Wednesday, November 5, 2008

OTR: The Whole World is Watching

40 years ago, as a six year old, I watched television broadcasts that showed a riot on Chicago's streets, not far from where President-elect Obama spoke this evening. The young people fighting in the streets chanted, "The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!" That came at the culmination of what was, perhaps, one of the worst years in American history. My young mind could not comprehend much of what was happening that year. Assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, riots across the country, antiwar protests. My parents steered me away from much of that history. But we had the TV on that night as protesters and police fought on the streets of Chicago -- on Balbo, on Michigan Ave. and into Grant Park. As I watched the news coverage this evening, I kept thinking about that night in 1968. Live television brought those events into so many homes in America and around the world. The whole world could experience that event of violence in real time. Part of me worried about this night's event on those same streets. Part of me considered the magnitude of the history unfolding this evening. It was wonder, and hope, and fear.

Tonight, I watched an extraordinary event, perhaps nearly unthinkable in 1968. A crowd of hundreds of thousands gathered again in Chicago. The crossed Michigan Ave. and walked down Balbo. They entered Grant Park. They celebrated the election of a new President. They celebrated the peaceful transition of power in the country. They celebrated change ordained by the people, through the power of the ballot.

That's what I take away tonight, with tears in my eyes. I can't fully explain the emotion. Perhaps it is the power of the man's oration. Perhaps it is the emotion of so many people witnessing what they never thought possible.

Pictures that I take away tonight... the full and honest emotion on the face of Jesse Jackson. I know he was thinking about an April day 40 years ago and the message of hope that seemed to be extinguished that awful day... the determination and gravity in the face and voice of the President-elect, perhaps fully understanding that sometimes you do have to be careful about what you wish for... and only now realizing that the real task of governing lies ahead, beyond the rhetoric and the conflict of the campaign.

I wish President-elect Obama only the best. I hope that he can push forward his vision for this country and that he can heal our wounds and bring us together as a truly United States. The task is monumental. And I am certain that he was hearing the echoes of 40 years ago -- the cries of, "The whole world is watching!" They are. We are. And he is the focal point. God speed, Mr. President-elect.

Monday, October 20, 2008

ATR: "Take the Hill!"

A bit earlier today, I was feeling somewhat like ARMA's version of "Joe the Plumber". Seems that ARMA President John Frost mentioned my name in connection with the title of this post during his keynote. John snagged that little soundbite and I guess I'll have to start using it as my trademark...

So here's the back story... John and I had dinner a few weeks ago just outside Chicago. We were talking about lots of things and I mentioned to John that I felt that I really had begin to understand what sorts of qualities leadership really embodied. The case in point was understanding how a soldier can leap out of a foxhole, run into machine gun fire, and attempt to take an enemy position all on command of his superior. Now we know that the business world is not completely analogous to warfare, but there are some parallels. What I said to John was that when you absolutely believe that you are doing not only the right thing, but something that is important; when you trust that superior absolutely; when you know that he (or she) is going to be right there alongside you; you will take the hill. And in the business world, you might ask your boss how many casualties are to be incurred and when the hill is to be delivered. The key elements, however, are absolute trust and and knowing that your boss isn't going to leave you exposed. When you have that kind of support, anything is possible.

Coupled with leadership is boldness, confidence, and a sense that what you're doing is meaningful and the right thing to do. What is also clear is that you need a well-defined goal that you don't have to describe in excruciating detail. "Take the hill" means that you have a shared sense of goal and that everyone understands how that is to happen, without a detailed order describing who has to do what. Everyone already knows what they need to do. The mission is clear. Underlying that is an intense system of defining roles and scope of activities and getting everyone to understand what needs to happen when you move out.

When you are trying to get good records management moving forward in your organization, you need to ensure that everyone knows what they need to do. You have to set a clear vision of the goal. You have to make sure that everyone trusts that what you're doing is the right thing. Only then can you take the hill.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

ATR: Email is to the 21st Century as Toxic Waste was to the 20th Century

Well now, there's something to get your brain churning. Last week I was at an e-discovery forum and one of the speakers (who was quoting someone else -- I must have had my thoughts on the latest message on my Motorola Q) made that observation. I've probably butchered it, but the point is the same.

So if you think about how some companies handled toxic waster last century, you know that many just dumped it wherever. It went into the ground, it went into the water, it went into landfills. No one cared. There was no real regulation and no real penalty for not taking care of it. The stuff just seemed to accumulate faster and faster. It was expensive to deal with and you couldn't store it forever. And doggone it, it was hard to reduce and make safe.

Fast forward. Email. Sound familiar?

Toxic waste continued to accumulate until people got sick and the plaintiffs' lawyers realized that they had the makings of a bonanza. Then the government got involved. It made some hard rules, forced companies to clean up their mess (and fined them for good measure), and made sure that it didn't happen again. And companies tried to fix things. They went looking for their messes. They fought over who was responsible for cleaning something up. They paid the fines. And some companies went out of business. But most of the problem eventually got solved and most of the toxic waste issues have been dealt with. But then not every company created toxic waste.

On the other hand, we have email. Every company has it. And very few manage it well. So now you have piles and piles of electronic waste all over the enterprise. People stumble on disks in closets. Someone leaves and a manager has thousands of emails to review. People mix business with personal correspondence. Business correspondence takes place outside the enterprise. The stuff is accumulated at nearly vertical rates. And the lawyers are circling. The court system in the United States is starting to take notice. Rules have been written that require companies to be forthcoming about where their stuff is. Some companies have been punished for not producing what they had. And the cost of find and produce this stuff keeps growing.

Now enter greater concerns about privacy. Here's a very similar line of thinking from Cory Doctorow:

"Personal data is as hot as nuclear waste -- We should treat personal electronic data with the same care and respect as weapons-grade plutonium - it is dangerous, long-lasting and once it has leaked there's no getting it back." (Posted in The Guardian.)

One of these days we're going to need a Superfund for all those emails...

ATR: The Bucket List

Over on the Records Management Listserv, there is a small battle raging. Now in the past, I'd jump in and hammer out a long-winded posting that would drive a whole lot of people batty. So now that I have my blog, well, you'll find something a bit more reasonable to read.

The elder statesman of the profession, Bill Benedon, FAI, CRM got things started earlier this afternoon with this:

"Appears the rush is on to take over the scheduling process with buckets. A few very interesting articles have appeared pushing this concept. I know what it is all about and I'm agin it. But I would like to see a RIM definition of bucket(s). Buckets come in all sizes as we know and at times they can overflow. So you buget-teers out there. Since this is now part of the RIM literature, let's hear a definition. Is this really new or just and expansion of the "series concept" or the "functional" approach to scheduling."

Now no one who has had a run in with Bill will ever confuse him for the kindly grandfatherly type when they have been at odds with him. I say that with all due respect and I know that challenging Bill means that you better be on your "A game". It's ultimately a good thing. So for much of the late afternoon and early evening, while I was still slaving away at the Day Job, a small battle was going on. It was just a small battle, but it was late in the day, so I suspect that the battle will be joined again in the morning.

Bill's original post points out the three major approaches to records retention schedules. Once upon a time, every retention schedule was based upon the record series. This approach goes back to the foundations of records management in the archives field, where description of records down to the document level have often been commonplace. record series are extraordinarily granular and are typically created at the department level of an organization. They can be hundreds or thousands of lines long. They are obsolete as soon as the next organizational change takes place or whenever some new type of record is created. But, in a manual system of paper records, they are an effective way to find a particular record. Unfortunately, they are a bear to keep consistent and expensive to maintain over time.

At the other end of the spectrum, are the "big buckets" that likely prompted Bill's original post. This approach tends to be more in vogue with people who never have to try and find anything or who have never sweated over some legalese to try and determine the proper retention period for something. This approach effectively works from the standpoint that there are only a handful of frequently used retention periods. Records are tossed into a bucket that corresponds to the length of time that the record should be kept. This keeps maintenance to a minimum because no one really ever has to change anything. People will be able to determine how long something needs to be kept. In theory, that could make sense. Problem is, no one really knows. Absent a control to the contrary, most people will keep everything for as long as they can. The others will toss everything as soon as they can. A few in the middle will figure out what is correct. The buckets will also tend to make it very difficult to accurately find anything.

In the middle are functional schedules. An organization is distilled down to the core functions that it performs. Accounting / Finance, HR and Benefits, Real Estate and Facilities, Administration, Law, Manufacturing, R&D, Health & Safety, and so on. These functions avoid matching the business units of the company one for one. In other words, if a company has a consumer division and a business to business division, it really shouldn't matter what is being manufactured or sold at a broad level. The variable here, however, would be in heavily regulated industries where there is likely a significant difference in retention periods for products in the regulated industry and those in an unregulated industry. The benefit to the functional schedule is that it allows the organization to expand and contract without having to perform massive revisions of the retention schedule. The downside is that it still allows a certain amount of choice by the end user and poorly described records are still subject to loss. But the trend seems to be for most organizations to move towards the functional schedule and simplify their retention schedules.

The question is whether or not the end users are in a place to accurately select the right line item and consistently describe the records.

