employees access to company information and resources. These initiatives are sold as "win-win". The employee gets the computer of their choice and the company (in theory) saves the cost of purchase and support of hundreds or thousands of computers.

And we records managers lose more hair and start examining the Grecian Formula with intent.

So let's recap... what am I talking about here? There is a near future scenario where a company;s IT department will no longer automatically supply a PC or laptop to every employee in the company. If an employee will primarily be mobile or working from home, the company will provide an allowance to the employee to purchase his or her own computing device(s). The employee will also need to provide a means of remote access (typically some flavor of broadband). The company will provide a secure portal via the Internet and typically provide applications to the employee in a "Software as a Service" or SaaS model. In many cases, this will mean that the company is using a third party to host email and the various business applications that employees use. In addition, this access will often be facilitated using Application Delivery / Desktop Virtualization models such as Citrix or VMWare. (Neither company is being endorsed here, just used as examples of leading technology in this space.) In effect, the user accesses his or her "business" desktop through a secure Internet connection. The data is typically hosted remotely on a company server and the user's local computer retains no business data. (Back to the future, eh?) The user may also be restricted in what can be copied locally or copied to USB devices.

The drawback here is that the user must have an Internet connection to be functional. That doesn't help the mobile user who is sitting on an airplane and wants to work on email or a presentation. With some of these models, however, the latest releases also allow the end user to retain a copy of their virtual desktop on their local machine or a portable media device like a thumb drive. So that, in theory, could mean that the employee would have the capability of retaining a complete copy of their business information on a device that they have purchased personally -- and that gets us into the issues discussed by John Montana in his AIEF paper. That is mitigated (to some extent) by encryption. The local copy is encrypted and the decryption key is controlled by the employer. The minute that the employee is terminated, the encrypted data is rendered useless. The employer retains access to the data that has been replicated to its servers and normal retention periods can be applied. Of course, the challenge here remains that the employee (or former employee) is still in possession of corporate data (albeit encrypted) and may be subject to seizure or subpoena of his or her personal computer.

So what I've described actually takes us back 20 years or so to some extent. The upside is that the data is generally going to be retained primarily on the company's (or the company's agent's) servers. Controls may be put in place to prevent local retention of records of the company. The information is maintained and transmitted securely. Backups are automatic.

So what's to worry about? I suppose there are a few things. Companies like Google and Microsoft are moving headlong into this space. They will be hosting data in huge data centers. In theory, they may have the ability to see at least some of the data, so that is a potential problem, although most data will likely be heavily encrypted. The legal aspects of access to an employee's personal computer still need to be worked out. What expense will the employee bear when he or she is subject to subpoena of their personal property? Security of the information is a major concern. And lastly, but certainly not of least importance to us, the ability of these applications to integrate with records management software and processes remains to be seen.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

These are a Few of My Favorite Slides

I'm running out of disk space. My homebuilt PC has two hard drives. One has 80GB of storage and the other has 40GB. Yeah, that's so 2003. But when I rebuilt this thing in 2003, that was so much space that I partitioned those two drives into 20GB partitions, so I have 6 virtual drives. Problem is, unpartitioning is a real bear and a half. so I'm housecleaning as best as I can, but I think Christmas break will involve some really messy software reloading and the purchase of a bigger hard drive. Ew.

Anyway, in the process of housecleaning, I've wandered through my archive of presentations. (Note to self: MS Office 2003 doesn't like MS Office prior to Office 97, so it's time to do some file conversions, too.) Where was I? Oh yeah, presentations. I've kept a log of all the presentations that I've done over the years (back to 1989). Yes, a log. And I send it to people who want me to speak. It started as a list on my resume, then became a handy thing to send out when I was asked to speak, but the Chapter didn't know what they wanted to hear. (And I have most of the presentations in electronic form.) Since that first presentation in 1989 (which was written out as a paper, with no slides), I've done over 100 different presentations at various forums. In the past couple years, I've pulled back on the number that I do, but I had a couple years where I was out there a lot.

So I was wandering through a few of them. I've noticed that over time, I'm tending to be more minimalist in my slides -- more content, fewer graphics, less glitz. I guess I don't have the time to build slides and find solid graphics, so I'm just sticking with text and simple schemes. As I looked through my presentations, I recalled some of the venues and places that I had been to. I recalled audience reactions and my self-assessment of my performance. I've often said to people that I'm either cheap or good -- and that's why I get invited to speak.

Anyway, I wandered through the slides and I've pulled out a few of my favorites that I thought I'd try to share in my blog. Haven't tried embedding graphics, so we'll see how this goes...

This slide was from a presentation that I did in Boston at the 2003 ARMA Conference. That session was one that I remember like it was yesterday. I was absolutely in the zone. I had a ton of energy, a packed house, and all my jokes hit home. Athletes talk about games where they can't miss a jump shot, or the baseball looks like a volleyball, or every pass is on the money. That was me that day. This presentation pre-dated ARMA's competencies and it was my vision of what a records manager had to know to be successful. For a number of years, I've talked about the "cardboard ceiling" (something that I once heard mentioned by another speaker long ago). This slide is how I've finally come to represent that ceiling in terms of competencies. It's one of the best slides that I've created from scratch and it reminds me of the day where I hit a grand slam. Oh yeah, and that's the day that I oversold the room, so they had me do an encore a couple hours later... that one wasn't so good...

This slide is from my "Perfect Storm" presentation on various types of messaging. The background is awful busy, but the message is something that hits home. I had read this article a couple days before I first gave the presentation and it was one of the first times that I tossed in something fresh and unexpected in a presentation (it wasn't in the handout). records managers hadn't given much thought to Blackberries and really didn't understand them. When I presented this, there were audible gasps as some people in the audience realized that their It departments might just be logging every bit of message traffic coming from their companies' Blackberries. It wasn't so much worry about content, but worry about records being maintained -- and they had no idea they were out there. I do that a lot. I do a presentation and people walk away frightened...

This slide got me in a lot of trouble with my audience at the Chicago ARMA Conference in 2005 ("Taking a Leadership Role when IT and RM Intersect"). Oh, the negative comments on the session reviews! (But there were also quite a few, "Thanks for saying something that needed to be said, I'm tired of my staff looking like a bunch of unprofessional punks.") Anyway, I had been thinking about how many records managers carry themselves. I hate "Dress for Success" sessions myself, but I was starting to see a very disturbing trend of colleagues bemoaning their disrespect within their organizations, while carrying themselves and looking like they had no desire to set foot in the executive suite. At the time, I had found myself in much more of a consultative role in my firm and I was dealing with clients a lot. I found that even though I was the corporate records manager for my firm, I was being accorded much more respect by our firm's clients than the incumbent at the client (and all I was doing was taking away the client's HR files). I was providing advice that I know their records manager could provide and yet that person wasn't invited to the table. When I did insist that the records manager hear what I had to say, I was told bluntly by the client that their records manager wasn't capable of the analysis. I still insisted and then saw the issue -- jeans, ill-fitting, unpressed clothing. Clearly they saw this person solely as a box mover. Now I'm not Mr. GQ, but I could see why they marginalized their records manager.

But, oh, the reaction! "You don't understand anything about office culture today." "If I wear a suit to work, they will think I'm nuts." "Everyone here has body art... you're incredibly behind the times." Maybe so, but the last time I checked, the CEOs of my last two employers weren't into visible body art. You want to pierce or tattoo some part of your body, go right ahead... I'd prefer not to be able to tell what you pierced through your clothing... or lack thereof. And that might be a lovely red thong you're wearing, but in my book, Too Much Information... (Next on David Letterman, Ten ways to tell that you're turning into an old geezer...)

So that's the first installment of "...a Few of of my Favorite Slides". More as I find some to talk about...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Alphabet Soup

When I was a kid, I used to eat alphabet soup with some regularity. You'd get that bowl of hot soup and proceed to try and make words from all those letters. I'd try and try, but out of all those letters, I'd inevitably get "C-A-T" and cold soup. And the funny thing was that hot soup tasted good, but after spending a lot of time trying to make sense of those letters, I'd end up with foul-tasting cold soup and mushy letters. There's a lesson somewhere in that analogy...

I've had the opportunity to take a look at Mimi Dionne's new blog. Mimi has been around the industry for a while and is definitely one of our shining stars. But I'm a little worried about her. In her first post, she talks about all of the various certifications and certificates that she has obtained or is interested in obtaining over and above her Master's degree. She asks the question, "When is enough... enough?"

