Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ATR: Twitter

A couple of weeks ago, at a half day seminar that I presented to the ARMA Nebraska Chapter, I said something humorous about "twits Tweeting" (I liked the alliteration) . With all due respect to my esteemed professional colleagues who Tweet with regularity, I hope you understand that I wasn't talking about you.

I opened a Twitter account the other day and began doing some "Following" this evening. There's a work-related reason for this, but we'll add that story to the book of stories that I can't ever tell in public. It will be a long book at the rate things are going.


I decided to see what this "Following" thing was all about. So I "Followed" some of my fellow bloggers, some work-related Twitter accounts, and some odds and ends. Next thing I know, people are thanking me for Following them, and inviting others to Follow ME!!!! EEEEEK! Then people I'm not Following are signing up with me and I think they are all expecting a Tweet or something. People, people, people... I can't speak in less than 75 minute increments or create a PowerPoint with less than 25 slides and there is no way in heck that I can write anything resembling a full thought in 140 characters or less. I had to create this blog because I was filling up the Listserve when I rambled on...

So sorry Followers, there will be no profundity in less than 140 characters from me. You'll have to come here for the unabridged version. And you really don't care about my general health, what I had for lunch, or what I'm shopping for, right?

Why is this post, "Above the RIM"? Well, even if you are afraid of becoming known as a twit who Tweets, you may need to join Twitter to see who is Tweeting and what presence your organization has on Twitter. You might be surprised. And when you find your organization's presence, have you found records of the organization, pointers to press releases retained elsewhere, or just the musings of twits who Tweet?

I'll be over here, trying not to bow to peer pressure or those accumulating Followers...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

ATR: Records Management as Science?

So the other day, Russell James asks, "Why Not 'Records Science'?" I read Russell's blog from time to time and he does think the deep thoughts. Russell tends to live in the archivist's world moreso than the records manager's world, but he's always thinking. It's not a bad thing. He and I both subscribe to Jac Treanor's statement that records management and archives are two sides of the same coin, so he can't be a bad guy.

Problem is, we may have missed the science bus some time ago. One of the biggest challenges to calling what we do a "science" is that most answers to records management questions start with, "It depends..." Yes, the profession is getting more and more standardized, such as is possible when the types of records are nearly infinite. And just when we think we have one system of records nailed down, something else pops up. ARMA posits the "Generally Accepted Records Principles" and a bunch of records managers scream, "I don't accept those!"

This all takes me back to my (still in progress) read of "Everything is Miscellaneous". Now could ARMA have chosen a more antithetical keynote speaker at Conference? We records managers want order. We create order from disorder. That's what we share in common with librarians and archivists, and to some extent, historians. But our order is rarely consistent or standard. Librarians rely on Mr. Dewey and the Library of Congress. Archivists describe to the rigor of MARC formatting. We just hope that people don't call paid invoices "pinks" or "paid bills". We rail at IT-folks who want to declare email a record type. We pale at the thought of deciding, arbitrarily, "If it hasn't been touched in two years, delete it!" We run interference for lawyers and try to thrash the ones who demand that we implement the latest vendor's "email archival" (whatever the heck that usage means -- I'm still trying to figure out if "archival" is used as a noun). We debate at length if a Tweet is a record and if so, how and where do we retain it. Where once we had thousands of line items on our retention schedules and shared those statistics with great pride and no little bit of chest-thumping, we now try to whittle the retention schedule down to 100 or so buckets inside of a half-dozen "big buckets" (and argue about what those really are). Our science is in constant flux and under continuous attack.

And this in a constant state of cost-cutting, insane advances in technology, outsourcing to the lowest bidder, and the anarchy of the records creator. Years ago, I wanted a concession at the ARMA Conference selling t-shirts that said, "Image it all, let god sort it out." Today, we're nearly better off saying, "Archive it all, let god and the lawyers sort it out." We exist in a world demanding governmental and corporate "transparency", where transparency comes from laws and regulations demanding retention of records. Court systems demand accounting for records and explanations for records not produced. But the courts live in the records and technology world of ten years ago. With each passing day, the anarchy of the records creators reigns supreme. Today I learned about an engineering initiative at Google called the "Data Liberation Front", where the mission statement is:

Users own the data they store in any of Google's products. Our team's goal is to give users greater control by making it easier for them to move data in and out.

