Tuesday, September 21, 2010

ATR: The Future of Records Management

I've had several opportunities for a lot of introspection recently. My own role has radically changed over the summer. I'm backing away from records management and now run a team that I call "Information Governance". The focus is really on the protection of information. My team writes our information security policies, we keep an eye on data privacy, we audit SOx compliance for IT, we do security risk assessments, and we do computer forensics. Oh yeah, records management, too. It is a unique opportunity and a broad spectrum of governance activities. I'm again drinking from the fire hose and thinking... a lot... about how to make this group make good business sense to the company.

As I go through this process, I had occasion to look at extending an offer to our summer intern to work for us full time after he graduates next year. That causes me to make sure that the path we will take him down is personally rewarding, as well as a role that truly adds value to the company. I had dinner with a long time ARMA colleague and we talked at length about the profession and the Association and where it is heading. One of my staff has had an opportunity to step outside his comfort zone and enter a totally new professional focus as a leader and talking to him about his interests and capabilities gave me pause. I'm also speaking as a part of the Fellows forum at ARMA on just this topic and wanted to start sorting my thoughts out. Lastly, a dear colleague shared some of her musings online and those thoughts also set my head into a noodling mood.

As I look at our profession, I continue to wonder if it will exist a few years down the road. Is it truly a profession? Nearly 20 years ago, as a wide-eyed youngster in the profession, I was asked to participate in writing the Code of Professional Responsibility. At the time, we felt it was another step on the road to being recognized as a profession. But along the way, we seem to have lost focus on professional practice. The window to properly deal with email opened and closed. We records managers tried to manage it by insisting that email be printed and filed as in the old days. Like many Japanese-held islands in the Pacific during WWII, we were quickly bypassed. The inability of our profession to come to grips with the explosion of electronic records will spell the doom of the profession. In many organizations, that omission has made us irrelevant. If you look at two of the "hot" topics in technology, cloud computing and smart phones, we're seldom found. Google and the other cloud providers ignore retention as we know it and most organizations have no way to deal with records created on mobile technologies.

We can talk about the need to properly retain information, but there is so much accumulating and so little time and resource to manage it, that information just gets piled up and shunted into cheap storage. I fear the day when there is a significant judicial ruling punishing a company for diligently attempting to, yet failing to, manage electronic records in a manner satisfactory to a judge. The real fear there is that the judge will suggest that the company should have just kept everything if it couldn't have a completely compliant program. I see hints of that sort of thinking in a lot of places. It is what Google suggests to customers.

The failure is that we have focused on the tactics that won the last war and we have not adopted new strategies to win the next war. We continue to be drawn into debates about tactics and not ones that are about strategy. We fail to deliver meaningful value to the business. Yes, those are significant indictments of our profession.

Part of the problem comes down to simple constraints of a profession that rarely has members reach significant management status. The cardboard ceiling is very real. That lack of status means lack of visibility and influence. It means lack of buying capability and power and that means lack of market influence.

We are also fundamentally challenged when it comes to technology. I can't recall how many times I have stood in front of an ARMA audience talking about something in technology and the majority of the audience not only were unaware of the issue -- they were unaware of the technology of which I spoke. And many had no desire to try and deal with the issue. This vacuum has allowed IT professionals into our tent. IT is becoming more about the information and less about the technology. Recently, a senior IT executive told me that she wanted to be out of the "infrastructure" business and more into the information business -- finding ways for IT to help the business use and manage information. I would submit that information utility and utilization will drive retention periods more than any law that is passed.

The days of thousand line item retention schedules are over. I'd further suggest that the days of one hundred line item retention schedules are over. The end user in most organizations can't deal with more than four or five choices and likely would prefer that the decision about retention be made automatically.

So where does that leave us? Clearly, most records managers will have little opportunity for advancement. Those who do advance have great foundations to cover a broad spectrum of information issues. They can translate between IT and Legal. They can listen to the business. They can think creatively while setting bounds for new ways of managing information. But these opportunities will likely come along for a small subset of the profession. It will take a lot of personal effort, and a whole lot of right place and right time luck for many to progress.