I suppose that I am concerned about the seeming proliferation of initials following the names of people in our industry. At a certain point, they all seem rather trite and self-serving. Now, I'll be quick to point out that I have a Master's degree and have been a CRM for 15 years. I'm very proud of both of those pieces of paper and they hang prominently in my office (hey, if the lawyers all display their JDs, I'm going to put up my sheepskin). What seems to be happening recently is that some people in our industry, as well as some organizations, seem to think that the measure of the professional is based upon the string of initials after his or her name. Rather crudely put, this becomes a game of "mine is bigger than yours". And these same folks seem to think that the distribution of these initials is a lucrative business opportunity in which you only are admitted to take the tests when you have paid some serious cash to prepare for the exam. In my mind that becomes a very dangerous game of exchanging cash for perceived credibility.

What bothers me more is that the various certificates are being promoted as equivalent to certifications in our industry. In my experience, there is a very real difference between the certification process and the certificate process. There are some out there who would argue that even a certification doesn't equate competency. I would tend to agree with that. I know of CRMs and CAs who are clueless hacks and happened to test well. I know of many un-credentialed practitioners who are very highly qualified professionals. But what I fear is a glut of vendor types and others who see records management / content management as the fad du jour and possessing a string of initials after their names makes them absolutely credible. For these folks, the initials are a way to sell product / services or occupy a seat in an organization until something better comes along. To these folks, records management is not a career, or a profession, or even (to use a term from my past) a "vocation". They want to make a buck and move along.

Earlier today, I found a question posted on LinkedIn (a social networking site) that asked about records management. The person posing the question wanted folks to provide him with a "records management policy". I read through the answers that had been given. The people doing the answers were Ph.Ds and JDs and some had all sorts of initials after their names. A couple of them knew what they were talking about -- but most gave pretty weak advice. But none of them were records managers (until I posted an answer). Unfortunately, most came across pretty credibly. It's a hot topic. People spouted what I would describe as "book answers".

Back in the late 90's (yeah, all those years ago), when the Internet and the IT arena was going gangbusters, there were an incredible number of certificates out there. You could be a Microsoft Certified this or a Novell that or a Lotus something or other. Pay the bucks, take a test and print out your certificate. The theory was that with technology moving so quickly, the only way that an IT manager could tell if someone really knew their stuff was if they had the current Microsoft whatever certificate. And people ate that stuff up in the consulting world like there was no tomorrow. Whenever I was "on the bench", my fellow benchwarmers would be studying up on whatever they needed that week to be marketable.

So I suppose that experience left a bad taste in my mouth. I watched people bleed out the ears chasing the latest software or operating system version, only to be stymied when a client actually wanted them to evaluate competing products. Oh, they could set up this one or that one. They could make the things work. But they couldn't do critical thinking. They didn't see what made the most sense for the client. They could implement the solution, but they couldn't decide which solution made the most sense for the client. But clients just wanted things to work -- and they wanted the latest and greatest thing. Solution implementation was in; solution assessment was out.

I fear that some of these certificates in our industry take people down the same sort of path. While the certificates are vendor agnostic, they still constitute book-learning for the most part. As I said in a prior post, you'll know your dpi and network topology, but will you really understand how to make the system fit into the larger scheme of records management?

So are they really all bad? I'm not sure. I have 20+ (holy cow!) years of experience, with 15 of those hanging around imaging systems and serious technology. I would suggest that I have a pretty good grounding in the technology of our industry. Expert? Perhaps. Could I learn anything from a certificate program? Maybe some little bit of trivia or some shortcut to calculate required disk space. But what experience adds to the mix is the understanding of how these things need to work in the real world. In that same post about spinning that IT manager's head around, I pointed out all of the issues that I have learned through hard experience. They aren't necessarily things that you get from "the book". I've learned that you have to consider user, functional and system requirements, very often in that order, in order to get a system accepted and implemented. You have to consider corporate reality. And you have to prove your case. Technology is not always the answer to every business problem. Sometimes all that technology does is make bad things happen faster.

One of the first things that I learned when doing process mapping and in taking Six Sigma courses (as well as from implementing Six Sigma) is that you have to understand the root cause of what is broken in a process. You can't try to fix the symptoms of a problem when you don't know what the underlying disease happens to be. Determining what the root cause is requires very critical thinking, not simply book knowledge.

So when is enough... enough? In some respects, learning should never stop. Good certification programs require the certification holder to continually refresh (and share) his or her knowledge in the industry. There is always something new to learn. There is always something new to try (like blogs). As a professional, you should never be satisfied that you know all there is to know about your profession. It evolves and you must evolve with it. But above all, you must hone your critical thinking and ability to define solutions based upon a broad range of knowledge, not the "solution" offered by a vendor's presentation or gained by attending some expensive classes and passing a test. There is a need for good solutions for an organization, but those solutions must accurately reflect the business requirements and need.

There is another factor at work here in this rush to add initials after our names, I think. Records managers tend to have bootstrapped their way into their positions. They worry that they don't have a particular degree or something that shows that they know what they are talking about. Fifteen years ago, that's one of the motivations that brought me to the CRM. But over time, I've found that my Master's degree carries more weight and that the CRM simply indicates that I am a professional. This is my career. If I am truly a professional, I don't need to go add a bunch of initials after my name to prove that I know my business. I can articulate the business requirements of good records management and I can select the systems and processes that contribute to a compliant program. That is what is expected of a professional. If you see a lawyer about a will, do you ask him for his will-making certificate? If your doctor is going to prescribe a drug to you to remedy an illness, do you ask to see her certificate for that malady?

Records managers must stop seeing themselves as somehow lacking as professionals. This "woe is me" attitude serves no one well. If this is your career and your profession, act as a professional. Learn at every opportunity and share that learning. Don't chase the latest fad or the latest buzzword. Understand how that buzzword fits (or what it is really describing), but keep your eye on the bigger picture and ensure that you understand the fundamentals. The buzzword of the day will soon fade into something else -- and you'll know all along, just being a good records manager is enough to solve the perceived problem. If your organization just sees you as "the file lady" or "the box guy", it's time to move on. And if you can't grow in your role, then all of the initials in the world won't give you one iota of additional credibility. Cure the disease, not the symptom.

And so I would say to Mimi, you're certainly welcome to add to those initials after your name. You may actually learn something new to add to your tool belt. Evaluate those programs on the basis of what you can learn; not on the basis of the perceived credibility of some "credential". But you don't need to do it to impress me or make me think that you're a professional. I already know that. And I suspect that most everyone else knows that as well. Never stop learning and never stop sharing. But don't focus on the letters for so long that your soup gets cold.

(As always, my blog posts are my personal opinions and not those of my employer or any other organization.)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Two Minute Commute

At some point in the next couple of months, I will begin working from my home on a regular basis. That means that I'll be moving from a very spacious 15 by 15 (feet) office at work to my home office, which is in the process of being constructed and will measure about 8 by 10 (feet). One benefit of the new office is that it will have an attached powder room, so I can now feel like an executive, with a bathroom right adjacent to my office. So I am in the process of selecting furnishings for the office since this will be where I am expected to work most days, coming to the real office when I need to have face to face meetings or meet with a vendor. On the plus side, my commute will be a matter of seconds instead of the 45 minutes or so that I have allotted (each way) now. On the negative side, I recognize that I am a social animal and will need to work harder to maintain relationships in the office.

My new space will be a dedicated office. In the past, my working space has been part of our kitchen or in the basement. Right now, my desk has been relocated to the basement along with all my "stuff" and I'm finding that while isolated, it is not the most conducive spot for working. As winter comes on, it is also a tad chilly. The new office will be fitted out with bookshelves, a proper (and matching) work surface, a decent amount of storage, plenty of electrical, data and telecom outlets, and a door. That door will be useful. It will help me feel like I've "gone to work" and will indicate to the family when I really need to be head's down on a project.

My employer is looking to reduce the second largest line item on the corporate budget -- real estate. Those of us who are knowledge workers and who generally spend most of the day locked in offices staring at a computer screen or on conference calls will be able to do this from home -- greatly reducing the daily requirement for square footage and reducing the cost of real estate for the company. It's sold as a "win-win" -- good for the bottom line and good for work / life balance. Since many of us travel frequently as well, it will also utilize space that can sit empty many days a year when we're on the road.

I've dabbled in working from home for some time now. I've had a home computer since CP/M days and I've been online in a meaningful way since 1993. DSL showed up in 2001 and I've been able to be much more effective working from home since then. Add in my new Motorola Q9h and Bill Gates' profit margins are seldom more than a few feet away from me. Prior jobs allowed me the flexibility of working from home in between road trips or on days where weather or family circumstances allowed me greater productivity if I avoided the highways. If my younger daughter is home ill (or has a day off), I should be able to be home now without any feelings of guilt.