The archivist in me pines for the old days when we had these great detailed lists of records. every department had a nicely customized retention schedule that described just the records in that department. when you wanted a paid invoice, you knew you could search for "Paid Invoices" and the right invoice would be found in a box very quickly. Under the functional schedule, those paid invoices will be in the "Accounting" line item and you have to hope that the person sending the records offsite took the time to indicate that the records were paid invoices from a particular year and organized in a particular way.

But at the same time, if we have any hope of getting our electronic records under control, we have to make things easier for the end user. They are not going to drill down through hundreds of departments and tens of line items to find the particular thing assigned to their department. If the end user can't click through the proper identifiers in a couple of seconds, it just won't happen.

Monday, September 8, 2008

OTR: Traffic Signs

I'm going to have an Andy Rooney moment here.

In the town next to the one in which I live, there is an intersection where traffic laws are violated by the minute. (Go to Google Maps and search for 2 West Burlington Ave., LaGrange, IL and click on the StreetView function. Look at the intersection with LaGrange Rd.) If you are traveling east or west on Burlington Ave., at LaGrange Road, you will find not less than four no left turn signs in each direction. The rationale, in one direction (eastbound), is that turning left would put you stopped on the railroad tracks on the other side of the tracks, or force you to run a red light over there (which is what happens all the time). In the other direction (westbound), there is simply no turning lane and waiting for oncoming traffic would back up traffic behind you unnecessarily. In addition, there are signs (westbound) that prohibit right turns on red and permit right turns on green arrow only. Again, these signs are disregarded with abandon.

Now I have lived in this area for 35 years. The traffic rules for this intersection have not changed in those 35 years. And yet, I can sit and watch people disregard those signs almost every time I go through that intersection.

So I have to ask -- are people just that oblivious to signage or are they just so "me" focused that they aren't going to let a little thing like a traffic law prevent them from going about their business?

And here's another one. The other day I was pulling out of a shopping center parking lot. The entrance has been engineered to only permit a right turn out of the lot -- and prohibits people from turning into the lot at that entrance from the other side of the street. There's no stoplight, so traffic crossing opposing lanes is supposed to go to the next stoplight to turn in. I'm sure that there is a traffic engineering term for that sort of entrance / exit, but I couldn't tell you what it is. (I did find this drawing that is similar.) However, as I was about to hit that exit, some clown comes flying in my exit lane from the other side of the street! And flips me off when I blast my horn at him! Had I been a couple of seconds faster, he would have hit me head on. Guess the No Left Turn and Do Not Enter signs weren't intended for him...

Thanks for obliging me in my Andy Rooney moment.

ATR: ARMA on YouTube

You just never know what you're going to find on YouTube. Looks like someone from ARMA in Dallas / Fort Worth posted a promotional video for ARMA.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

ATR: Email is so... 1970?

I spent a chunk of time reviewing my email storage recently. I needed a bit more space. I needed to do a better job filing. And I wanted to clean up the detritus of years of email.

But what I walked away with is a sense that email has just made everything bad about snail mail happen much more quickly and without the pain of creating the communication.

In 1970, if you wanted to send a communication to 100 people, you had to type out the memo, then duplicate it in some fashion, then address the memos and send them on their way. It was a slow and expensive process. In the end, each recipient had a unique copy of the memo and could do what they chose with it. Sound familiar? In those thousands of emails that I looked at, I can't tell you how many were replies and forwards. I can't tell you how many appeared to be the same note, sent to a bunch of people, each with a unique reply that led to numerous additional threads and permutations. And each message, each volley, meant another unique document stored across the email platforms of every recipient. Just. Like. Paper.

Email is everything bad about paper-based communications, on an exponentially larger scale. If we are sending the same exact communication to 100 people, why do we need 100 copies of the same document? Can't we just create one copy, place it in a common repository, and let everyone go look at the original? Can't people reply in a manner that allows everyone to see all the replies in a single thread? If they need a local copy, we keep track of the fact that they made a local copy. If they work in another organization, we'll make sure that they get a unique copy for their record, if needed. But they do these things when they deal with the document, not far down the road.

That, to me, is what the promise of this cloud computing thing is all about. We'll see.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

ATR: What is a Record?

I'm thinking... hard. We had a presentation today on what comes next in the wonderful world of IT and it looks like we may be off to the cloud and this whole Web 2.0 thing. Now I have never been one to chase the buzzword du jour, but I sense a bit of stickiness in the media hype right now.

I've got some ideas about what the new world may look like, but it starts with thinking about records in a slightly different way. The way I see it, a record is fundamentally two things: something that is communicated and something that has a business purpose. ISO 15489 says that a record is "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business". The approach that I'm taking indicates that the record has to be communicated in some fashion, which in my mind implies that it is transmitted to someone or something. So arguably, a "note to self" that is recording by pen on paper and put into a file folder is likely not a record, as such (it may well be evidence, however). And that old bugaboo, the voicemail message, now becomes an object that we're going to have to seriously consider keeping as a record.

So why mess with this definition? Well, in this brave new 2.0 world, we will have to start thinking in terms of objects when we talk about unstructured information. And we will need to think of all these 2.0 tools like blogs and wikis as mechanisms for communications and collaboration for these objects. If you think about it, email is simply a push mechanism for a document that is either the body of the document or attached. A blog is a way to broadcast an object (either passively or actively through RSS feeds). A wiki is a way to collaboratively edit a document. And those are examples with text.

My sense is that, in the fairly near future, a person will create an object for business purposes. Perhaps they have a question about something. They will authenticate themselves and designate the audience for their object (individuals or a group of other authenticated persons). The object will be stored and the audience will be notified that there is an object that they need to review. They will follow a link to a single instance of the object and see how the sender wished to be communicated with in return. Perhaps they want the object edited (a wiki). Perhaps they want a discussion (threaded discussion). Perhaps they have a finished product and want comments around their object (a blog). There are many scenarios. What will be consistent is that the object creator will deliver the object to a repository with information about who should see the object, who *may* see the object, who can edit it, what sort of record it is, and any other attributes or metadata that might be helpful.

Other users will have a browser dashboard that allows them to see a worklist (effectively, what has been pushed to them for information or actual work), a reading list (items that they have subscribed to or placed into ongoing searches, newsfeeds, a calendar, and whatever other widgets make sense for their daily jobs. They'll have something that notifies them of items to follow up on. And we'll have to make some fundamental changes to how we work. When you connect to that object, you'll have to do something. Reading and setting it aside for later will require you to decide when it will resurface for work. The good news (at least in my little fantasyworld) is that once you take an action, that action will be stored in the cloud and Inbox clutter goes away. Search will need to be much more effective.

Perhaps they will have a "presence awareness" window that allows the user to see who is available -- and allows textual, voice or video communications. Perhaps their voicemail will be stored as an object and made available for review.

At the end of the day, the user will need to be much more decisive about what is a record and what sort of record the object is. The user will have to make a few more decisions about what they create and receive. And our "connectedness" will need to be nearly seamless. If everything exists in "the cloud", you have to be able to get there to work.

Records management will need to adapt. We will be in the attribute or metadata business and we will need to work with a lot of other folks to develop processes to authenticate information, ensure security, and ensure disposition. The good news is that we'll have a virtual central file room; the bad news is that the end user will have far more power to decide what to keep and what to throw away. So we'll also have to do more compliance monitoring.

So that's what is in my head tonight, keeping me from my pillow...

OTR: Where Did All the Computer Books Go?

So here's a new feature, "OTR". OTR means "Off the Record", which will be does for topics which have little or nothing to do with records management. Might be opinion, might be a musing... whatever. I've had a few of these along the road, but I'll label them going forward to match my other posts.

I have a reading habit. Actually, I have a book-buying habit. I chain-read. I'll have three to five books started at any given time and often never get around to finishing most of them. I'll glean out some interesting stuff, set the book aside, and pick something else up. I generally will pick up a bit of mind candy (something in the Tom Clancy genre) for trips away from home. I'll see an interesting business book, and give that a run on the airplane. Lately, I've been dabbling in history books -- several on Lincoln and more on Chicago history, even picking up a paper-bound set of Bessie Louise Pierce's History of Chicago.

But I've always been a sucker for computer how to books. Lately, it has been various test-prep and "body of knowledge" books for some certifications that I'm considering in my new areas of responsibility. If nothing else, they point out the competencies that I need to strive for.

Anyway, when I stroll to the back corner where you find the computer books these days (usually hard by the business books), I've noticed fewer and fewer linear feet of computer books. And the ones that are there are looking long in the tooth. You get a smattering of program-specific manuals, plus a few books for various computing languages, a bit of theory, some security stuff, and a couple shelves of general computing books. Ten years ago, they didn't have enough shelf space! Could it be that we're all experts now? Or is do-it-yourself programming a thing of the past? Or are all the answers on the Web?

I'm guessing that the dot com bust has a lot to do with the relative shrinkage here. The demand for people to learn Web-programing and website design from a book has declined. You get trained more formally now.

But it is still amazing.

Back to thinking about cloud computing and this whole "2.0" thing. Steve Bailey's book should be on its way from the UK any day now. More to come.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Geek or Nerd?