A healthy dose of realism is required for us all. The days of starting in the file room and getting promoted into managing the records management department with 40 staff are likely gone from most organizations. The file room is a commodity to be outsourced. The records center, likewise. Imaging, the same. Microfilm, yep, a commodity. Certainly, there are pockets of records management work that will stay in house for economic or control reasons. But the base of records management will shrink. At the same time, higher end positions will likely come to the fore as adjuncts of litigation functions or compliance departments. Unfortunately, those positions will require education, deep communications skills, and significant business sense. You don't get that with a high school diploma and command of the alphabet.

I've argued here and on the Records Management Listserve that people need to "show their work". It disturbs me that so much of what we do is not footnoted or referenced. There is no standard "body of knowledge". We have much to do, folks. Handouts, opinions, and no real standard vocabulary and method do not a profession make.

So where does this leave ARMA, AIIM, and the profession at large? The opportunity for these professional organizations is that there are no other organizations out there who can step up and lead the records management profession into the future. The challenge is hooking the right people with the right message and the right skills and tools to meet the needs of information management broadly. That requires vision and the ability to build on the past without remaining anchored by the past. It likely means moving away from the old core constituencies. This is hard to do. ARMA started down that path a number of years ago and mangled the change management. But change and growth are necessary for survival. Maybe ARMA's GARP initiative is the hook and the opportunity. But that will take a lot of push and a few breaks along the way.

I'll keep thinking about this topic more as we get closer to San Francisco.

ATR: The Speed of Business

Elsewhere in the tempus fugit world...

January 21, Associated Press – (International) Warming could open Arctic to data cable. Global warming has melted so much Arctic ice that a telecommunication group is moving forward with a project that was unthinkable just a few years ago: laying underwater fiber optic cable between Tokyo and London by way of the Northwest Passage. The proposed system would nearly cut in half the time it takes to send messages from the United Kingdom to Asia, said the CEO of Kodiak-Kenai Cable Co. The route is the shortest underwater path between Tokyo and London. The quicker transmission time is important in the financial world where milliseconds can count in executing profitable trades and transactions. “Speed is the crux,” the CEO said. “You’re cutting the delay from 140 milliseconds to 88 milliseconds.” Source: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34980901/ns/us_news-environment/

Now I would tend to suggest that a cable from London to Tokyo via the Arctic would represent a monetary savings simply by being shorter and probably not having anything to do with pesky telecommunications companies in North America, but what do I know? The stated reason is to cut the delay from "140 milliseconds to 88 milliseconds". Not quite by half, but we're still talking milliseconds here. That's quite literally, less time than the blink of an eye. But this is where we're at. Business needs to reduce communications time to fewer milliseconds of latency. In one of my presentations, I talk about records managers often being Kodachrome in a digital camera world. The buzzword for today is velocity. Your decisions about records and the ability for an end user to make decisions about records, has to be the briefest instant. There's simply too much stuff and not enough time to spend the amount of time filing that once was the norm. When businesses are trying to shave milliseconds off of a transaction, we can't be asking users to scroll through hundreds of line items in a retention schedule.

OTR: Tempus Fugit

Tempus fugit... time flies. My 30th high school reunion coincides with the alma mater's Homecoming this weekend. I've decided to go back and check the place out, as well as see what some of my classmates look like in our middle age. Facebook postings likely will follow.

I was thinking about this on the way home today. A bunch of us old timers will be at the football game Friday night, standing outside the fence or sitting in the stands and we'll be as relevant to the kids on the field as a bunch of class of 1950 alumni would have been to us. And if we pause to think about that, our reaction will be, "Nah, those guys were OLD, we just went to school here a few years ago." And then we'll set about complaining that in our day we played football on Saturday afternoons, in the sun, on the grass, and our parents sat on the old bleachers across the street. No lights, no turf, and no fancy college stadium.

