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...

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