But, there are drawbacks. I like that office. I tend to nest at work. I have a fair number of things that I have picked up over time that I like to display. I also have a fairly large reference library. And I've been gifted with a about ten linear feet of files from my predecessor that I will need to send offsite or find space for in my shared digs at the office. That's the stuff that will be hard to part with.

As a new employee, I'm still building a network and relationships in the new company. Being in the office allows people to drop by and say hello or allows you to run into someone in the cafeteria. It also allows the happenstance "drive bys" that come with seeing someone in the hallway or in their office. Moreso, as a records manager, I'm worried about what will happen to records when knowledge workers are primarily doing their work at home. And that, after all this lead in, is the focus of today's post.

The reason that I'm moving to "iWork" -- as we call it -- is that I'm moving from the company's Law Department to the IT department. I'll be working for the CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) in our Information Protection department. It makes sense. My new boss interviewed me before I was hired and working for him was a possibility from day one. His team includes people who are responsible for Business Continuity / Disaster Recovery as well as Data Privacy. So it is a natural fit and we're all focused on risk mitigation when it comes to the company's information assets. The team is also global in nature, so the iWork program will also benefit us when we have those late night / early morning conference calls with one end of the world or another.

Over the past couple of weeks, however, the drumbeat of interest in iWork has been ramping up. This has led to a number of calls and emails from people wondering what they should be doing with their records as they move out of fixed office space and what they should be doing with records when they are at home. So we're working up some direction for employees, while trying to ensure that we're not stepping on any toes.

Things that we're trying to address:

  • Shredders. Yes. Internal and confidential documents are required to be shredded before being discarded. iWork employees get an allowance for equipment and a shredder is expected to be purchased.
  • Secure storage space. Yes. Part of the allowance is to be used to purchase secure filing equipment that will allow internal and confidential documents to be secured, along with laptops and other company property.
  • Offsite storage. No and yes. We're not going to allow our offsite storage vendor to make house calls. We are encouraging employees to make certain that they are backing up electronic documents on company servers.
  • Use of personal computer equipment. No. I'm making a strong pitch that we always provide company-owned or leased computer equipment and mandate the use of this equipment. Some bean counters are looking at this as an exercise in numbers and the battle is on. The problem with allowing company information to be maintained on personally-owned equipment is that litigation makes this very interesting. John Montana's excellent study, "Access Rights to Business Data on Personally-Owned Computers" (from the ARMA International Educational Foundation), is the document that I most reference when discussing this issue. I have support from our litigation attorneys as they have seen some really messy situations in the past when they had to get an employee's personal computer because of litigation.
  • Termination of employment. We have a policy that requires managers to ensure that all records maintained by a terminated employee have been transferred to another employee or otherwise retained properly. This becomes more difficult when the employee's work place is not within the four walls of the office.
This process also demands that we put in place excellent repositories for information. That we have to work on. My fear is that people will do things that make life easier, like sending documents to personal email accounts or using online storage repositories to hold company information so that they can access it at home (the issue exists regardless of where people normally work, but gets exacerbated when the secure VPN connection for company work prevents the employee from printing a document on the home network).

What this also means is that you're never really away from work. In today's world, I guess being available, in effect, 24 by 7 is a necessary evil. However, it also allows you to be a parent 24 by 7 when necessary. So when my daughter needs a ride to Girl Scouts or someone to help her with homework, I'll be able to set aside my "day job" for a few minutes -- and that, especially, is not a bad thing.

As I was writing this, I was thinking about the evolution of work as I have experienced it in my life. Both of my parents worked when I was growing up. My mother was an executive assistant and was able to walk to work. We could stop by her office on the way home from school and check in. She worked typical office hours, but as an assistant to a sales executive, was on call at all hours. But by and large, her work was confined to the office or what she could accomplish on the telephone from home.

My Dad was in the trucking industry as an operations and sales manager. His hours and travel varied. Many of his "days" lasted into the wee hours when he was entertaining a customer. I'd hear him come in after midnight and head out at 7am the next morning. He was an early adopter of communications technology to stay in touch with the office. For many years, the family car had a two-way radio -- the iconic "Adam 12" radio, as we used to call it. Even back in the 70's my Dad was always connected -- and Mom had a way to find out if he was coming home for dinner. When cell phones came out, my Dad had one of those installed in the car as well. My Dad was big on "going for a ride" with us and many excursions were interrupted by a voice from the radio calling, "Base to 2-9-9" -- which meant that something had happened and he needed to drop by the office or go look at an accident scene.

But I learned from my parents that work oftentimes demands that you are available at odd hours or inconvenient times. In their cases, getting serious work done usually meant a trip to the office. In my case, I can often get it done from home. I do know that with an actual office in my house, I'll also close the door from time to time and call it a day.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pat's Rules for Air Travel

So my little adventure reported in my last two posts brings me to a place where I should probably review my "rules" for air travel. I violated several of them the past couple weeks and that just means extra stress.

Keep in mind that I will sometimes do odd things in my travel to pick up a few extra miles or segments, so I'm not very good at following my own advice. Also, I hate to deal with the "3-1-1" baggies, so I rarely have carry on bags.

Flight Times:

That 0600 flight might get you to where you want to be at a decent hour, but remember that you have to get up and be at the airport at an ungodly hour and that early wake up call is going to be awful.

RULE 1: Avoid the dawn patrol.

You might want to work a full day where you are and take the last flight out of Dodge, but if anything goes sideways, you might get stuck.

RULE 2: Avoid the last flight of the day.


Even though the airline allows you to book a 45 minute connection, don't do it. If that first flight is delayed, you're going to be running -- or you'll miss your connection.

RULE 3: Avoid connections that are less than 90 minutes. Two hours is best.

If you are making a connection, make sure that the first leg of your flight is not the last flight of the day that will allow ANY connection to your ultimate destination.

RULE 4: Make certain that your originating flight to your connection city allows you options if you are delayed or that flight is canceled.

Managing Changes:

It never hurts to pre-plan some options. Download your favorite airline's timetable and have the timetable build you a list of flights to your ultimate destination. That way, if you original routing gets messed up, you have options to suggest. If you are originating in a city where there are multiple airports served by your airline, take a look at options offered at the other airports.

RULE 5: Have options in mind if your original plans go sideways.

Stress is a bad thing. When your plans go awry, the worst thing that you can do is get angry and frustrated. No matter how messed up things get, yelling at the person behind the counter will do very little and likely makes them less likely to help you.

RULE 6: It may not feel like the "small stuff", but getting all bent out of shape over changes to your plans solves very little.

Other Stuff:

If you're able to board your flight in the first group, it is reasonable to bring along your carry-on suitcase. That gives you a lot more options since the airline may not always go find your bag if you don't take the flight. In addition, some bags will not travel the same routing as you. But please check the steamer trunk.

RULE 7: Carry-on luggage provides you with more options. But make sure that your bag will fit in the overhead -- and make sure that you board early.

The Rest of the Story...

So when last I left off, you were with me on my trip home a week and a half ago. It gets better (and worse)...

So we board the CRJ-200. These are just about my least favorite aircraft because they are tiny and First class is not available. I have the aisle seat. I always sit in the aisle on these things because you can lift the armrest and hang a cheek out into the aisle if you feel like you're crowding whoever is stuck in the window seat (as much as I prefer window seats in general, the curvature of the small planes makes it impossible for me to fit there.

So I settle in. There is no one in the window seat when I sit down, but I have been told the flight is oversold. Sure enough, here comes my seatmate. He's not quite my size, but still a big guy. And he has been bathing in garlic. so I make a hole for him to get in, he buckles up, and I sit down, lifting the armrest to make a little more room. He absolutely reeks of garlic.

So we're off and about halfway, he decides that he's claustrophobic. I don't blame him. There happens to be an aisle seat across from me open, so he climbs out and grabs that seat. I'm not going to complain because I now have both seats to myself.

We land in LAX about 15 minutes early, so a quick arrival at the gate means that I'll have an hour to go from terminal 8 to terminal 6. Of course, that means that our gate isn't ready. So we park. After 20 minutes, we roll up to the gate, slightly behind our estimated arrival. I have about 40 minutes to get to the new gate. Plenty of time, but it also means that my next flight is boarding, since it is a widebody. I walk at a reasonable pace and arrive at the gate about 20 minutes to departure, having also made a quick pit stop on the way. As I roll up, I hear the gate agent say, "Folks, sorry for the delay, but we're going to grab a flight attendant from the next gate over and as soon as she is settled in, we'll begin our boarding process." GRRRRR! I'm just glad that I didn't run all the way over or stress myself too much. That's the way these things always seem to work out.