I'm dissatisfied with the traditional definitions of these terms. Heck, Wikipedia wants to merge the two entries... The way I see it, A nerd is someone who has a bunch of specialized knowledge by virtue of concerted effort and study, generally formal education in a particular field. A geek is someone who has similar knowledge, but has gained it out of sheer desire to attain that knowledge, perhaps on the job or through experience. Nerdiness pays the bills; geekiness is what you do for fun. Cliff Clavin is a classic extreme geek in my book, although he often wanders into the world of triviality.

So I'm a nerd about records management and Chicago history, but I am a geek about airplanes, computers, and trains. Ok, elements of my computer knowledge border on nerd-dom, but only in a few small areas.

Funny thing is that I periodically call upon my geekiness to help out my nerdiness. So why do I keep some things classified as "geeky" -- particularly the computer stuff? Well, the way I see it, I know a lot about computers for a records manager and I have some particular areas of knowledge that will spin an IT manager's head around. But when you run up against people who really know computers, you're just a minor geek against their nerdiness. That happens with a fair amount of regularity when talking to two members of my staff. These guys are hardcore. A couple months ago, I showed one of them my home network layout. He then showed me his home network. He runs a series of virtual machines. He has built in hardware firewalls. He has various filters running to keep the bad stuff out. I simply trust Symantec and Linksys. My other staff member will periodically walk me through the finer points of forensic analysis, root kits, and hackerdom. I smile, nod, and play sponge -- there's geekiness to be learned here!

At the end of the day, I have to assimilate all that stuff, apply good judgment to the decisions that I have to make, and hope that I'm properly translating all this stuff to the lawyers. Oh yeah, there's another set of geekiness in my world....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ATR: RIM Best Practices

Mimi's been making me think again. She's had any number of posts recently that have provoked some thought on my part. But one recent posting that included her list of "Best Practices" is fodder for this post. Now these being blogs, I'd suggest that these ruminations aren't the end-all and be-all on the matter. But Mimi is pretty solid on hers and I'd like to spend a bit of time on mine.

Here's Mimi's list:
  1. Keep right amount of information for right length of time
  2. Meet all legal requirements
  3. Control costs
  4. Demonstrate good faith through consistent implementation
  5. Protect vital/historical records
  6. Produce information quickly and efficiently
  7. Integrate policies/procedures organization wide
  8. Establish ownership and accountability
  9. Ongoing organization-wide training
  10. Compliance controls: audit against ISO 15489

I like them, but I think that I would generate my list in this fashion:

At a Strategic Level:
  1. Establish senior management program support and appropriate organizational placement.
  2. Drive consistency into all RIM practices.
  3. Ensure global / enterprise-wide program implementation.
  4. Develop policies, not guidelines.
  5. Mandate training.
  6. Require annual compliance.
  7. Audit compliance.
  8. Support legal discovery efforts.
  9. Support data privacy efforts.
  10. Support organizational heritage collections.
At an Operational Level:
  1. Efficiently locate and deliver needed records to requestors.
  2. Associate appropriate information attributes (metadata) to all records.
  3. Ensure that cost savings generates value for the organization.
  4. Minimize end-user impacts.
  5. Develop systems to efficiently disposition records on a regular basis.
  6. Develop systems to ensure preservation of records on legal or tax hold.
  7. Leverage imaging systems to replace hard copy systems where appropriate and as part of a business process.
  8. Utilize document / content management and email management systems whenever possible.
  9. Continually seek program feedback and incorporate user suggestions for continuous improvement.
  10. Hold vendors accountable through service level agreements with meaningful penalties for non-performance.
I think RIM managers often focus too much on the operational aspects of the profession and not enough on the strategic aspects. I think we often focus on delivering the records to the end user and not on ensuring that all records creators are trained on RIM practices and checked for compliance.

In years past, I had distilled my thoughts about records management to three terms:
  1. Record worthiness: Assurance that the integrity and fidelity of records is maintained, regardless of the media upon which the record is stored.
  2. Records retention: Assurance that records are retained consistently, in accord with applicable governmental laws and regulations.
  3. Records efficiency: Assurance that records are maintained in an efficient and cost-effective manner, while providing timely access to the records by the end users.
I think these can be powerful ways of breaking down what we do, but they do leave unsaid much of the strategic approach to managing records.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Do They Play Cricket at Microsoft?

At the Day Job, I work on a large corporate campus. There's a lot of open space and we have basketball courts, tennis courts, softball fields and soccer fields. After work, and often during lunch, there will be groups of employees playing some sport almost every day. A couple years ago, I drove through Microsoft's campus and they had much the same sort of playing areas. The main thing I noticed was a lot more Frisbee playing and Hacky-Sac. Younger crowd, I guess.

So tonight, as a wandered out to the parking lot, I noted the usual Wednesday night soccer game, but saw another group on the nearby softball field. I thought it was a softball game, but that was odd because the softball field overlaps the soccer field. But these guys were also playing in a different direction than the field is laid out. And the position players didn't seem to be the right number of people in the right spots... and the first hit that I noticed... was a golf shot... with an odd looking... oh yeah... that's a cricket bat.

Now I have seen cricket on TV while in the UK (and sometimes on ESPN, if memory serves). I've never really figured out the rules, but it is interesting to watch and try to figure out the rules. It's sorta like baseball, but the rules are just as opaque to the casual viewer. But I've never seen it live, so I dumped my backpack in the car and walked up to the bleachers to watch for a while. It apparently was a pickup game. Most of the players appeared to be Indian and there was a very spirited match going on. A trash container and its lid made up the "wickets" at each end of the ersatz "pitch". The players were mostly in work clothes and while the bat seemed official enough, the ball appeared to be a tennis ball. I think this made for a safer match -- perhaps like playing slow pitch softball over baseball.

Anyway, I stood and watched. The guys in the stands were having a great time teasing (alternately) the batsmen and the bowlers. Most of the time when the bat connected with the ball, the hit wasn't particularly square, but one batsman did get off a nice long drive. Based upon what I've seen on TV, the hitting was par for the course, but the bowling was pretty uneven.

It was interesting to me in a couple of ways... as a kid, I can remember playing pickup games of baseball or basketball in the alley and the periodic football game in the park. No uniforms, no coaches, no officials. Just a bunch of kids playing. You don't see that today -- maybe some basketball and a touch football game from time to time, but you rarely see a pack of kids getting together to play a sport without a coach. I wonder what happened there? And watching these guys play cricket, it seemed to me that most of them were probably born and raised in India and they probably had pickup games of cricket over there as kids. And here they were, far from where they were raised, playing a game that likely reminded them of home.

I think I was the only spectator and after a short while, I felt like maybe I was intruding a bit, so I headed back to the car. But it was one of those moments when you think about how small the world is and how far so many people travel to make a living. And in the midst of much turmoil at the Day Job, it is refreshing to see groups of employees hanging around after work to play and compete and relax. I think that's important. And it gives me hope that on the other side of the current state of affairs, there is hope for our company -- because of the teamwork of its people.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

What Do I Blog About?

I found an interesting blogging toy to play with. "Wordle" is an interesting tool that will create "word clouds" from blogs or virtually any other text-based source. The result is a picture that features the most common words most prominently in the picture.

Here's a Wordle for this blog:

"Records" is the most prominent word in the graphic, so you know where my head is. Interestingly, the word "will" also shows up a lot, but I know that I seldom use the word as a noun, so I would throw that one out. Guess I'm also future oriented.

You can create a Wordle at will, using a link to just about any blog out there. Kinda fun to see how the words pop up.

AIR: Just a "Regular Member" Again

I started to write this about a week and a half ago as my term as Treasurer for ARMA International was drawing to a close. It's one of those posts that sometimes needs a little more time to simmer before considering it done.

Having served on the International Board as a Director, and most recently as Treasurer, I'm again a regular member of the Association. Ever since I was but a wee records manager in 1987, I have pretty much had something to do with ARMA at some level. I think I took a couple years off around 2000 when I left some ARMA Committees, but otherwise I've been involved with some sort of Board almost my entire professional career. And with a fairly heavy speaking calendar for a number of years, I suppose that I've been pretty visible in the organization.

ARMA isn't quite done with me yet, however. I've been drafted to participate in a couple of task forces for the Board, but I have asked to act primarily in the "of counsel" role, rather than as a hard core worker bee. And there is a presentation at the ARMA Conference in Las Vegas and whatever else I get drafted to do....

In some respects, I feel that I have done just about all that could be expected of me. The Day Job is pretty demanding and that "just one hour per month" commitment to ARMA is a bit more than I want on my plate. However, over the course of these 20 years, I have received far more than I have given. I've learned leadership and business skills far beyond what I could have gotten in my workplaces. I've learned a bit more patience and perhaps some additional benefit of the doubt at times. The challenge and benefit of serving on volunteer boards is that the faces change every 12 months. Some stay, some leave, and some new ones come on board. And that continual renewal of leadership brings a healthy opportunity to adapt to new people and consider new and diverse ideas.