I thought about that 30 year gap for a few minutes... The class of 1950 was born in roughly 1932. We were generally born in 1962, and the kids who graduated last spring were generally born in 1992. That roughly corresponds to our parents, us, and our children... three generations. And what of the experiences of those generations? When we graduated, the school was just beginning to deploy the TRS-80 personal computer. The IBM PC was still a year away. The kids in that school today are likely carrying laptops or iPads and / or smartphones. One smartphone likely has more computing power than all the computers in the school in 1980. Our parents went to school at the dawn of the computing age, where one computer weighed tons and barely had the power of a basic pocket calculator.

We were the first class to have to buy a personal calculator and probably the last class to buy slide rules. My letter jacket was wool and leather, not synthetic and vinyl. We still had 45rpm records. The science classrooms had just been built. I think they've all been replaced with more recent construction. The school has two gyms and a proper theatre. We got by with one gym and a makeshift theatre. we watched game films on film, then on a "big screen" projection TV, which needed a special ("DON'T TOUCH!!!!") screen and likely cost many thousands of dollars.

Even more striking is thinking about what each generation grew up experiencing. Our parents were children of the Depression and WWII. The TV was a luxury item in 1950. But they would grow to adulthood in the relative prosperity of the 1950's. We were born in Camelot and became aware of the world during Vietnam, the assassinations, and the riots of 1968. We stayed up late to watch the Moon landing. We survived the first energy crisis and the inflation of the 1970's without really understanding it. Our children came to age during the dot com boom and likely have never known a day without the Internet or email. The witnessed 9/11, the Iraq and Afghan wars and the recession of today.

We want to think that our parents left us smarter and more privileged than they were. We hope that our children are smarter and more well off than we are. Our grandparents made the world safe for Democracy. our parents exercised their democratic rights loudly, we took democracy for granted, and our children wonder if democracy and western civilization will prevail.

Each generation has made its own brand on the world. When we read about the things that our parents lived through, it feels like ancient history. When my 13 year old hears me talk about the Moon landing, I'm sure she feels the same way. Tempus fugit.

I know when I look at the roster of the kids playing football, my first thought is "What the heck are they feeding these kids?" There's a kid that's 6'5" and 320 lbs. And I suspect he isn't sitting on the bench munching chips. I think they have something like 15 kids over 200 lbs. I think we had two or three and that was pushing it. I imagine that there are a few more of us today... I know what I've been eating...

And so a few of us will gather, we'll tell some stories and more than a few lies. We'll likely gossip about this person or that person. We'll inflate a resume or two. We'll measure ourselves against our peers, but probably give greater measure to our legacy. Or so I hope.

Tempus fugit.

Monday, May 24, 2010

OTR: Reflections on Jury Service

About a month ago, I received the dreaded Summons for jury service. The good news was that I was a "Standby Juror", which meant that I needed to call the courthouse the night before service to see if I was needed. The bad news was that if I wasn't needed, another notice would float in shortly summoning me to serve. Unfortunately, the timing of the notice left a lot to be desired, with various dates for job candidates to be interviewed, start dates for new employees, speaking engagements, and whatnot. But the Thursday in question could be cleaned up if necessary and my track record over 25 years or so was never setting foot in a courtroom. And even if selected, I know cops and lawyers... lots of lawyers. I have made records and e-discovery my expertise. I testify on behalf of a Fortune 100 corporation... who would want me on their jury?

Wednesday night... "If your last name begins with a letter between B and N... please come to the courthouse tomorrow." So I packed a bag. I left the laptop behind, but had a couple books, some writing material and enough to keep me occupied for a day. Summons in hand, I strolled into the courthouse about 9am for the 9:30 am call, confident that I would have a nice day of studying as usual when jury service beckons. My Summons was exchanged for a number "16" piece of paper and an instruction sheet. I found an empty seat and settled in with a book as the video about jury service began to play. We were admonished to stay in this half of the room until we were told we could move around freely because they had some juries to call. No problem, I have number sixteen, I thought...

"Attention jurors! Pools 16 and 35, please come up front!"

Eh? Did they say 16?