So we finally board after all of the people who don't speak English or don't care to read the big number on their boarding passes get out of the way. I'm seated all the way in the back of Economy Plus. The good news is that it is Economy Plus; the bad news is that the seat won't recline all the way. But there is no one behind me. So I settle in to the window and find a pillow and blanket. No one immediately sits down next to me. I'm holding my breath waiting to see who eyes that seat... NO ONE!!!! So up goes the armrest and I know that I'm not going to be crammed in that seat for four hours.

We leave about 15 minutes late, but at this point, I'm really too tired to care. There are some bumps along the way, but I manage to doze for a little bit. We land at ORD around 0500, actually ahead of schedule. When I get off the plane, I note that it is schedules to fly back out to DEN as UA 707 -- the same flight that I left Chicago on a couple days before. So I join the sleepy line of red eye travelers and head off to find my bag. Amazingly enough, once the bags come down, mine is an early arrival (I was worried that it wouldn't make the connection).

I finally made it home around 0600. Slept until Noon, missed the soccer game. My whole day was messed up.

So on the whole, I did get home. I lost my first class seats, but managed to mostly have two seats to myself. When they rebooked the reservation, they recoded my fare basis to "Y" (which is considered full fare economy) which means that I picked up an extra 50% of miles and segments for my trouble. And UA is supposed to be mailing me a voucher for my troubles.

Still, not a day that I care to repeat.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Glamour of Business Travel

***SIGH*** I've finally had one of THOSE trips... you know, the one with headaches that just keep coming?

So I book a quick trip to Silicon Valley to help a new subsidiary get records out to Iron Mountain. It's a Wednesday to Friday trip. Oh-dark-30 on the outbound and the last flight of the day on the return. Good fare.

Wednesday, 3AM. The alarm rings... grumble. Out the door at 3:45 and off to ORD. Pull in to the parking garage and it deposits me on the Blackhawks Level 4. BONUS! (This is the level that allows you to go from your car over the bridge into the terminal -- very fast.) Check in with UAL.COM Bag Check is uneventful. My upgrades have cleared and I have First Class seats out to SJC (via DEN). Things are looking good, except for the hour. Security is remarkably uneventful and fast compared to my last trip. Off to the Red Carpet Club for a light breakfast and some juice. I can actually relax for a bit. I head for the gate around 5:15 for my 6AM flight. We board and I settle in. We're off and they bring around some sort of breakfast item... not memorable, but at least resembled food.

Wednesday, 0730 Local Time, Denver. I hop off the plane expecting a quick trot to the next gate for SJC. I check the departure board and find a delay... looks like an hour... oh well, Red Carpet Club time! I glance at the paper and have some juice. Then off to the gate once I see the plane pull in to the gate. We're off about 90 minutes late. Looks like my lunch meeting will start late. Oh well. The plane is apparently catered oddly... they offer a roast beef sandwich accompanied by biscotti and yogurt.

Wednesday, 1100 Local Time, San Jose. I just remembered why I'm not a fan of Mineta San Jose International Airport. It has been under construction for the past decade and the new terminal is starting to take shape... maybe by 2010... But United arrives at the old terminal and you get out and walk across the tarmac. That is followed by a circuitous route to bag claim and a wait for bags. But mine is out first and I'm off to the central (temporary) rental car facility. I jump off at Avis and don't find my name on the board (because I am late). I'm assigned a long in the tooth Taurus and need to find the office. I have to drive about two miles to get there, but the 101 is a parking lot. Sigh. So, some side streets and wandering and I find the office. Do the meetings, head over to Apple to meet a colleague, then time to find the hotel. I'm at the hotel around 6PM and note that the small restaurant is empty... hmmm.... I'm hungry and tired so i decide to do room service... after 20 rings, I decide to find some fast food. Sleep comes at 2130... a 20+ hour day.

Thursday, 0630... how the heck do you turn the alarm off, where are my glasses, and where is the light switch? Free breakfast in the restaurant, then off to the office. The next 12 hours are spent labeling boxes, identifying contents and repacking oversize boxes. I am tired, sweaty, and hungry (pizza was lunch). But the team has done well and we have 628 boxes ready to go in the morning. I have a California steak dinner (that was cauliflower, not mashed potatoes...) and head back to the hotel. Sleep comes easy and the next sound that I hear is that darn alarm clock...

Friday, 0630... I still haven't figured this thing out. I suspect it will be buzzing tomorrow at 0630 as well... Off to the office... time enough to verify box counts and transmittals and make copies... 0900... here's Iron Mountain. The crew is unhappy about the stairs to the 2nd floor and someone runs off to retrieve some skate wheel conveyors from the warehouse. The work goes faster and the grumbling sort of ceases. They stop for lunch, I have a donut and Mountain Dew. I verify that my flights are on time and that my upgrades are good to go. I'm heading back at 1710, connecting in Denver and getting home after Midnight. No biggie... the soccer player doesn't have a game until 1100. Iron Mountain finishes up and I'm off to the airport. On the way to the airport, I get buzzed with a flight update... ONTIME!!! I deposit the car. Get on the bus and I have three more updates... uh oh. My "ontime" flight is now cancelled and I am rebooked at 2100 for a flight connecting at LAX. The LAX flight will leave at 2300 and get to Chicago about 0500. This is where the steam starts coming out of my ears.

Now I'm over two hours early for my now-cancelled flight. There should be options. Should. Be. Options. So let's see... how about another flight to DEN? Nope. That one will leave you stranded in DEN. How about SFO? Nope. It's Friday and everything east at the end of the day is booked solid. What about earlier to LAX? Nope. Booked solid... this is Friday you know? GRRRR. Ok, I'll do this connection. What's the connection time? About 45 minutes. Great. Upgrades? Nope.

So here I sit. First, we need to get to LAX. On. Time. We'll see about that. Good news is that it is a 55 minute flight and is scheduled to take 75 minutes, so I should have a few extra minutes, assuming we get out on time and have a gate at LAX. Bad news is that this is a CRJ, so I'll hate the plane all the way to LAX.

I have a window seat LAX-ORD, but it is right by the galley and won't recline. Great. Maybe it will be empty.

Well, I've never done the red-eye, so this should be interesting... more whenever I get home...

Sunday, October 14, 2007


The ten year old plays soccer on Saturday mornings. She's now in the "U12 Girls" division of AYSO. At this age, soccer starts to get to be serious. There aren't as many "do-overs" on throw-ins and goal kicks. Offsides are called with more frequency and drawing the opponent offside is now part of the strategy. There will still tend to be a couple dominant players in each game, but the games that are blowouts, don't happen as much. It is an interesting transformation.

So Saturday morning I set up my folding chair (finally one for us big and tall guys!)and settled in. The ten year old was decked out in her red and black AYSO uniform, but also in sweats, mittens and her Glasgow Celtic Football Club hat (if you have to play soccer in a hat, you may as well wear one that supports a team somewhere). For the early morning games, someone has to come by with the game bag and the corner flags. That person was running late on Saturday, so the ref ran back to his car for a game ball and some linesman's flags -- yep, he was real ref. The referee (at this level the referees tend to be parents who actually understand the game, rather than ones who feel obligated to blow the whistle) then set about checking the nets. I noticed that he didn't have any linesmen yet and with a large field (this age group plays on almost a full-sized field), it is a big help if somebody is watching the sidelines and endlines. So, having once had a class on the laws of soccer (they are not RULES, they are LAWS -- and don't you forget it!) and been trained by AYSO to act as a linesman (probably ten+ years ago for the older kid), I volunteered. We talked about where he wanted me (referees usually work a diagonal and want the linesmen to be watching whichever sideline is the far side from him or her) and what calls he expected. He reminded me that the ball has to completely cross the line for it to be out and he only wanted to see the flag for offsides if someone was in offside position AND part of the play. By that time another parent arrived in linesman's garb and he took the opposite sideline. As the ref was checking shin guards, shoes and earings, the game bag arrived and I planted the corner flags.

Now those of you who know me know that I'm not going to be running sprints anytime soon. So it was up to me to stay ahead of the game. My main concerns were getting throw-ins called correctly and calling goal and corner kicks properly. The ten year old looked at me oddly as she took my chair since she wasn't starting.

For the first half, most of the play was on the other side (and end) of the field. I mentally noted each pass of the ball and who had the last touch. I had a couple calls that were easy and mainly counted substitutes on and off the field. I got behind play once and thereafter tended to anticipate the game more by staying more towards the endline. At halftime, the ref, the other linesman and one of the coaches got into a spirited (it was good-natured, so I wouldn't say heated) discussion of an offsides call. Offsides is a real judgment call in soccer. A player can be offsides, but if he or she isn't really in the play, the violation won't be called. In this instance, a player was hovering around the goal and had distracted the goalie. The other team didn't score, but the coach was concerned that the violation wasn't being called. The ref countered that if the ball had come to that player or if the player had been calling for a pass, he would have called it, but merely distracting the goalie wasn't a problem. I just stood off to the side with a neutral look. Frankly, I didn't have a clue... I would have raised the flag.