I suspect that among my dear friends will be more than a few who suggest that this will be yet another temporary respite from the clutches of ARMA International. Time, of course, will tell. For now, however, I'll be happy doing the Day Job and thinking about how the profession evolves, both for me and for the profession at large.

Over 20 years ago when I first ran across this organization called ARMA, times were very different. At the Chapter level, we were able to have volunteers who could put many hours of ARMA service into their day jobs. We had many volunteers who spent untold hours toiling away at newsletters, member mailings, or event publicity. The companies where ARMA's members worked would donate not only time, but postage and sometimes printing services. I can recall a number of evenings spent at home with a pile of flyers, envelopes, mailing labels and stamps. Today, companies have leaned down so much that very few can provide the people resources, much less the printing and mailing resources, that they once did. Many records functions have become smaller, while many new records functions are strategic in nature.

ARMA International's staff carries a much bigger load today than in the past. It is a challenge at all levels of the organization to find both volunteers for projects and leaders for the local or International organization. In spite of this, ARMA has been growing. The organization has strong finances and healthy reserves. ARMA has delivered some significant projects and looks to continue to expand its offerings. But it is a long row to hoe.

I am glad that I have had the opportunity to serve ARMA International and its membership. If you would like a similar opportunity to shape both your profession and your professional organization, I encourage you to consider volunteering at the local or International level.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

ATR: "Keep It All -- Let God Sort It Out"

Once upon a time, I told someone that I was going to open a concession at an ARMA or AIIM Conference selling t-shirts with the phrase, "Image It All -- Let God Sort It Out". (If that hasn't been copyrighted, I'm copyrighting it right now.) Back in the day, it seemed like the records management solution du jour was simply to image everything. That thinking drove me insane. I could never understand why anyone would see logic or good business sense in taking dead records and imaging them for the sake of imaging them. "Oh, but we'll save so much money in records storage." Uh huh. If you're dumb enough to think that spending a couple hundred dollars to properly image and index a box of paper records is a good idea to save a couple dollars of annual storage cost, I'd like to open an imaging service bureau for you.

Well, today I continue to see various bloggers and pundits suggesting that applying proper records retention rules to electronic records is "too hard and complex", so just keep everything because "storage is cheap". If you think that is a good idea, I'm going to open up a legal discovery document review business, just for you.

I've had a couple small written disagreements with some pundits when I see these sorts of recommendations posted. They tend not to see it my way.

Now I suppose that if you can't get anyone in the organization to properly retain records and spoliation is an everyday occurance, you might feel that you have little or no choice but to keep everything. At least you're consistent. Your storage vendors will love you. Your outside counsel will alternately love and hate you.

But, in my opinion, organizations that defer making records disposition decisions should start setting money aside as a deferred liability on their books (accountants, please pardon my butchering of good accounting practice). Why? Well, sooner or later the company will need to migrate all those records. They will need to convert them in a manner that doesn't screw up the metadata. They will need to move them to cheaper storage. They will need to purchase more powerful search engines and search caching systems. And sooner or later, they will hit some litigation that will require a search through all of the documents and a physical review of all of the potentially responsive documents. That will take serious money because automated keyword and even context searches will reduce the volume, but a human being (generally a highly billed legal professional) will need to read the potentially responsive document to figure out if it is truly responsive. And the more stuff you start out with, the more stuff you have to look at once the search results come back.

Once upon a time, in the good old paper world of yore, we didn't create as many documents. But some people managed to become packrats just the same. And at some point, they simply ran out of space or were forced by the fire inspector to do something about the mess. Generally, that involved a dumpster or lots of records boxes. The pack rat was unhappy because sorting through the mess was time-consuming and the filing was beneath them. But the choice was made once the paper built up to a point where even the pack rat had to admit that there was a problem. Flash forward to the world today. While many organizations limit electronic storage, there always seem to be ways around the rules. The real problem, however, is that the storage takes place out of sight. It is invisible to the pack rat. And the pack rat perceives electronic storage as incredibly cheap -- terabyte hard drives go for less than $500 these days. So it is hard to convince the pack rat that something has to be done -- after all, they can usually find what they need after a little digging.

The other problem is that pack rat workarounds tend to involve offline storage -- CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, etc. When the company insists that the pack rat gets organized, the pack rat goes to Best Buy. A credit card swipe later and that pack rat has reduced his or her corporate storage requirements to zero. No real work is required. A few mouse clicks and everything is copied over to the portable media. And that makes the pack rat even happier because now he or she can take all their stuff home. In those days of yore, the pack rat was limited in what could be carried out of the building and the pack rat's spouse / significant other would tend to frown on a garage full of paper.

A pundit recently suggested that all email should be retained "forever". I challenged that. The problem is that at some point, someone (likely a bean counter)will realize that keeping spam, personal email, and unimportant emails ("let's do lunch!") is probably a real resource waste, so those things should not be kept -- and preferably should be deleted by the user. Well, that will require written rules about what should be kept and what shouldn't be kept. Then someone else will decide that some email really doesn't need to be kept "forever". So they will write some rules that suggest which items can be kept for briefer periods of time. Then someone else will be afraid that the end users are making bad decisions about what to keep and what to delete. Pretty soon you have a retention schedule again.

The ultimate solution is simply to teach people how to file electronic records and provide the user with simple tools to do their filing as quickly as possible. Users will need to make a decision as soon as they create or touch a new document / email. That touchpoint will need to last a matter of seconds. And that touchpoint will need to ensure that the user can quickly find what has been filed. That's a tall order, but one that I'd suggest will happen a lot sooner than waiting for God to get busy filing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

ATR: Records Management -- It All Used to be so Simple...

It's somewhat before 0800 EDT, it's raining and gloomy, and I'm sitting in the Red Carpet Club at LaGuardia Airport. My flight is at 1000 and is supposed to be on time. This is LaGuardia and I'm going to O'Hare, which is also rainy and gloomy. I rather expect a long day... As insurance, I've upgraded to a comfy seat for what will likely be a number of hours on the plane. (Which of course means everything will be on time and we'll arrive early.)

One of the cool things about my career is that it has been a continuous stream of learning opportunities. I have rarely felt like I had mastered everything. This past year has been no exception. It is challenging enough to take on a new job at a new company and have to learn all the players and the company culture, but add in to that whole new areas of focus. This does tend to keep you engaged in your job.

Anyway. I was at a seminar yesterday in Manhattan. The seminar, "The Intersection of Privacy, Retention and Discovery Obligations" was presented by CGOC. It was quite good and gave me a lot to consider.

To sum up some of what I picked up yesterday, I think the records management profession is at a very opportunistic inflection point. In the past year since I joined the Day Job, I've moved from the Law Department and just trying to work out the records management program to the IT department under the CISO and taken on Discovery and Forensics Support responsibilities. And there are more changes likely to come.

What I am experiencing is not unique. Records Management isn't just about retention schedules and filing systems anymore. That's the core, but there are other things that crowd into this space as well in many organizations.

The premise of the seminar was that the relationships between Records Management, Privacy, and Discovery (among several other areas of focus) are so strong that they need to be organized together. While most of the people in the audience reported that Records Management was organized under their company's Legal Department, there were a number of us reporting organization under IT. One speaker indicated that it is only logical for the CIO to actually have responsibility for all of the information in the company. In addition, the CIO tends to have troops in the field in many more places than the Legal Department, so the reach and opportunity to properly manage information is far greater.

So that is one data point to mull over. Another is that Records Management has to understand and have very close relationships with legal discovery processes and data privacy issues. The presenters at the seminar are seeing global regulatory trends which mandate that certain records must not be retained longer than necessary -- and that some regulations specify the maximum length of time that records can be retained. This is a fundamental change in our world. Historically, we have looked at a regulatory retention period as a minimum. Business need or some other reasonable internal need could trump the regulatory retention period and require that the record be maintained for a longer period of time. In addition, there are a number of pundits out there that advocate "keeping everything forever". (I'll rant on that later.) The reality is that in certain geographies, certain information will be required to be dispositioned under penalty of law. Now that clearly will be a challenge at times. For very large global companies, the IRS can be notoriously slow at resolving tax audits. Sometimes litigation takes forever. And sometimes regulations will simply be out of step with business requirements for certain information. But what this points to is a need for Records Managers to be aware of all of these issues and work hand in hand with experts in these areas.

The bottom line to all this is that Records Managers need to start looking beyond basic Records Management. If you are stuck in the file room or the records center and you aspire to do more, you will have to get out of those operational jobs. Build relationships. Learn more. Deliver more thought leadership in your organization. There may be times where the opportunities will come to you, but you also need to seek opportunity and demonstrate that you are conversant with these issues and be ready to take them on.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Cell Phone Revolution, Innovation, and the Marketplace

Last month, we very quietly marked the 35th anniversary of the cell phone. There will be a short pause while everyone does the math. Yep, 1973. In April of 1973, the first cellular telephone call was made (company lore was that is was from a company engineer to a counterpart at Bell Labs, with the first words being, "NYAAAH NYAAAH!!!"). For the real history, go here.