So my brain rationalized, "Well, the last time this happened, they settled as soon as we were standing outside the courtroom. They passed out checks and sent us home. Cool, maybe I'll be home for lunch." So we trooped on to an elevator. There were 36 of us. No one looked real happy. We assembled in the courtroom in short order. The judge introduced everyone and asked if anyone knew any of the principals. And so it went. Lunchtime came and $10 later I was back in the courtroom as they continued weeding through the pool. Then the judge started calling names. I heard my own and took a seat in the jury box as directed. My heart sank. And sank again when the judge dismissed the 24 lucky people not selected. We were there for the duration. I held out hope that the parties still might settle, even with a seated jury. My mind raced through things that needed to be reorganized in my world. Then the judge sent us home, telling us that the case would be concluded "no later than Wednesday." That was a small positive, but I figured that I'd be late for the meeting of colleagues that I was hosting that Wednesday and this judge was not looking for excuses.

So began service. The case, in a nutshell, was a tenant suing a landlord because the tenant allegedly fell down a flight of stairs and was injured, that injury then made worse by subsequent treatment. It was a personal injury lawsuit. Yea. Graphic photos of ugly injured body parts would follow. Unintelligible medical terminology. Failed attempts at establishing foundation for evidence. Apparent discrepancies between sworn depositions and sworn testimony. And then the case would be placed in our hands.

The twelve of us had a fair amount of time together -- time where we couldn't talk about the case, but really had little else in common. So small bits of smalltalk, comments about public transit, reflections about the quality of the refreshments, whatever would pass the moments waiting for the wheels of justice to continue their turn.

By Tuesday morning, the evidence was complete and the lawyers geared up for the big finish. Plaintiff's attorney opened with the photos of the injured ankle. He demanded justice for his client. Defense recounted the holes in the Plaintiff's case, then forgot what he was going to say about why the plaintiff complained to the local building department. We all wanted to help him out because we managed to remember, but we sat stoically. Plaintiff's attorney came back for an undemanded encore and his big finish. He opened by insulting the defendant, referring to her and her boyfriend as "shacking up". That got the loudest objection from the Defense and an admonition from the judge. It scored zero points with the jury. We all sat there trying to understand that he had actually said that -- and what in the world he was trying to accomplish with that statement. But he moved on mercifully. The judge warned him that he had five minutes to wrap up. He launched into his finish and finally got around to what the Plaintiff was asking for. He laid out the damages for lost wages, at which point the judge told him that his time was up. Whoops. The judge's look conveyed a "I dare you to open your mouth" meaning. The lawyer looked like a fish out of water. He gathered up his papers and slunk back to his seat. The case was about to be ours.

The judge passed out written instructions and walked us through them. The bottom line was that the Plaintiff had to prove negligence by the Defendant on at least one of the counts AND prove "proximate cause" of the injury from the negligence. We retired to the jury room. Bio breaks happened and apparently I was elected foreman while I was taking mine. So I polled the jurors to see where they were. They all pretty much vented on the ineptitude of the Plaintiff's attorney. I reminded everyone of what we were instructed to disregard and what we were there to decide. We threw out two of the three negligence claims after a couple rounds of discussion. The last item of negligence was fairly clear, so we decided that we had the required act of negligence. Now we had to tie it to the injury. I read the judge's instruction on "proximate cause". Unfortunately, the Plaintiff's discrepancies in his story left us with the conclusion that we couldn't tie the negligence to the injury as the Plaintiff described what had happened.

Lunch was served and we discussed the outcome while we chewed. One juror was stuck. He felt that the Defendant was negligent, the Plaintiff was injured in proximity to the negligence, so we should find for the Plaintiff. I re-read the instruction about Proximate Cause. Others argued that they couldn't connect the two. That juror finally agreed with the rest of us. We had a verdict. We found for the Defendant. A light and buzzer announced our decision. We signed the verdict forms, then we waited for everyone to gather in the courtroom. We marched out together and the judge asked me if we had a verdict. I answered, "Yes we have, your honor." That would be my sole public act. I handed over the forms to the deputy, the judge reviewed them and read them to the court. The case was over. No drama, no hysterics, just a weary sigh from the jurors. The judge then thanked us at length for our service. He walked us through the history of the jury trial. Then he said something that really stuck with me... "There are three things that the United States demands of its citizens. First, to pay taxes. Second, to serve in the defense of the country in time of war. Third to serve on a jury. All of these demands come with a penalty for failure to comply -- the loss of freedom." I'm not sure that's completely accurate, but you get the gist.