The second half brought much of the play to my side and end of the field. You need a lot of focus to recall who last touched the ball and which direction each team is going. I pointed the wrong way (at first -- right color, wrong direction) at least once and overruled the ref (correctly, btw) once, so I figure I was even. I got screened from a call a couple times, but my daughter noticed that I was really paying attention. So I guess I looked the part, even in my Northwestern hoodie and ballcap.

But watching the game from this perspective does change the way the game looks. You see the plays develop and you start to know which players will be playing the ball more intensely and more accurately. You're not as quick on the line calls because some of these kids are just good enough to save a ball on the line. Their skills are really starting to develop. You see the speed and the agility coming out. Some are getting more loft of the ball -- and maintaining control. A few are trying to punt the ball -- two weeks ago, our goalie punted the ball past midfield, the ball bounced once, and one of our players drilled it unopposed into the net. There are even intentional headers from time to time -- although the outcomes of heading the ball tend to be fairly random.

The kids still don't seem to worry about the score and the snacks are as important as the outcome. The parents will cheer just about any play, but you can hear the intensity a bit more -- and most understand the game by now. We're within a couple years of this game getting serious.

In our league, U14 is the next level. At that level, there aren't enough girls to field enough teams to compete over the course of a season, so the teams are co-ed. The sad part, I suppose, is that the girls who play for fun, but don't have the skills yet will tend to drop out, while the girls with the skills will likely get better playing with boys. I'm not sure where Molly will land. She likes playing, but she still doesn't have a nose for the ball or the aggressiveness that she will need soon enough. Sometimes it just clicks. She's still one of the younger ones on the field. I can see her starting to put some of the pieces together, but I suspect that she'll not make the leap to U14. But that's ok. As long as the game is fun for her, I'll drag myself out on Saturday mornings, plant some flags, cheer her on, and raise the linesman's flag from time to time.

It's a bunch of kids running around, kicking a ball, having fun, and not really caring about the final score. It's a game after all -- and much more fun than watching the millionaires who play baseball, basketball and football (the American kind) in this town.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Riding in the Front of the Bus

So going to and from ARMA, I upgraded my flights. Since both flights were on United Airlines 757s, I was pretty well assured an upgrade. (UAL's 757s have 24 first class seats.) I normally won't burn my upgrade certificates on a 600 mile flight (you "pay" with 500 mile certificates, so each flight cost me two certificates). But I wanted to have some comfort going there and I knew I would be tired and cranky coming home. That extra bit of room makes life in an airplane a bit more enjoyable. And on these flights, you actually get something resembling a hot meal, so that was nice.

Well, a few of my fellow Board members were on both flights. They were all back in steerage and reminded me of that when we arrived -- and even more so when my "Priority" bags actually came down the chute first. I commented on the fine wines, choice of champagne, and filet mignon that I enjoyed up front and asked them to take a look at the manicure that I got. Unfortunately, the manicure part is where they realized that perhaps I was stretching the truth. I'm always reminded of this commercial.

Over the past few years, I've had my share of upgrades. I never take them for granted. And I tend to look at the folks who are up there. Most are like me -- or worse -- serious road warriors finding a use for the miles or upgrades that they have accumulated. A few actually BUY the higher priced tickets, but mostly it is people who are in planes much of their lives. I like to see what they are reading. Right now, since I haven't been flying as much, I'm not getting a consensus, but a short while back, EVERYONE was reading The World is Flat (see link off to the side). Noticing a trend like that is worthwhile. While I'm not a huge advocate of "Management by Magazine Article", when you see a lot of people looking at the same thing, it's probably worth a look.

An interesting set of data points that I noticed on these trips -- a fair number of military enlisted in desert cammies going to and from Baltimore. It appeared that United upgraded as many of these guys as they could -- although my very small sample size indicated that the Air Force guys got more upgrades than the Army and Navy guys. That's a nice touch for these very young men (no military women on these flights). The guys really seemed to enjoy the small thank you from United.

I seem to run across a lot of military in my travels and each time I see a big crowd of them, I don't know whether I should feel sadness or pride. These guys and gals are doing something that I would never want to do. I worry about the kids who signed up to get an education paid for, make a few extra bucks on weekends, or wanted to serve in the National Guard and help in disasters. It seems like so many of them are off to Iraq to fight and that doesn't seem right to me. Sure, that is part of the deal, but I suspect that in Iraq are a lot of kids who saw the commercials about education and sandbags in floods and never imagined being issued a rifle and being asked to kill someone in a foreign country. I always tell the kids that I see when I'm traveling, "Thanks for your service to our country." It is a huge, and all too often, a very final sacrifice for some of them and their families.

And this is what I think about while I'm riding in the front of the bus.... I'm very privileged in this life to have these opportunities to travel and to enjoy the few perks of travel.

And I had my letdown this week as well. One of the other Board members is senior enough in her organization to be able to reserve the company jet. She described HER trip to the meeting. "The car service picked me up about a half hour before we were scheduled to depart and dropped me right at the Citation. They loaded up my bags and we were rolling before I had sipped my tea. We were there before I finished the newspaper and the car service was waiting for me." THAT was really First Class. That sort of story will tend to take you down a notch.

Back From ARMA, the Competencies, and Certifications / Certificates

Well, I safely made it home from ARMA's Annual Conference. I have a wicked cold, courtesy of a fellow Board member that I sat next to for a number of hours in Board meetings who insisted that he "only had some allergies". Uh huh. Guess that's what I get for staying out of airplanes for a while again. (When I was in the air on a monthly / weekly basis, it seemed like I was never sick because I was exposed to so much recirculated germy air.)

It seems like the Conference was a success for us. Even with conflicts for US Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving, traffic and attendance looked good. The crowd was younger than I recall seeing before. I had a number of people mention that to me. That bodes well for the profession if we can continue to engage these folks and help them make a career out of records management. Step one is finally delivering the Competencies. Over the past week, whenever I had a few minutes, I spent a fair amount of time working through the various levels. If nothing else, they are exhaustive. The trick is going to be getting people to use them and start to see them used to create really comparable positions. We also need to ensure that we do a good job mapping education resources to them. But they are now available and, from what I hear, being downloaded like hotcakes. "FREE!!!" tends to do that.

There is a fair amount of debate in the profession about education and testing. Debate is always healthy, as is competition. Market forces will eventually determine the winner. But what I have found in my 20 years of experience doing this stuff is that you cannot substitute a book, a class, or a CBT for good, old-fashioned, on the job experience. A healthy bit of curiosity and a fairly retentive grey-matter data bank help. I'm not big on all the new-fangled classes and certificates being offered over at AIIM. A bunch of initials after your name in technology circles seems so 1998 to me. What they prove is that someone was willing to pony up some big bucks, you attended a class, and you proved that you could parrot back the correct answer. I suspect that most tech-savvy kids fresh out of school could get a string of initials after their name. They would grasp the high points, but miss the nuance.

Let me take you back a couple weeks to my last post. If you recall that post, I waxed on about spinning my IT manager's head around when she came in with a simple question. That same question came up in my session at ARMA. I had mercy on that victim. Nonetheless, you're not going to be able to work through all the permutations of the legalities of imaging unless you have been around the block a few times and been mugged by lawyers, a client or two, and the business. THE BOOK or THE CLASS or THE CBT will tell you the theory. You'll know your dpi and your image formats and your cost analysis. But applying that knowledge is learned by experience.

Let me give another example: I dropped by one of my company's offices yesterday. They are doing some imaging there. The process was explained to me at a high level and I determined at least three process improvement opportunities simply by listening to what was described. And I would expect that someone who had a bunch of initials after their name would see the same opportunities. The challenge is listening harder and applying what you know. While the quick fix is to solve those issues (and, in theory, they are pretty low-hanging fruit), that's not the way to fix the problem. When you react like that, you're very likely to miss the root cause and miss more significant and underlying issues. There is truly an opportunity there, but that opportunity is to look at a sick process rather than a few symptoms. The rule that I learned over time is that you have to look at the whole process and then start looking for where things are broken -- and it may not be the things that look obvious. Oftentimes, fixing the obvious problems simply makes bad things happen more quickly.

The beauty of ARMA's Competencies and the CRM exam is that they demand very broad knowledge across many areas of practice. You're not walking away thinking that taking an open book test means that you know enough to be competent. That may be true for one narrow band of practice, but you have to understand the broader implications and apply good solutions in order to be truly effective and competent.