That was the culmination of something like five years of basic development. It would be ten more years before the FCC approved the system for commercial use. Thus it took something like 15 years to get to sell a phone in the marketplace. And about ten more years would pass before the technology was widely available at a reasonable price. So that brings us to about 1993. As cell phone became ubiquitous, so did the Internet and email.

Today, we have convergence of the cell phone, the Internet and email on a single portable device that just about anyone can carry with them in their pocket, almost anywhere on the planet.

And it seems so natural to be so connected. I don't think of walking out the door without both of my cell phones (one personal, one work). Both are capable of Internet connectivity; and if I work at it, I can get email on my personal phone. But 15 years ago, the height of connectivity was a pager and access to a pay phone.

My daughter is studying in France this summer. She is required to have a cell phone with her at all times. I went online and purchased a SIM card for her for a French cellular company. The process was quick and easy and should save us a few bucks (check out Brightroam for more info). Not that many years ago, we would have hoped for a weekly letter home and a periodic brief phone call.

This is innovation wrought large. It is a true technological revolution. And it all happened within the lifespans of most folks who will read this blog. And for some who read this, you've never known a time without the Internet, email, or cell phones. (me? I remember rotary dial phones and $.30 per gallon gasoline).

My thoughts are a little scattered today, but one more point comes to mind. The cell phone took nearly 15 years of engineering work to get to the point that someone could sell service and devices. It then took another ten years before the devices and services were broadly available at a reasonable price. Then the money machine kicked it. But for all intents and purposes, there were 25 years of development before anyone really made money. But in that time, we built what amounts to a global infrastructure where there was nothing before. That's pretty impressive, but I have to wonder how many companies would be able to commit that much time, money, and resource into a similar project today? One of the things that concerns me about the stock markets today is that everyone wants the big payoff tomorrow. The markets and stockholders have no long term vision. If the company isn't making money today, forget about it. That's a dumb point of view. And I am afraid that it has turned the stock market into the playground of gamblers and bullies, while forcing out companies that want to take risks and spend the time and capital that it takes to make something that is really new and ground-breaking. Once upon a time, buying stock in a company was a way for an individual to help a company grow or develop something new. Certainly, there was an expectation that the investment would grow with the success of the company. But this was generally seen as a long term bet. Somewhere along the line, we lost sight of that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

ATR: Trends in Email Management

This is completely unscientific, but I am beginning to feel a sea change in how organizations are designing email management schemes.

The trend that I am seeing (and we'll use Microsoft Outlook / Exchange as the benchmark)is as follows:

1) Organizations reduce retention schedules to "big buckets" as much as possible. At bare minimum, the retention schedules are distilled functionally, rather than by department.

2) Creation of PSTs is banned. Generally, this involves a registry change that prevents the user from creating PST files.

3) All mail is server-based, with limited local replicas for offline use.

4) The organization pushes a core set of common folders to all employees. These folders are managed and set for retention periods. Generally, the common folders are used for short (60 - 90 days) and medium (2-3 years) retention periods for items that the user wants to keep transitionally. In addition, items foldered in non-managed user folders are treated in the same manner (generally the medium period).

5) The user can pull down additional folders from the retention schedule as required.

6) The user is instructed to file all records of the organization in the appropriate folder.

7) The Inbox and Sent folders are purged after 90 days (trending to one year). If the user has not filed an email that was in these folders, the email will be automatically deleted.

Thus, the trend is to group email as records (folders that map to retention schedule), transitional items (items that need to be kept for reference, but rarely more than a couple years), and non-records (items that are deleted immediately by the user or automatically after a brief period).

The auto-delete function deletes items into a holding folder for about a week (in the event that something is inadvertently designated for deletion) and then permanently deleted.

An interface to a legal hold process must suspend the auto-delete function.

Again, this is not scientific, but it reflects a trend that I am hearing from a number of colleagues.

Efforts to manage email in document management systems seem to be waning due to complexity.

Companies utilizing these processes see an initial spike in server email volumes, but the volumes tend to stabilize and decline once the retention controls come into play. Mail quota management is eliminated for the most part, although more sophisticated monitoring comes into play to see how employees are filing documents and how much space they are consuming.

Existing PSTs cannot be added to, but email within existing PSTs can be similarly managed and transferred to the Exchange server. Many organizations plan a transition period of several years for employees to manage needed email from legacy PSTs, then delete the PSTs.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out over the next several years.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

ATR: I Feel a Disturbance in The Force...

Fans of Star Wars likely recall that line.

If you read this blog, you know that I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. At the day job, I'm the Corporate Records Manager for at least part of my day. Recently, I've also been charged with oversight of a Six Sigma process to realign our legal discovery and forensics processes. (You'll recall my posting of the E-Discovery Reference Model in my last post.)

I've been out and about beyond my comfort zone. Mingling with lawyers and IT folks and looking at the services that are my core competency in a new light. Yes, I still have to sort out hundreds of thousands of cubic feet of paper records, but more importantly, I have to think about how we truly enable records management functionality in our electronic world.

A bit ago, I was reading Steve Bailey's Keynote Address at the Records Management Society's meeting in the UK. I like his blog as well -- Steve is truly on the forefront of future thinking about records management. Anyway, in his address, he states,

"My fear is that I can see the day coming – and not far away - where, like the band on the Titanic, we continue to confidently play our tune; oblivious to the waves lapping around our feet or that we are playing to an empty deck. I sometimes get the feeling that we have become so immersed in our own particular viewpoint and so sure of the logic of our arguments that we have lost sight of the reality of the outside world. As if so long as we keep repeating the same thing over and over again all will be okay, despite the mounting evidence that what we have to say is becoming increasingly marginalised and seen as an irrelevance."

The day job's Archivist and I were talking this morning. The continuing theme that I present when it comes to the Archives is that we have to transform the Archives from "Grandma Sally's Attic" to something that is truly a value-add for the organization. Now in working for a technology company, there are a lot of cool things in the collection that I love to look at and be able to study. I have a real appreciation for where the company has come from and where we have the potential to go. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the company tends not to share that enthusiasm. So the shift for the Archives will need to be from the perception of being a repository of "neat stuff" to relevance and protection for the most valuable and enduring of the company's information assets. But as we look for ways to make that shift, we also realize that the traditional ways of collecting artifacts and documents, as well as classifying documents (particularly) are fundamentally changing. For a Records Manager and an Archivist (both of us formally trained in our respective professions) to suddenly start talking about getting away from formal taxonomies, inventories, and retention schedules, well, there clearly has been a disturbance in The Force.

As Steve notes in his address, the sheer volume of information (and with it a concurrent increase in the volume of records), coupled with greater productivity of individual workers, fundamentally changes the game. And the new generation of information creators and consumers have new ways of doing things and new ways of creating and retaining information. Constraining them to a corporate taxonomy does not suit their needs. At the same time, the laws and regulations that govern the retention and disposition of information and records are not being shoved aside to accommodate the new generation. So somehow we must adapt our approaches to records management to meet the requirements of the changing workforce and workplace, while ensuring that we are able to comply with existing laws and regulations that were written for a paper-based world.

As we talked this morning, the Archivist and I also recognized that our professions are rapidly being split into old and new camps -- the people who are great technicians and managers of physical objects; and those who are able to adapt to the changing workplace and record. In the terms that I sometimes use, that would be the people "below the cardboard ceiling" and those who rise above. And clearly, not everyone will make the transition.

As I continue to remake myself and my professional toolsets, I am continually drawn to the vision that my boss at the day job has put before me: that being part of the Information Security function of the day job means that I have to think about what I do in terms of information risk management. That compliance risk is but one component of mitigating risk to the day job's information assets. That defining attributes of information allowing it to be properly classified for security protection, business resiliency protection and compliance protection are our primary responsibilities. In addition, we have to ensure availability of the information for legal discovery and somehow ensure that it all finds a proper disposition at the end of its lifecycle and usefulness to the day job.

The days of the 400+ line item retention schedules are over folks. No one but us records managers ever really understood them or used them effectively. If your idea of job security is continually honing and finessing that uber-retention schedule, you should probably start thinking about your next job. And that is not to say that we're anachronisms. The challenge is defining the core competencies that we bring to the table and how we add value in this new reality.

I've got some more thinking to do...

Thursday, April 3, 2008

ATR: Think, Think, Think....

I hate to admit it, but I have a soft spot for the "silly old bear" pictured at left. Lately, I'm also afraid that I resemble the pictured pose. I've been thinking... a lot... about some of the fundamentals that I have long held sacred in the records management profession.

As I read the blogs of others, as well as literature from the fringes of the profession, I'm really having to challenge myself.

The biggest change is how I look at Discovery. It has always been there. The Federal Rules changes have sort of put some things in my face. But until you work in a place with a very steady drumbeat of significant litigation, it is all really quite abstract. Once you start looking at court decisions and hear what the litigation attorneys are going through, the perspective begins to shift. The dollars that can be sucked up by litigation are real -- and very large. And what I am finding is that tight integration of records management with discovery processes is a very real requirement for some organizations. The model that I am really focusing on is the Electronic Discovery Reference Model. Go. Look. Read. Absorb. Apply.