There was a demand once more for everyone to rise for the jury and we went back to the jury room, collected our cell phones and said our good byes. The judge came in to thank us again and pass out our certificates of service. He dismissed us and we were free.

So four days of this experience left me with some thoughts about jury service. Perhaps the biggest impression is that I forget how privileged my life is. I'm surrounded at work by extraordinarily smart people -- and yes, lawyers who could litigate circles around the guys in that courtroom. My fellow jurors were almost uniformly a blue collar crowd. People in my role in their world are out of sight for them. For me, jury service was an inconvenience. The day job paid me and I could keep the princely sum of $17.20 a day for my trouble. For some of the others, they didn't get paid by their employers and those who did get paid had to turn in the check. The instructions from the judge were difficult for me to understand. For several jurors, they really didn't understand. Uniformly, however, we didn't want to be there. Civic duty or not, we didn't want the responsibility and we wanted to be anywhere else. Some walked away with a sense of duty and thankfulness that we concluded the trial quickly, but given a choice of other things to do, we would have rather been elsewhere.

Monday, March 29, 2010

ATR: Thoughts on Social Networking

I've been asked to do some presentations this Spring on social networking and records management. I created a Facebook account and a Twitter account and have been observing both of these accounts for a while.

I sort of like Facebook, although I think it is dangerous from a privacy standpoint. It's also a complete mess from a records management standpoint, for organizations that have an organizational presence. What I do like is the ability to keep up with friends and find old ones who have drifted away. When something is going on, it's fun to see a bunch of posts from people and know that everyone is sharing in the experience together via Facebook. I worry about all the games going on. These things feel like opportunities to suck people in and extract personal data from them. Honestly, I really don't care about your virtual hobbies or games.

I have yet to Tweet. I doubt that I could adequately express myself in less than 144 characters. I also have found little value there. The information overload when you try to "follow" a bunch of stuff is simply too much. Even commercial sites like United Airlines or Motorola simply have too much chaff to make the wheat worthwhile. And a lot of the wheat is extremely time sensitive, so it is difficult to have the information delivered efficiently and act upon it.

I do find value in "crowdsourcing" or "the wisdom of the crowd", as some will put it. Yelp is a good example of that. While I have seen some evidence of astroturfing, as well as evidence that people deliberately bash some places, I generally find pretty reasonable reviews of restaurants and services. I'm a little nervous about some of the accusations made against Yelp lately, where Yelp has been accused of spiking bad reviews for businesses that pay for placement. I worry about the pay to play aspect of Yelp and that this monetization model will water down the value of the service and the accuracy of the reviews. Along with Yelp in this space, Wikipedia is probably a good example of crowdsourcing that generally works. Wikipedia has issues with defacement and bias, but the crowd generally deals with those issues fairly quickly.

In my mind, the value propositions are the social aspect of the network and the crowd aspect of the network. The more people participate, the better the experience will be.

A troubling additional aspect of Facebook and Twitter comes from the oversharing that can take place. I see a number of people taking somewhat extreme political positions. In many cases, I had no idea of their political views. What bothers me is when the positions are extreme or the viewpoint causes these people to post links to inaccurate web pages that buttress their positions. It is disturbing to see otherwise intelligent individuals post links to news items that are fabrications and rife with errors. One such news item was posted as fact by a national news organization, when the source was, in fact, satire.

This problem can be magnified in an organization's official presence if the organization does not police its own statements as well as the postings of others on its social networking presence. What makes things worse is that the organization is at the mercy of the social networking provider in terms of retention of the content of the social networking site. If Twitter decides to delete old Tweets, there is very little that the organization can do about it. So recording what was posted by and to the organization is pretty much a crapshoot. This will likely have legal implications for some organizations at some point if they don't develop a strategy to deal with this content. for public agencies, the problem is magnified by laws and regulations governing public records.

