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...

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