So a lot of my brainpower has been focused on how we articulate this process within the business and improve our basic discovery processes. Tied to this is making the argument that good records management can significantly reduce the costs of discovery. It may seem a self-evident argument, but you need metrics.

The other thing that is keeping the neurons toasty in my head is articulating what records management cares about. Heretofore, I have always made a very narrow definition of a "Record" and anything outside that box was not relevant to my world. I'm coming to think differently on that one. Email management is driving these thoughts. I'm seeing a need to define and set retention periods not only for records, but also for "transitional records" (those courtesy copies that you keep for your own needs) as well as non-records. Why? Because we have to tell people that the garbage must be disposed of. And the only way to do that is to define what constitutes garbage and when it is going to be collected and tossed.

There's still a lot more refinement that needs to happen, but there is definitely a white paper in my future.

Oh bother.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

AIR: A Big Dog and Relics

The adventures when we were closing churches were numerous. This one still makes me chuckle... and cringe.

We head off to the South Side, West Englewood. The neighborhood is impoverished, but had once been the "newer" part of the Back of the Yards neighborhood. At one time, very ethnically diverse. The day's assignment was a parish that was very unique. Perhaps 20 years before, it had been a reasonably wealthy parish for the neighborhood and had built a new church. The pastor who built the church was still there, even as the parishioners moved away. Many of those folks would come back every Sunday, but their numbers were declining. Apparently, the church was also stuck in a time warp and the pastor still said the old Latin Mass.

So anyway, we roll up one morning. There is s small parking lot in front of the rectory. We park and I step out. There is a three or four foot fence separating the parking lot from a small lawn in front of the building. Off to the side, I see a much taller chain link fence. I open the gate and ring the doorbell. Within seconds, the largest dog that I have ever seen is paws and head above the six foot fence. It is very unhappy that we are at the door. I about jumped out of my shoes. I recall taking several steps back towards the van and my boss laughing at me. All I could think of was that I needed to be just one step faster than him getting into the van.

The door opens and the caretaker greets us. He tells us that he'll be right back because he has to secure the dog door. It seems that this dog (a Great Dane) is only obedient to the pastor and just tolerates the caretaker. He's back a couple minutes later and tells us that the dog is a great watchdog and they never have problems around the church. They've told the local Police District about the dog as well and if the police ever have to enter the rectory, they will likely have to shoot the dog. I really wanted to go check how secure that dog door was...

So we set to work. The pastor pretty much ignores us as we start packing records. We're appraising parish bulletins when the mail arrives. I notice a bunch of small mailing tubes. The pastor clears his desk and starts opening them. Inside each tube are circular containers with something inside and a paper attached to the container. It takes a few moments and it dawns on me that these are relics.

For those of you who aren't Catholic, relics are objects that have been associated with a holy person (in particular saints) that are preserved and venerated. The practice declined after Vatican II, but most churches will have a relic of the patron saint in the church (typically in the altar). relics are divided into classes. A first class relic is generally some part of the person. It could be hair, a bit of bone or the entire body. A second class relic is typically a possession of the person. A third class relic is generally something that touched the person. Relics were quite a business in the Middle Ages and became something of a center for abuse. Nonetheless, many people continued to venerate these objects and this pastor not only venerated relics, but collected them. What we were watching was the latest additions to his collection being delivered.

As he shook out the containers onto his desk, he was separating them into piles as he read the documents of authenticity. I could hear him mentioning the name of each saint and the relic class. He would also examine some of the relics and smile if it was a particularly good one. I had this flashback to opening a pack of baseball cards as a kid and hunting for the elusive Reggie Jackson card...

It was amusing and sad at the same time. The man truly was locked in a time warp. We were done in short order and took our leave. That dog bade us a very angry farewell.

ATR: The Once and Future Records Manager

Mimi Dionne (who I think hates it when I write about her blog), asks the following question: "Do RIMgrs REALLY see the Organization?" Her question is really about real time vision of an organization and what is going on.

My perspective to that question is much broader and less real-time. In the past, I have always said that the best thing about this job is getting to understand how the business works -- how things tie together, what the company does and what makes up all the elements of the company. This has been a great job, being able to look into the nooks and crannies of a wide variety of companies and organizations. I have always felt that after a couple years with a company (or one very thorough records inventory), you probably know more about how a company really works than most executives in the company. We may not know the numbers, but we should know how information flows.

The real-time will tend to be situational. As my job evolves and I get more involved in litigation, investigations and information security, I tend to see the less pleasant aspects of what goes on in a company. And many of those things are real time and involve very real and significant events. And many of these events never get to the C-suite, but an awful lot do. Underlying most of those events are records in one form or another -- and our ability to deliver the right records, to the right people, at the right time.

The profession of records management is at a significant inflection point. For a long time, records managers have been looking for opportunities to break through the cardboard ceiling. I believe that the opportunity is now, but only the very best will have that opportunity.

The opportunity is to identify where you can most add value to your organization. Where is the need and exposure in your organization most critical? Where are there gaps in your records management program? Where is the company spending money on records needlessly? For my organization, the driving force for good records management is litigation. Getting electronic records under control and getting the discovery process standardized means not only better results in court, but far less cost on the way to the courtroom. For other organizations, basic compliance is the hot button. Still others have the opportunity to drive better business practices by using technology to deliver records electronically.

I have always been an advocate that it is a far better job to feed the elephant than to sweep up after the elephant. Records management has been a "sweeping up" job for a long time, and while that job is important, it is seldom valued until the stuff we sweep up begins to pile up. And the visibility from that end of the elephant isn't very good. What you want is the opportunity to really manage the records of your organization, through the entire lifecycle, with a particular focus on managing records far better when they have the most value to the organization.

A number of years ago, I bristled at the records managers who used terminology that talked about "Information Risk Management" as if a mere records manager could possibly influence that across an enterprise. In many respects, I'd like to say that I was wrong and that I didn't take the opportunity to run with that ball for fear of running across the well-manicured lawns of other folks in the organization. The reality is that, today, my job is truly about information risks and the management of those risks. This is a cooperative effort, working with information security, lawyers, and investigators. It is about working with IT and finding ways to reduce the volume of information that is being created and maintained. It is about ensuring that we can find all that stuff when it is needed and getting rid of the stuff that we don't need. What we bring to the table is the ability to translate the legal and regulatory requirements into IT-speak and translate the limitations of technology into lawyer-speak. It is about creating record-keeping requirements that make sense for the users, the lawyers, and the IT folks. And it is doing that consistently and within the bounds of the risk profile that the organization wants to accept.

So my answer to Mimi would be that we have the opportunity to see how the entire organization works. We have the opportunity to help people make real-time decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. We have the opportunity to add real value to an organization by applying our competencies where they can do the most good. Identifying those opportunities comes from our vision of how the organization really works and where our skills can have an impact.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

AIR: Appearances that Matter

Yet another adventure back when I worked for the Archdiocese involved a role-reversal.

My boss at the time (who I consider to be a mentor and one of the best bosses that I have ever had the privilege to work for) had the remarkable ability to morph himself into a variety of personas. He came of age in the late '60's and retained a beard and long-ish hair. He grew up in the Bronx and could turn a tough guy persona on and off.

Anyway... we're fully into the mode of "If it's Tuesday, it must be St. Sassafras." We had a very lengthy schedule of stops that Spring. Generally, my boss sent me and our records technician out to make most of the pickups, although he would substitute himself from time to time. The night before a particular parish run, he told me not to wear jeans. I should wear my usual office attire (Dockers and a dress shirt), but add a tie. He'd explain later.

So next morning, I show up at the office, somewhat more dressed up than usual and see my boss. He's wearing a bandana, carpenter shorts and a ratty t-shirt. "Trust me on this one. I'll drive." So we set off. He explains to me that he is going to do the heavy lifting and that he wants me to provide him with direction and do the inventories. In other words, I was in charge. Sounded good to me. The day was looking to be hot and most of these places tended to have lots of stairs.

We arrive, I go to the front door and introduce myself. My boss is outside unloading the empty boxes and handcart. I go in and I'm shown (very coldly) where the records are. My boss comes in and asks me where I want things set up. I tell him and he brings in all the supplies. I notice that he's carrying stuff like his back hurts and I ask him if he's ok. He winks and says, "Just go with it." I'm liking the arrangement, but the back of my head is trying to figure out the game. So I start scribbling and tagging and he starts filling boxes. I notice that he is also chatting up the office staff. They are very unhappy about the closure of the parish and I overhear some of their comments. They are seriously unhappy and have much to disparage about the heritage of the people "Downtown". They are also very concerned about where their bingo program will go (that perked my ears -- the church is closing -- why in the world are you concerned about the bingo games?). So we clean the place out. I notice that my boss seems to have the staff very open and honest in their rants about the Archdiocese. If I walk into the room where they are talking, the conversation shifts and my boss gets back to work. I can tell he's working something.