If you work for an organization that has a social networking presence (or multiple presences), you need to understand how these presences are being used and what is being done to ensure that a record is being maintained. There may be liability without a clear process and a plan to retain at least certain aspects of the content. For example, if an organization makes a battery-powered device, it would be problematic if someone posted a Tweet back to the company that the devices were exploding and the company either responded poorly or failed to act upon the notice. The individuals responsible for the social networking presence need very clear guidance on how to act in those sorts of situations, as well as how to capture and retain the information.

Enjoy social networking, but keep your farm to yourself.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

OTR: Fixing Illinois Government

No, I'm not running for office, nor do I intend to run for office, short of winning this week's Mega Millions... This is waaaay off topic...

There are some fundamental problems with government in this state that lead to incredible inefficiencies and outright waste. I listened to a state senator on the radio this morning and he exemplifies what is wrong with the governing class. The man kept saying, "I'm no actuarial." Well, he's no rocket scientist or English major, either. He claims to be a man of the people, getting his job in the state senate from humble beginnings as a barber. Uh huh. The guy is a career politician and sups at multiple public troughs. Besides being a state senator, he also is a township supervisor and the chairman of the public health district for his township. That is far from being a citizen representative and it probably yields him several pensions, besides the multiple public paychecks. Those jobs right now yield him over $150,000 a year -- for what amounts to two part time jobs. That's one example. So here's my list of opportunities to reduce waste and inefficiencies:

1) Eliminate double dipping for public employees, particularly with regard to public pensions. There are all too many public officials who maintain jobs with, and / or are elected to serve, multiple units of government. This inevitably means that these people are entitled to multiple public pensions, often with grossly inflated payouts, simply by being named to a do nothing job immediately prior to retirement.

2) Eliminate layers of local governments. In most parts of Illinois, Township government adds no value. The structure is archaic and simply exists to create nepotism. County government can provide the same services -- and often already does -- in most parts of the state.

3) Combine municipalities. Cook County has more than 120 municipalities, including the City of Chicago. Some of these municipalities have fewer than 1000 residents. Many are struggling, and all create huge inefficiency in delivering services. Municipalities should look to combine whenever the population served is less than 50,000 in urban areas. In rural areas, municipal government and county government should combine.

4) Combine municipal services wherever possible. In some area, fire departments and libraries serve multiple municipalities. This practice should be expanded, creating larger and more efficient agencies for these services. The practice of joint services for emergency dispatch should also be expanded.

5) Special purpose taxing bodies should be combined. For example, in Cook County, there are several Mosquito Abatement Districts. These need to be combined. There are special sewer districts, in addition to the Metropolitan Sanitary District. The list goes on.

6) Standardize and combine public pension funds and reduce the ability for the pension funds to be abused by public employees. While some jobs in public service are hazardous and difficult (particularly public safety), many public pension plans allow employees to retire at a significantly early age and collect a pension for an unreasonable period of time -- and at rates which are simply not sustainable from an actuarial (that's how you use the word) standpoint.

7) Require term limits at all levels of government. Eliminate career politicians.

8) Create K-12 unit school districts. Many K-8 districts serve only one or two schools and there is seldom proper coordination between those districts and the receiving high school district.

9) Eliminate the ability of a politician to be succeeded in office by a family member. Eliminate nepotism and patronage.

10) Ensure that violations of the public trust are dealt with swiftly and harshly. Right now, the risk / reward calculation for a corrupt politician provides little incentive to avoid corrupting influences. While Illinois is something of a leader in sending politicians to jail, that is not something to be proud of. The fact that people get caught and go to jail seems to have little influence on behavior. That means that we aren't catching enough crooks or putting enough pain in sentencing.

I'm sure that if I sat around for a while, I'd find many more to add to the list. I'm tired of sitting and seeing government and government employees feel entitled to take more and more every year while doing next to nothing to increase productivity. I guess I need to stop thinking like government can actually be run honestly and efficiently...