Another example: I had a meeting today on lab notebooks. My experience with lab notebooks is limited to a consulting engagement with a food manufacturer's R&D facility and various conversations and presentations from folks who need to be compliant with FDA regs. So I walk into a meeting about lab notebooks with a mindset that they are critical documents that are absolutely essential to protecting patents and intellectual property. BIG MISTAKE. I fell into the inexperience trap. That's what THE BOOK would say. The reality is far different. You have to look at a variety of opinions -- lawyers, engineers, management, bean counters, etc. While THE BOOK says that these things (lab notebooks) are as precious as gold, those folks live in them every day and know the problems and opportunities tied to them. Perhaps they do have real value into the future; perhaps they are only valuable to the person who doodled in them. And dropping THE BOOK solution on that crowd will get you run out of town on a rail. In my case, I listened and asked questions. I probed around what I thought to be true and found that in the FDA-compliance world, life is truly different. Our business has a different sense and a different set of experiences over time. There may well be a need for tighter and more effective control of the lab notebooks, but that is driven by forces other than compliance. The good consultant listens, questions, listens again, analyzes, then speaks.

So the point to this rant is that initials aren't everything. Competencies are. If you can demonstrate a broad base of experience and knowledge -- and the ability to turn that knowledge into value for the business, the initials after your name will enhance your credibility -- "Hey, this guy knows his stuff and he made an effort to document that knowledge." But those initials aren't going to magically render you a savant and a guru. You've got to be able to walk the talk first. I'm proud of my CRM and I'm probably prouder of my Master's degree. My certification and my degree are prominently displayed in my office. One is an accredited graduate degree; the other is an accredited certification. Both have been deemed to be valuable in the outside world and have credibility. But if Patrick Cunningham, MA, CRM can't develop solutions that work both outside and inside the box, even those initials are worthless.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"How come if you know so much stuff, you can't do 6th grade math?"

Thus were uttered words of wisdom from the ten year old who lives in my house.

Context: A couple weeks ago, we were working out her 5th grade math homework assignment (word problems still tend to cause my brain to turn to jelly) and I made the offhand comment that she was on her own after 6th grade for math problems. (Actually, the wheels come off early into Algebra, but I wanted to exceed her expectations down the road -- and besides, Algebra seems to show up earlier and earlier.

Anyway, we were in the car and I had just spent the better part of ten minutes walking my wife through the ins and outs of Workers' Comp claims. She was a bit dazed by the information download and asked me how I knew all that stuff... "You'd be amazed at what I pick up from dealing with records all day." She was... and then the title of the post was heard from the peanut residing in the gallery called the back seat.

That caused me to reflect upon my day. Earlier in the day, I had done just about the same thing to an IT manager. She came in to my office wanting what she perceived to be a simple answer to a simple question, "We're imaging contracts. Can we toss the paper?" Well, as many of you might know, that can yield the inevitable "it depends" answer, which is then followed by 20 to 30 questions about the imaging process, the nature of the records, the attitudes of the records owners, and the current state of litigation involving the records. I had way more questions than she had answers. That was the first dazed look of the day that I received.

Now this isn't intended to be a "see how smart I am" post. Rather, I think it points out the many things that the records management professional brings to the table. There are just an incredible number of issues and skillsets that you master over time in this profession. Records are the common thread between all parts of an organization. The best part of being a Records Manager is getting to see every nook and cranny of the organization (often, quite literally). If you do this job well (and correctly), you're able to put a lot of the pieces together. And if you pay attention, you might even learn something.

This past afternoon, I had the opportunity to get a sneak peak at ARMA's long-awaited Records and Information Management Core Competencies document (the Competencies will be officially released during the ARMA Conference in Baltimore). I poked around the document for a few minutes, looking at the incredibly detailed body of knowledge that records professionals at various stages of professional growth should know.

You know what? We need to know a lot of stuff. My sense and concern, however, is that many records professionals may be challenged and discouraged when they crack open that nearly 90 page PDF document. If you happen to be one of those folks, don't be discouraged. Look at the competencies as a roadmap. When you have a roadmap in hand, you can see ALL of the paths to your destination. Furthermore, what you will have is a standardized way to measure yourself and your position against other professionals and their positions. One of the big challenges that we have had in this profession is the inconsistency of job titles and job descriptions. Guess what? You will be able to build a standard job description and set of responsibilities from the Competencies document. And, in 2008, you'll be able to go online and perform a self-assessment against the Competencies.

Over time, it is my hope that the HR world will be able to adopt the Competencies to help classify positions in their organizations. The Competencies will also, hopefully, tie directly into the US Standard Occupational Classification listings for records professionals, if we are successful in getting additional professional positions listed. Lastly, we're also now in the position of being in a place where we can do proper salary surveys for the profession, since we now have standard definitions of the level of responsibility, knowledge, and competence required at various stages of the career ladder. These are extraordinary opportunities for ARMA and for the profession.

One of the messages that I want to make certain that people hear when we talk about the Competencies is the fact that these were developed through an extraordinarily rigorous process over two years. This process had every bit of the rigor of an ANSI or ISO Standard. More than 300 subject matter experts contributed to the production of the Competencies. These individuals work in a wide variety of industries and roles. Without their efforts, the Competencies would not have been developed. All of us owe them an incredible amount of gratitude.

Going forward, ARMA will directly tie our educational offerings and Bookstore to the Competencies. If you need to fill a gap, you should be able to readily identify an educational offering, publication, or article that will deliver the information that you need to close the gap.

I'm really excited about the Competencies. If you're a records management professional, I encourage you to set aside some time during October to download a copy of the Competencies and start checking off the elements that describe you -- as well as the elements that describe where you want to be. Use the Competencies to create your own roadmap. Use them to create your own goals for development. I really think that you will benefit from the exercise.

There are things that many of us will never master -- in my case, advanced mathematics and foreign languages -- but through ARMA International's Records and Information Management Core Competencies, we all have the opportunity to identify what we know, as well as what we want to know.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

College in the 21st Century

I'm kinda glad that it took me 20 years to finish my Master's Degree (it's an MA in Public History from Loyola University of Chicago). I started my degree at the dawn of the personal computer revolution. When I started, all I had was a correcting typewriter (it would remember everything from the last "Return") -- and that seemed like as high-tech as could be. I was a year full-time, then I started working when I found an internship at the Illinois State Archives. I haven't stopped working since. I had all the classroom work finished by the time my oldest daughter came along, but the program had two exams to pass, plus a Master's Essay. I passed the Public History exam and finally finished my paper, but couldn't get past the "field exam" (this was an exam on the literature of your "real history" concentration -- in my case, 20th century American Urban History). Unfortunately, when I took the exam, I had let the literature leak out of my ears and the prof who gave the exam wasn't someone I had studied under. It was a very bad day. So I let ten more years elapse until the day that I was surfing the Loyola website. I noticed that the "field exam" was no longer part of the degree. So I tried to petition my way to the degree. Well, in true Chicago fashion, we struck a deal -- take three classes in three semesters, get a "B" or better and they'd turn over the sheepskin. My employer paid 85% of the freight and the rest was history.

That long story is prelude to my musings tonight -- education has moved forward considerably. In the mid-80's, you went to the library, leafed through the card catalog and maybe browsed some shelves when you wanted something. You might be able to search for some books on a computer, but it was generally in the inner sanctum of the librarians. So that tended to mean that you were limited to what you local library had -- or what you might get days or weeks later through Inter Library Loan.

The Internet changed all that. I could sit at home in the evening (or middle of the night) and browse the college library's card catalog. I could order books from another campus and have them delivered to my "home" campus. I could search for Inter Library Loan items, order them, and find out when they had arrived. I could download journal articles and dissertations. A huge amount of resources were available to me, 24 x 7. I tend to think that my work product was much better than when I would wander the stacks. Toss in a computer with modern word-processing software and I suspect that I was not only more efficient, but wrote better when i could easily draft and re-draft. (As an undergrad, I thrived on "one take" papers -- I never have learned how to type properly and therefore was fairly slow, so I would compose my paper at the keyboard and would have to get it right the first time. A computer would have been worth several tenths on my GPA, I have to suspect.)

So I understand how technology has impacted learning -- for the better, I would think.

Anyway, my daughter is going to be a CA (Community Assistant -- or "RA" to many of us old-timers) at school this year. I'll rant later on how that (doesn't) impact the financial aid package. We were talking last night about what she is learning. Now most of us would think that being an RA means learning the rules and knowing who to call when there is an emergency. It seems to be far more than that. Sure they get those items, but they also get some lectures on law, counseling, behavior, psychology, and race relations. They have to know how and when to refer people for all sorts of things ranging from quasi-criminal issues to pregnancy or rape to drug and alcohol abuse, to depression and suicide. It scared me to hear all this stuff. The cool part (once I get past the freaked out parent issues) is that she's going to walk away with some great experience in working with people at challenging times (hopefully not too much experience) and working as a team with the other RAs in her building. That should be invaluable experience for her.