We finally finish loading the van and my boss walks up to me. He asks me for a couple of his cards (he would always conveniently "forget" his business cards when talking to vendors and make me give out one of mine, so I started carrying a few of his cards). At the time, he was an Assistant Chancellor for the Archdiocese and had been granted Canonical faculties by the Archbishop -- that's a pretty big deal. I hand him a card, he winks and I follow him back in. He walks into the office, takes off his bandana, and hands a card to each of the people working in the parish office. He visibly straightens up and says, "I am so sorry. I forgot to properly introduce myself. I am the Assistant Chancellor for Archives and Records. The entire conversation that we had today is something that will be of interest to the Chancellor and Cardinal. I'll be meeting with them later today. I'd suggest that you take your personal belongings home with you." His tone and the look in his eyes made *me* take a step back. The looks on their faces were something to behold. I had to bite my tongue to keep from smiling. He didn't wait for a response. We at least had the courtesy to get off the property before we busted out laughing. Unfortunately, on the serious side, there were some very unfortunate things going on in that parish. There was a reason that they were concerned about where bingo would be held.

I've never forgotten that day. Part of it was the role reversal and the willingness of my boss to step in and do the work that we were doing. Sometimes it is just what had to be done; sometimes it was for a purpose that we didn't necessarily understand at the time. But more than anything else, it was a lesson that appearances don't always make the measure of the man.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

AIR: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones, but Names are Completely Unexpected

There are more adventures from my Local Records Unit days. This one comes from my second job, working for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Around 1990, the Archdiocese was faced with massive closings of churches and schools. This was a long overdue process, closing institutions that were financially unsustainable due to changing demographics. It was a very difficult process, both for the people still attached to those institutions, and for those of us who had to help close them down. We had many adventures. You'll read about many of them.

This adventure found me in a small suburban parish. Generally, when we showed up, the parish had to come to grips with the inevitable. We were hauling out all of the old records and generally leaving a few current records for the last months. The only people to follow us were the movers.

Unfortunately, because so many of these closings were taking place, there was very little interaction between the parishes and "Downtown". The led to some significant hard feelings and those of us "from Downtown" who showed up on the premises often caught the brunt of emotions.

I don't recall what records we were moving, but this parish found me with the inventory sheets, rather than the boxes that day. I was tagging boxes and writing down the contents while one of the guys loaded the van.

At some point, I came nose to nose with a parishioner. The guy must have been at least 80. Very heavy Eastern European accent, fire in his eyes and a finger in my face. The man proceeded to curse me in several languages and accuse me of personally closing *his* church. He wanted answers and I'm pretty sure he wanted to kick some butts. I took a step back, drew up to full height and width, set my stance at shoulder width and waited to see what he was going to do. I knew that somewhere in the Pastoral Center Handbook there was probably a prohibition against decking a parishioner. I wondered if my clipboard would deflect a punch. He ranted on for a while and seemed to start to lose some steam. I stood there listening. He finally took a breath, looked me in the eye and said, "I survived Stalin. I know Stalin. You are worse than Stalin." He turned and walked away. There are some things in life that you simply can't answer.

That one shook me for a while. While I had been working in records management for most of my young career, I was still hanging out with archivists. They tend not to be confrontational sorts for the most part (ok, I know some exceptions). I was still a pretty green kid, barely five years out of the seminary myself. And I often found that size tended to deflect confrontations. But the personal nature of the confrontation really shook me that day.

We were loading up boxes of records, but we were killing this man's spiritual home. Whether you ever know it or not, whether you ever experience it or not, some records have very personal values to people. They are not always "obsolete", or "non current", or "inactive". They can represent life, and freedom, and the health of an organization and its people. They contain the life and the spirit of an organization. Sometimes other people see that much more clearly than we do. This man did.

It would be a long while before anyone else ever threw words at me that stuck. That story, in a future post.

AIR: Records Surveys Should Not Require Use of a Large Stick

At some point in my two year adventure with the Local Records Unit of the Illinois State Archives, I found myself in a small, impoverished suburb south of Chicago. The Village Hall was built in the 1920's and that was its high point. By the time I got there, the town barely had money to pay its employees. But they wanted to get rid of some records, so they needed a survey and retention schedule.

This was a pretty small town, so the inventory of current records went pretty quickly. The Clerk's vault had most of the records and all of the Minute books for the village. That was kind of interesting because it had never been upgraded from what was installed back in 1920 or so. When I had finished all of the offices, I asked if there were any other records. The clerk made a face and said, "I'll be right back." She came back with a key and a very big stick (think really thick broom stick). She took me around the corner and unlocked a door. Beyond the door was a staircase into the basement. She ceremoniously handed me the stick and said, "You might want to give those boxes a whack before you open them." Um yeah. "And we get some water down there once in a while, so I hope you're not allergic to mold." Okaaaaaaay....

So down I go. It was pretty clear pretty quickly that "some water" was perhaps several feet. I was hoping that the rats weren't good swimmers. When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could see the boxes. It was clear from ten feet away that these boxes had seen "some water". I approached the first pile and gripped the stick. If the stick had been a samurai sword I would have cleaved the box in two. I held my breath waiting for scurrying noises. It was quiet. So I gingerly opened the lid.

Well, there was a reason that the rats had left town. They were disgusted by the potential living quarters in those boxes. You see, "some water" was probably any number of soaking floods of god knows what sort of polluted water. A box of invoices was now a box of moldy, mildewy pulped paper.

This would be an "eyeball inventory". I took note of the labels on boxes that I could read, looked for old dates, and guessed at some volumes. I flagged all that stuff as "effectively destroyed". I was back upstairs inside of ten minutes.

The Clerk was clearly surprised to see me. I handed her the stick and told her that it had not been used in anger and that the boxes were devoid of residents -- and effectively devoid of records as well. I briefed her on the next steps and took my leave, thankful that it would not be my job to shred those records.

I wonder if anyone ever did that job.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

AIR: Where Records Goest, There Goest I

Back when I was but a wee records manager (ok, ok, no one will ever believe that I was a "wee" anything), I had the very distinct privilege of one of the best forms of records management training on the job on the planet -- surveys of local government records.

Back then (and probably still today), Illinois had more units of local government than the next two states combined. Cook County (the County which is dominated by Chicago) has over 120 municipalities, besides Chicago! Well, back then, Cook County was my turf. I was the sole field Representative for the Local Records Commission of Cook County, via the Illinois State Archives. I never wanted for work. I churned monthly inventory statistics like there was no tomorrow. Retention schedules (all by hand and typewriter) flew out of my office. and I got to see how the political sausage is made. I can still drive by a village hall somewhere in the suburbs and picture where the records were and how bad they were.

Two episodes still bring back nightmares. It was summer. And it was hot and humid. The Lake would not be providing any natural air conditioning on that day. I was dressed in my normal "official" garb: Dockers-like pants, dress shirt, and tie. Photo ID hanging from the pocket. Driving the State-owned Chevette. I was nearing the end of a typical suburban inventory a couple suburbs from my home. It was nice to be able to stay off the expressways for a change and get to "work" in 15 minutes or so. The task was the Fire Department. Those were typically pretty simple: incident reports, a few investigation reports, ambulance run records, some training records and maybe a pile of inspection reports. There'd be some odds and ends here and there, but it was usually a couple hours of effort at most.

I arrived promptly at 9am and as I extracted myself from the Chevette, I knew it was going to be one of those blistering hot days. I was glad to have a nice inside job. Poke around some file cabinets in the office, maybe move a couple boxes. I introduced myself to the chief and he turned me over to his clerk. I poked around and scribbled for an hour or so and pretty much had exhausted the files in the office. I asked if they had any other records. The clerk said that every now and then she had one of the firemen go get her a box from "somewhere", she wasn't sure, so she pages one of the guys. In comes a fireman. She tells him that I want to see the old records. He says, "Are you sure?" I tell him, with some bravado, that I'd seen a lot in my work and records didn't scare me. "How about ladders?"

Ladders. Whadya mean ladders? He opens the door to the apparatus floor and beckons. Well, right next to the shiny chrome and red trucks is a roughly 15 foot ladder bolted to the wall -- straight up to an opening in the ceiling. As I stood there, I swear that ladder got longer. A thumb pointed vertically. "There's your old records." Now I will note that that apparatus floor was quite a bit toastier than the office had been. The sun was heading for its Noon position. And I was about to climb up a ladder into an attic. "I don't suppose you have a staircase to get up there?"

The fireman told me that he'd go up first and turn on the light and make sure I didn't put my feet through the ceiling. Up he went. So I climbed. I may have stuck the clipboard into the back of my pants so I had both hands on the ladder. I don't remember. The temperature climbed with me. Before long, I was head and shoulders into the attic.

This was an older building and it had a style of roof known as a barrel-vaulted roof. This makes for a fairly wide span, but very little headroom in the attic. In this case, perhaps five feet at the high point. The safe places to walk were highlighted and I pulled myself out into the attic. It must have been 120 degrees in there. I looked around and saw a small sea of boxes, some old equipment, and not much else. Sweat was pouring off of me both from the climb and the temperature. My tour guide pointed out the stuff that he knew to be records and told me to yell for him if I needed anything. He then disappeared down the ladder.