Now one of the challenges for these guys is understanding who the customer is. While most of Google's customer's are individuals, Google also seeks the enterprise / corporate customer (and the link to this was found on Google's Enterprise Blog). Unfortunately, the last thing that you want in your organization's scientific approach to records management is even more user optionality. If you have science, you demand repeatability. An infinite number of independent users with an infinite number of unique records means an infinite number of outcomes. Google's sincere approach to the corporate customer is (and I have heard it almost verbatim from two different Google employees in different venues), "We're a search company. Just keep everything and we'll help you find it when you need it." No need to worry about metadata. No need to get rid of pesky personal emails or spam that sneaks through. No need for deduplication. Don't bother classifying, just keep it all. The term they repeat is, "an immutable archive", Uh huh. (Now I could rant about Google's naivete for a couple hundred more words, but I'll stop now.) They are coming around to a more "corporate" way of thinking, but they aren't there yet.

So let me return to Russell's premise. Russell wants us (and our kindred spirits in archives management) to refer to ourselves as "records scientists". Unfortunately, I'm afraid that if we go down that path, the only white coats that we'll wear will have extra long sleeves that tie around back. Let's take a look at Pat's definition of information and records.... Stuff gets created, lots of it. We like to call this stuff "information". We records managers create governance policies that separate the information into categories of "records" and "non-records". We care about records, so much so that we divide the records into "series", although sometimes we like to call those series, "buckets". Because we give each record an assignment into a series, we can easily find what we need by searching for records that are part of the same series. We make sure that records that are stored are associated with metadata that identifies and categorizes the records by series and dates and lots of other bits of data. To each series, we assign a lifespan called a "retention period". At the end of the lifespan, we expect that the records will undergo "disposition". If found worthy, some dispositioned records find their way to the Historical Archives, where they are carefully cataloged and preserved for all eternity (or until the company has to sell them on E-Bay). Everything else gets deleted, wiped, shredded, pulverized, incinerated, or pulped. That makes for a nice flow chart, a pretty PowerPoint slide, wonderful documentation, and total chaos in the real world. Why? Because no layperson can understand any step in that process to the same degree that we do. And they really don't care. They create stuff all day. Some of the stuff belongs to them; some of the stuff belongs to their employer, but the creator doesn't understand that, either. It's all "their stuff". They know that sometimes their stuff is needed and sometimes no one ever cares about it again. But it really becomes important only when they can't find their stuff. So they create their own means of organization, in a manner that makes perfect sense to them. And try as we may, our equally arbitrary means of creating taxonomies and series and buckets simply doesn't resonate.

So where does that leave us? The basic problem, in my opinion, is that we have spent far too much time dealing with records in a hands on manner. Let's face it: we like to organize all that stuff. We like the comfort of policy and structure and rules. We like to pretend that it is all so very scientific and completely repeatable. So some of us are drawn to a description of records as science. But the problem is that we spend entirely too much time doing the records management equivalent of debating whether or not Pluto is a major planet or a minor planet. It all seems so very important, but it really isn't critical to the big picture. And the problem is that while we focus on the little bits, we miss the bigger issues.

At the Day Job, I don't do as much records management as I used to. But I apply the essential "science" every day. I'm finding that there are many more issues to worry about and that the principles of records management that I learned along the way serve me well on many tasks that I never imagined I'd be doing. Let's look at those...

Litigation and Investigation Support: At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if we spend years organizing stuff into series. If it exists, it is relevant to the litigation, and it's discovered, it's called "evidence". At that point our job will be to explain where it came from, whether or not the court should trust it, and whether or not someone found all of the relevant stuff for the matter. It's real helpful to know where to look and to have mapped the locations of all the stuff in the organization so we can say that we've looked in all the right places.

Data Loss Prevention: This is a biggie. It encompasses privacy and security. It means that someone knows where the "important" (i.e. the stuff that can get us sued for losing) stuff lives and takes steps to protect that stuff and detect when it is "liberated" (to use the Google term) inappropriately.