I know that I had an unusual college experience. I didn't experience much at the edges of life. I know very few people who partied too much or messed themselves up in college. I'm sure that people had issues that had to be dealt with. But it will be an interesting journey to see all this through my daughter's eyes. She lived in a very tame dorm last year and the one she has this year has a party-hardy rep.

This year will be interesting -- and will probably make me appreciate this kid in my life all the more.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Dear Mr. Dell...

In a previous post, I mentioned that we were having some issues getting a Dell Inspiron laptop. Well, August 31 came and a new "estimated ship date" was posted. I promptly canceled my order and plunked down a bit more money at the Sony store for one of their CR series laptops (in Sangria). The college kid is happy.

This morning, I mailed a letter to Mr. Dell, along with a copy of the Sony sales receipt. I'm not asking for anything and frankly, I expect a form letter with some sort of half-hearted apology from some underling (if it is even signed). I figure that they will toss in a $100 coupon for a future purchase (that's what they offered when I canceled -- not a reduction in price of the laptop that I ordered, but on a FUTURE purchase (and I think there is fine print about being applicable on orders over $1000 or something).

Word is, most companies get so much email that they actually will take the time to respond to a written letter that arrives snail mail. We'll see how that theory goes. Since they already lost this sale, I doubt they will expend much effort.

But they simply aren't handling the situation very well at all. And I doubt that the top level of the company has any idea of the impact. It would be nice if the guy read my letter, but I doubt that it will come within three floors of him.

Oh well. It felt good to write. (And I was even fairly nice.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Have You Talked to Your Archivist Lately?

I had the good fortune and opportunity to attend the SAA (Society of American Archivists) Business Archives Colloquium that was hosted by Motorola and McDonald's today.

I had the opportunity to chat with a number of archivists and they had a lot to say about records managers. At one point, I commented to Motorola's Archivist, "I thought I was going to a SAA meeting, but it looks like an ARMA meeting has broken out."

By and large, I found that many archivists "get" records management. They see the fit between our two professions and they see the synergies that come about when the professionals talk and work together. In some cases, the archivist also manages records management or ends up being the de facto records manager. At the core of it, we can strengthen an archival collection. We have the "stuff" that they collect. We also often have it already described and categorized in a recognizable manner that makes their appraisal process run more smoothly.

But sometimes records managers get in the way. We're still seen, in some cases, as Conan the Shredder, with no regard for history or long term value of records. One archivist mentioned that his records managers made him destroy sections of company publications that "had no archival value". That means that he has a pile of publications lacking articles or pages. Another archivist bemoaned the lack of training that a recent "records manager" that came to her company had. She spent three months trying to train someone that had no background in records management and pleaded with him to go to ARMA meetings to get some training. This same "records manager" barely had a high school diploma and had previous job experience in retail. He happened to ride the train with his new boss. Yet another archivist described the series of "bungee" records managers that she has had to deal with. They are managers in holding patterns who are assigned to records until something else comes up for them. Once again, this archivist points them (usually unsuccessfully) to ARMA and spends a lot of time giving them basic records management training.

In general, what I heard is that many records managers fail to even make the attempt to talk to the archivist. And many of those that do, stay overly focused on blind obedience to perceived notions of absolute disposition (i.e. destruction) of records at the end of a retention period.

Where there is a successful co-mingling of programs, the following characteristics are mentioned:

1) The records management policy addresses transfer of records to the Archives.
2) Retention schedules call for "archival review" of select record series.
3) The archivist has input into how record series are described and named.
4) The archivist is a part of the records management governance structure.
5) The archivist is part of the destruction review process.

I also heard some things today that quite surprised me. Business archivists sometimes scoff at their colleagues in non-business archives. Business archivists deal with the very same realities of corporate management that we do, fighting for resources and untangling merger, acquisition, and divestiture records. They are often "gifted" with records "stuff" and generally don't subscribe to every dotted "I" and crossed "T" that some of their colleagues feel are important. They make spot appraisal decisions and make hard decisions to de-accession records that have less value than originally thought. They are very much focused on adding value to their companies and getting out of the "curiosity shop" business.

ARMA and SAA do work together, but clearly we need to do more. There are a number of opportunities for our organizations and professionals to collaborate:

1) Records managers need to hear from business archivists at ARMA educational sessions and learn basic appraisal.
2) Archivists and Records Managers need to work together to develop appropriate policies to ensure that records can be retained in corporate archives without running afoul of spoliation or "selective destruction" charges in litigation. Further, we need to educate legal professionals on preservation of historically significant records.
3) Archivists need resources to turn to when they have to deal with records management issues.

A long time ago, a very wise archivist pounded into my head that "archives and records management are two sides of the same coin". I have never forgotten that. I had academic training in archives as well as records management when I began working 22 years ago. That first job was at the Illinois State Archives as an Archival Intern. Had a position opened up in the Archives Section, rather than the Records Management Section, I might have ended up as an archivist, rather than a records manager. I joke to archivists that "records management pays better" (it's generally -- and very unfortunately -- true). Like some records managers, archivists are passionate about their work. Most of them don't dream of running a records management program -- they have no desire to be immersed in our world. I commented to one archivist that she should be running records management as well as archives in her company and she rolled her eyes. She finds our world too complex and we wear entirely too many hats. She felt that she could never grasp all the issues we deal with. I think that was a compliment.

Those folks in your corporate archives aren't a threat; they are allies. Spend some time with them and learn how you can work together. We're all records professionals.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Technological Pack Mules and Pack Rats – Eleven Years Later

About 11 years ago, I wrote this article. I then followed it up in 2001. I’d like to reflect on some of the things that I wrote back then with some new thoughts. My 2001 comments are in BOLD text. My current comments are in BOLD text and prefaced with "2007:"


I noticed a strange thing the other day when I was putting on a shirt. It seemed like my right arm was longer than my left (or the cleaners had managed to shrink half of my shirt). It dawned on me how this could happen: lugging my “office”, a laptop computer, to and from home each day. Later, as I stood on the train station platform, I watched a parade of commuters pass by, many of whom were also lugging their “offices” with them. It occurred to me that perhaps shirt manufacturers should take notice...

I’m having the same problem now with the front of my shirts…

2007: The more things change... the more they remain the same...

This month’s column is not intended to be a neo-Luddite (yes, I had to look that one up too) treatise on how technology is ruining our lives. Rather, I’d like to reflect on how technology has changed how people work and how information is managed. This technological revolution of the past ten or so years has far-ranging implications about how we do our jobs and how we will manage the information of the future.

Okay, that “Luddite” term was pretty avant garde when I wrote this…

2007: Yep, still out there, although the usage of the term seems to have died in the past few years. I guess people are just used to all this technology stuff.

As for me, I've given up on the shoulder bags... my hip was beginning to bother me, so now I have a backpack. And now I take it for granted that I will bring my office home every night. I have high speed Internet at home and I can work 24 by 7 if I so desire.

My first “home computer” was a 40 pound “luggable” Kaypro computer back in 1985. That antique, which happened to be built like a tank, ran the CP/M operating system, had 64 kb of RAM, two 360 kb floppy drives, and no hard drive. I learned the WordStar word processing software on that machine and opened my eyes to a whole new world of technology. I wrote papers for graduate school on that machine, built rudimentary spreadsheets with it, and learned a little bit about databases. Today, I have a 5 pound Compaq laptop with 48 mb of RAM, a 2 gb hard drive, a 256 color screen, a modem, and enough software to keep me on the low end of the learning curve for the next 10 years. For all the advances that have been made in the 11 years that I have been using personal computers, this column could have been written just as easily on that old Kaypro. Many will also argue that this column could have been written with an Underwood manual typewriter, a sharp pencil, or a stick and soft clay tablets.

My current arm-stretching laptop weighs about the same, but boasts 128MB of RAM, a 10GB hard drive and a processor running at 600mhz. It also has a 15-inch screen, a DVD drive and a network card -- and is able to outpace my current desktop. And I’m still learning how to use everything.

2007: The current laptop is running at 1.83ghz, has 1GB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. And we expect it to have not only the DVD drive, but it can also burn CDs. And it is lighter by about half than the last laptop I had.