I suspect that I spent about five minutes looking at the labels on the boxes and trying to find the oldest dates for each record series. I hastily counted boxes and decided that there probably was nothing of any real significance up there and that I had done my due diligence. I carefully found my way back down the ladder and on to an apparatus floor that seemed wonderfully spring-like. I found a water cooler and downed half a gallon (it seemed) of water. My shirt was soaked through and I was a mess.

Now normally at that point in my visit, I would wrap up with a discussion of next steps, walk through the process to review and approve the retention schedule, and make sure they knew how to request destruction of records. I pretty much tossed the Local Records Handbook at them and said that I would be in touch. The air conditioning in that Chevette never felt so good!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

New Features Coming!

Now that I've had some time to work with my blog, I've decided that I need to parse out a couple of new features. Rather than creating a new blog, I'll label the related posts in a particular way.

Adventures in Records Management (AIR) will be a series of stories about working in the trenches of our profession. Many of you have heard these in my presentations, but I thought that I would start to write them down before I forget them.

Above The RIM (ATR) will be posts about the future of the profession and new ways of thinking about, and doing, records management. I've often been accused of being a little bit ahead of some of the curve, so this is where I'll put my musings on things that are new.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Following Directions

Somewhere in grade school, I remember an exercise. We were handed a sheet of paper and told to place it face down on our desks. We were told that this was a very important test and that we shouldn't look at the paper until instructed. We were told that we had five minutes to follow all of the instructions on the page. The teacher then told us to begin. Papers turned over and everyone looked at a very long list of instructions. The directions at the top of the page told us to read all of the instructions before doing anything else. I recall immediately setting about completing the instructions as I read them. There was furious writing and dead silence as we all struggled to get through all the directions. You could hear the seconds ticking away. About four minutes into the exercise, there was nervous laughter, which seemed to build. I recall being heads down and thinking that it was crazy that anyone would want to be joking around. I had a lot of directions to follow yet!. How could anyone be finished?

The teacher told us, "Pencils down!" and the laughter was suddenly very loud in the classroom. Half of us were looking around trying to get the joke. The teacher said, "Read question 50." This was the last item on the page. Question 50 said, "Write your name on the paper and do nothing else." Ever stood in front of the stove with the gas flowing and the igniter clicking -- but no flame? There was a spark deep inside my brain, but I still didn't get it. "Read the directions at the top of the page." Ooooooooo..... We have ignition!!!!!

That was a very vivid lesson. But it is sometimes clear that other folks never performed that little exercise. At the Day Job, we're in the midst of our annual certification exercise. We ask every employee to certify that they have complied with our records policy for their records from the previous year. They are supposed to do a number of things like filing their records, checking for legal holds, reviewing retention schedules and then follow an intranet link to certify that they have performed these tasks. It all seems very simple. Everyone gets an email with those instructions, the website has the same instructions, and the reminders repeat them again. They get a two month period at the beginning of the year to do all this, although we'd really like this to get to be an everyday thing.

Well, this week my ghostwriters sent out about 30,000 emails from me, reminding folks who had not certified that they had a week left to do so. The replies began immediately. It was pretty clear that many people had just skimmed through the instructions, if they read them at all. We offer a mandatory training class on records management. We like people to take it every couple of years, but we haven't pushed it much. Well, the folks who got my email seem to think that the certification process somehow involved their taking the training course -- even though the instructions had a highlighted line that stated that taking the class did not fulfill the requirements for certification. I guess that was my mistake. I highlighted the negative. So I had to make several hundred replies on Tuesday to people explaining that they needed to certify, not take the class. A few then replied, sending me the completion certificate from the class, because my records were clearly not correct. *Sigh* It was a long couple of days.

This morning I was standing in the shower wondering how many people I would have to correspond with today about this misunderstanding. I stood and pondered how I could write the email differently next time and how I could modify the website to be crystal clear. It then dawned on me that of the 30,000 or so emails I had sent out on Tuesday, I had to clarify the requirements to 300 or so people. My sleepy brain crunched the numbers and I realized that only 1% of the reminded population was having trouble following directions (and actually .5% of the whole company!). I got frustrated worrying about my directions when 99%+ of the people who got them had no problem following them!!!!

I related this to one of my ghostwriters (who was helping me manage the reply mailbox and was also very bemused the day before). Her reply was, "Well, aren't you the glass half full guy today!" She grinned and acknowledged that perhaps it wasn't all that bad after all -- although we wouldn't be measuring the result as a Six Sigma Quality process, seeing as how Six Sigma means 3.4 defects per million items. Oh well. At least now I know why I was feeling like the wheels had come off. In Six Sigma terms, a 1% (or even .5%) defect rate is an abject failure.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Into the Lions' Dens

It's been an interesting week. This past Tuesday through Thursday at work we had the IT Leadership meetings. Yep, I'm now an IT "leader". Those geek numbers must be coming back to haunt me. The company has all of the direct reports to the CIO, plus the next level down and select others come to a series of meetings at the home office. Thankfully, it isn't "death by Powerpoint". There is an attempt made by all of the featured groups to be creative in delivering their messages. It was interesting, although I'm not sure all the messages were effectively delivered.

We also did a bit of team building and had a fair amount of time for socializing, so I was able to put a few faces to names.

(I also found out that a high school classmate -- actually, a guy who was usually in my homeroom -- is a peer of mine. There are a couple other guys that I knew in high school who work for our company as well -- effectively one percent of our graduating class works here.)

I sat through more than one presentation where I was lost in a sea of acronyms and IT-speak (actually a peculiar dialect specific to my employer, I guess). But I followed most of it and had some of it interpreted for me.

My little corner of the world sometimes feels like a stretch in the IT world, but at least I am making connections.

Today, I was on a panel discussion for the Chicago Bar Association and Chicago-Kent College of Law. The audience was a room full of lawyers looking for CLE credit. We had what seemed like several hundred slides for seven panel members. I managed to elicit some laughs and still deliver a clear message without being beat up by the lawyers. I guess that is a good day.

The whole week was really long. Several 12 hour days and lots of intensive listening and focused concentration. The week went by very quickly and I have a lot of work piled up. So no real gems of wisdom beyond a sense that I can hold my own with IT and lawyers. I guess that's a pretty good week.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Laptop-free Mondays

You would think, that after a dozen or so years of lugging a laptop with me everywhere that I go, that I would remember the darn thing in the morning. Well, not today. Herein will be one of the problems that accompany transitioning to my upcoming "workplace mobility".

In years past, I would typically bring my laptop with me as a security measure (i.e. I didn't want to worry about having it stolen off my desk) or "just in case" (something came up where I needed to get to an internal system). Most of the time, it would never leave my computer bag. In general, if I needed to do some work, I would usually be able to get to email from my home computer using a VPN connection. Well, the new employer doesn't work that way -- you pretty much need to be connected to the network using only your work-issued computer. So when I work from home, I have to plug the thing in using my docking station and my KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switch. So the laptop sits under my monitor and tends to be out of sight...

Anyway, that's where it was when I walked into work this morning.

This is the second time in six months that I have found myself away from home and reached into an empty backpack. The first time, I was at O'Hare Airport and had a very sickening feeling when I reached back and found the side zipper wide open as I walked from my car to the terminal. (First thought, "Did it fall out?!!!" Second thought, "Oh @%#&%#@!! It's on my desk!") That one had a happy ending in that my family literally rode to the rescue (and I am always at the airport very early). That little mistake cost me a Nintendo Wii and months of merciless ribbing from the family.

So this morning, after the expletive, it quickly dawned on me that I had left the darn thing sitting happily at home in its docking station. Today was a fairly light day at work, meeting-wise, but I needed to snail mail some stuff to co-workers and deal with some stuff that had piled up on my desk. We're having IT leadership meetings the rest of the week and I won't be at my desk very much.

So what to do? Fortunately, I have my handy Motorola Q9h. Email was merrily arriving in that, so I wasn't completely cut off from the world. If something blew up, I could at least get hold of people and see what was going on.

I also had a backpack full of stuff (which is why I didn't notice any lightness from not having the laptop in there). I've been trying to get through my backlog of reading and I had picked up a bunch of stuff at a seminar on Friday. There were also quite a number of things to file.

So I decided to tackle those tasks. It was very disconcerting sitting there with with a dead computer screen behind me. My Q would buzz every now and then and I retained a sense of connectedness, but I avoided spending time responding to emails. I looked, decided if it needed an immediate answer, and generally went back to my desk. Things got filed and things got read. My morning meeting came round and I spent a few minutes touching base in person and by phone with some folks. It was actually lunch time before I knew it.

After lunch, I tidied up a bit more and decided that there were a few emails that I needed to respond to as well as some that needed to be sent. But the morning was remarkably productive, all things considered. I left the office in the early afternoon and dealt with email once I got to the home office.

I'm thinking maybe this should be my normal approach to Monday morning... One of the things that I tend not to do very much is really sit down and be planful about my week. I could have done that this morning for this week, absent the all day meetings that will kill the balance of the week. I tend to walk in and boot my laptop before my coat is off. I'm reading email and responding before my "Grabber" breakfast sandwich has cooled off. I guess sometimes, you simply need to turn off the connectedness for a while and think. New lesson learned for the day...