New Technology Assessment: When someone decides to officially "Tweet", or a bunch of engineers in one part of the world want to stream a live webcam to their colleagues in another part of the world, what do we care about? When the business takes its stuff to the "Cloud", what requirements do we need to draw up?

At the end of the day, my job consists of adhering to two directives:
  1. Prevention of loss of data of concern.
  2. Minimizing disruption to the business.
"But there's so much more in what you do!" Nope. If you focus on records management, Directive 1 means that you can find the stuff that you need (if they need it, it is data of concern) and people or automated processes don't discard stuff that is required to be retained. Directive 2 means that we do whatever is possible to ensure that Directive 1 doesn't cause the business (that would be the people who make / deliver products and services and sell them) to spend a lot of time not being the business. Granted, I work in our company's Asset Protection group, but I don't think that these concepts are really foreign to anyone. Why do we classify records? So people can find them again. Why do we care about retention periods? Because we don't want records to be dispositioned too soon. Why don't people always follow our rules? Because we've somehow gotten in the way of them doing what they were hired to do.

So if it makes you feel better to call yourself a "records scientist" who practices the "science of records", be my guest. If your identity gets wrapped up in your business card, so be it. But don't be deluded into thinking that systems of records can be reduced to mathematical formulae and lines of computer code. There's a human element involved and that element doesn't appear on the Periodic Table, but sure makes a mess when it gets involved in records management. Our job is to find ways to design and govern systems that limit the chaos introduced by the human element.

Monday, September 14, 2009


It's a sad day. My two year old Motorola RAZR died suddenly. No drama, no heroic measures to save it... it just died. It was fine yesterday afternoon and last night when I went to charge it for the night, it was dead. I attempted a battery transplant and found that the battery was healthy, but the phone was DOA. I left it plugged in overnight in the hope that it might come back, but it was over. Cause of death is undetermined. The phone bore many scars from bouncing off concrete, as well as being pummeled by seat belts on a daily basis.

It is currently lying in repose on my desk at home. I think I will remove the battery for future use as a donor organ for my wife's phone. The phone itself will assume a place of honor in my office at work -- alongside my old pager and a couple of Iridium phone mock-ups.

My Q9h survives and is feeling lonely today without its constant companion next to it, competing for airtime on the Bluetooth headset.

A QA1 Karma is on order to take the place of my RAZR. Life, and technology, go on...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

OTR: Social Media and Intelligence Gathering

Over at the Day Job, a couple of events that highlight how mainstream social media is becoming... and how what you post can come back to haunt you if you're not careful.

Yesterday morning, I was up a little earlier than usual and decided to browse my Google Alerts at home rather than first thing in the morning at the office. One of the alerts was for the Day Job and highlighted a blog posting claiming that the Day Job had a Windows Mobile 7 cell phone in development. That was interesting because all the focus now is on Android. I followed some links and the source of the blog post was a LinkedIn profile for an individual in China claiming to work for the Day Job and claiming to be working on Windows Mobile 7 code for a code-named device. Yep, in his public profile.

As I followed other links, I came to this post. Seems that a blogger had spent some time mining LinkedIn profiles and came up with numerous tidbits about potential features in Windows Mobile 7, simply based upon what various people said they were working on. Interesting stuff there.

The day before, I had a meeting with a vendor that I had never met before. As we talked, it was pretty apparent that he was familiar with my work and my blog. I asked him and he pulled out a print-out of my LinkedIn profile and commented that he had pretty much read all my blog postings. There was a sudden jolt of reality check. I'm pretty transparent. Had I ever bashed this guy's company in any of that stuff? I didn't think so....

But these two events show that the blogosphere and social media are being utilized to find out information about future plans for companies and their products as well as providing a rich source of information for vendors so they can shape their pitches. Some of that is bad; some good, I suppose. But if you ever think that what you post or Tweet or blog or whatever won't someday come back to visit you, or is just between you and your small group of trusted followers, think again. And if what you do on your day job isn't for public consumption, don't go out and highlight it online to impress people or get the eye of a recruiter -- you may find that you'll be looking for work sooner, rather than later.