Back to the central theme, it occurs to me that each day when I pack up my laptop, I am taking home literally megabytes of company information. Hundreds of files, proposals, presentations, e-mail, etc. are locked inside my laptop. The weight that stretches my arm is the hardware alone, but well could be the thousands of pages of information in the computer. Imagine this: let’s say that I have 200 megabytes of actual information in my laptop. Now let’s suppose that every page of word processing text in my laptop occupies about 5 kilobytes. That means that the 200 megabytes would be equivalent to nearly 40,000 pages of printed text. My rule of thumb is 2000 sheets of paper per cubic foot, so I’m walking home with 20 cubic feet of information every night! No wonder my arm is getting longer! The reality is that I don’t have 40,000 pages of text in my laptop. Many of the files are quite large because they contain graphics or are in special formats. Nevertheless, there is a LOT of information in my laptop.

And now it seems that no matter how big my hard drive is, I manage to fill it up. I recently purchased a new technology toy -- a “Zip” drive -- essentially a big floppy disk that holds 100 megabytes of information on each removable disk. I bought 10 disks, a GIGABYTE! After backing up my laptop and moving some information to the Zip disks, I had two blank Zip disks left and barely 150 megabytes free on my laptop. I looked at myself in the mirror and admitted that I am a technological pack rat. As I wedged the Zip drive, power supply, extra disks, and cables into my laptop bag, it occurred to me that my arm would be stretched a little longer by the new weight and that I would continue to be a technological pack mule as well.

And now I’m burning CD-ROMs at home for backup. Each of those disks holds 650MB of data. And this capability is starting to show up in office desktop PCs. So I don’t have as much gear to lug around to access information, but I’m able to carry a lot more information with me.

2007: I can burn DVDs now. And I walk around with several gigabytes of storage on thumb drives. Heck, my new cell phone has a 2GB memory card inside. The amount of data that we carry is expanding exponentially. The weight of that data is being reduced almost exponentially. Thumb drives take up very little space and can hold more than several DVD disks. I don't need a separate drive house and power supply.

In some respects, the "Pack Mule" aspect of this technological change is on the way out -- but we always manage to find some new gadget to pack in the bag and haul around.

And so, 690 words into this column (now there’s something WordStar couldn’t do!), I turn to the records management considerations. First, more and more information is being created and retained electronically. While a lot of the space on hard drives is consumed by bigger and bigger application programs, people are finding that retaining documents, reports, spreadsheets, etc. in electronic form enables them to rapidly recycle pieces of the information for future use, or search and find information more rapidly than if the information was retained only on paper.

That information is also going home with employees more often. If you’ve seen the video “Buried Alive”, you might recall “Charlie’s garage”, where a retired employee had put boxes of company information because he couldn’t bear to see it all turned into “confetti”. Charlie’s garage is in the boxes of floppy disks, home PC hard drives, Bernoulli disks, backup tapes, and now, Zip disks, that can be found in any home office. And the information on that media will be much easier to locate that the papers in Charlie’s boxes.

And don’t forget those CD-ROM disks. Plus, so much more is being done via email these days, so people are often taking almost all of their work home with them.

2007: Still true and getting worse. Add in high speed Internet connections available to most Americans (DSL or cable) and tremendous amounts of data are moving from the workplace to home. And there are many more places to store that data -- not only physically, but virtually on the Internet. So "Charlie's garage" exists not only in Charlie's house and in his briefbag, but also in a hundred places on the Internet.

As a records manager, you need to understand that this is occurring in your organization. The information on the hard drives of laptop computers is no different than paper information stored in boxes. It needs to be made part of the retention schedules of the organization, and employees need to be aware that they should not be retaining information longer than approved retention schedules, regardless of the physical medium of storage. At the same time, for every one of us who retains two or three backups of information, there are probably an equivalent number of others who never back up their computer. This is equally risky because computer hardware fails, and when it does, it can damage information. The challenge, then, is to encourage people to be somewhat conservative in what they retain, while ensuring that they are protecting information in the first place.

In the next couple years, you will hear the term “terabyte” more and more. A terabyte is 1000 gigabytes. It wasn’t that long ago that “gigabyte” was a foreign term. Now home PCs come with 2+ gigabytes of hard disk storage. After the terabyte, look for “petabytes”... The point is that storage is becoming a cheap commodity both for personal computers and for business as a whole. While application software continues to become more and more “feature rich” (i.e. “fat”), it is also the expansion of data being stored on PCs that drives the need for storage capacity. This is a direct function of the increasing utilization of PCs and servers to manage applications that were formerly run from a mini-computer or mainframe. Our challenge as records managers will be to find strategies to manage this data and ensure that no information is retained longer (or shorter) than it should be.

The company that I work for has a total email volume in the terabytes. We have associates with nearly 2GB of email stored on the server. We’re rapidly finding that maintaining all of this information is no longer “free”, but costs a lot of money to store, manage, and back up. Unfortunately, the problems of electronic data management are not as evident to people as the problems of paper management. Historically, when did records management start in organizations? Yes, when the file cabinets were full and the closets could hold no more paper. Today, employees just keep storing more and more on file servers and the problem does not become evident until the server can hold no more or until the mail system starts to crash with regularity. But most companies see this as a technology issue rather than a records management issue. For many companies, the solution to the problem is either one of “slash and burn” (i.e. delete large files and files that have not been used in some time) or buy more hardware.

2007: You can now buy terabyte hard drives for home use. And they are not expensive. But corporate storage seems to get more and more expensive. The end user doesn't understand it. They can go down to Best Buy and walk out with a 1TB hard disk drive for $400. They simply don't understand when corporate IT tells them that they can't buy them that volume of storage for anything less that hundreds of thousands of dollars. And they really don't understand when the records manager tells them that they need to manage that data and actually delete some of it now and then.

Ten years ago, personal computers were just starting to become office fixtures. It will be interesting to see if the next ten years hold as many changes in technology. What this bodes for us as records managers will be interesting as well. Looking into my crystal ball, I don’t see paper going away anytime soon. If anything, the volumes will continue to increase in the foreseeable future, simply because people are still more comfortable looking at data on a piece of paper than on a computer screen. This will change, certainly, as more and more people who have grown up with personal computers enter the workforce.

Five years later this remains true, although we’re migrating more and more to Web-based applications that use Internet browsers to access information. When I wrote this column, the Internet revolution was just getting underway. But we still generate millions of pages of documents. To use the September tragedy as a case in point, think of the pictures that you saw in the aftermath of that horror: thousands, if not millions, of sheets of paper blowing around lower Manhattan. But, I would suspect that we’re possibly coming to a peak in paper production as more applications move to the Internet and completely electronic business transactions continue to increase. Still, don’t sell your stock in those paper companies yet. People still do like to handle paper.

2007: And here, ten years later, paper is still out there -- and still growing. While I think the explosive growth of paper use is slowing (primarily due to more and more use of online forms and Internet-based systems), printers (particularly color) are getting cheaper and faster and encouraging people to print things just to toss them out in a very short time.

The pace of change seems to be slowing a bit. But we're finding new ways to put this technology to work. We're beginning to mainstream many of the technologies that we were just learning about ten years ago. Most significantly, we're compressing time and space and truly seeing how the Internet has made the world a much smaller place -- and required us to us the technology differently and more effectively. Now our records span the globe. They span corporate entities. And people are no longer tied to just one company, but often contracted out to many companies.

The message that I have been preaching for the last couple years remains the same: if you don’t have at least the most basic understanding of information technology and its applications, you will soon be as obsolete as an 8 inch floppy disk. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to come to grips with personal computer hardware and software, imaging, workflow, and document management. You don’t need to know how these things work, but you do need to know when they can be used and what they can do. If you don’t, you will remain beneath the cardboard ceiling that I've written about before.

And as we move into what ARMA International is calling “Strategic Information Management”, it is even more critical to understand technology and its implications for record-keeping. You can certainly add to the list above the Internet, storage management, email, data protection laws, and information security. Our role in the changing landscape of records and information management is to be more proactive, think and act strategically for our organizations, build bridges to all parts of our businesses, and contribute, measurably, to the bottom line – and that contribution should increasingly be in terms of revenue, not just reduced cost. If we are to continue to be effective in our roles as records and information managers, we have to understand, develop strategies to manage, and explain the implications of “technological pack mules and pack rats”.

2007: Well, SIM didn't quite cut it, but the knowledge base for records managers remains the same -- and then some. Coming this fall, ARMA will publish a document that outlines and delineates competencies for records managers. for the first time, we'll really be able to point to something that defines what a records manager really needs to know -- and records managers will be able to measure their knowledge in a new and dynamic way.

Originally published in the ARMA Chicago Chapter Newsletter, September, 1996
Second version published in the ARMA Chicago Chapter Newsletter, November / December, 2001