Keeping Records for Changing Organizations: who's minding the store?

Richard E. Barry, Barry Associates
© 1997 R. E. Barry

N.B.: This is a draft, unpublished, paper that has been prepared in association with a National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) annual conference presentation in Sacramento, California, July 16-19, 1997. The author invites comments. Any references to this paper should note, along with attribution to the author, that it is an unpublished draft paper.


This is an essay on the intersection of change management and records management. It is based on my own research but, even more so, it comes from personal experiences as a participant in several business systems analysis and organizational change processes and from listening to others who have emerged as survivors of such processes, and to some who didn't think they were. It is intended not as a critique of, but rather as an accompaniment to, Chauncey Bell's presentation "Remembering the Future: Organizational Change: What it is and what does it mean for records professionals?" My purpose is to pick up from and extend that discussion still further into the realm of recordkeeping in modern organizations where change is now or soon will be seen as the steady state rather than as something that is scheduled ever five to seven years as has been the situation in years past. I will also not say much about how we got to the point where we are not where organizations are more than ever seen as living, breathing organisms that are constantly shedding old skin and growing new. Those of you who are interested in pursuing this subject more fully may find two additional sources useful:

In this paper, I will speak to some of the belief systems that have been in place in the archives and records management (ARM) community for a long time, how related beliefs have begun to collide with changing belief systems elsewhere in modern organizations and relate why the results of change processes may seem very positive to senior managers looking toward improved services but may present serious recordkeeping risks. A number of suggestions will be put forward to assist archivists and records mangers in minimizing these risks.

Special Public Sector Factors

Before going any further, it is important to begin any discussion of organizational change with a group such as NAGARA that represents public sector organizations with a reminder that organizational change must take account of special factors that are at work in the public sector. It is not accidental that most texts on the subjects of change management and business process re-engineering related only to the private sector - for example those by Hammer and Champy (Reengineering the Corporation (1993), Thomas Davenport, Process Innovation: Reengineering Work Through Information Technology (1993), and Morris & Brandon, Re-engineering Your Business, (1993)). In none of these books are public sector examples used. Indeed, none have an index reference to the public sector. When this author asked the authors of two of the three of these texts why that was, the answers were that public sector organizations are difficult to change because they respond to forces other than those of the marketplace. Does this mean that public sector organizations are not amenable to fundamental change? Not in need of change? Not worth the effort? I submit that public sector organizations are amenable to and in need of change and are definitely worth the effort. Given recent changes in budget legislation, it is also safe to say that major change in the public sector is inevitable. There is at least one exception to the absence of the public sector in the change management literature: Creating a Government That Works Better & Costs Less: Report of the National Performance Review, Vice President Al Gore, Chair, and this gives evidence that serious change in the public sector is already under way. In the next session, National Archivist, John Carlin, will be speaking to how the change process has been undertaken at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Having said that, it is important that transformation processes undertaken in the public sector recognize some of the factors that do make government different in at least some service areas and ensure that these are not lost in the redesign of processes. Unlike the private sector, there are certain services that must be provided that are regarded to be in the public interest but that are not otherwise available services, such as public safety services, public transport, some public health services, revenue collection, etc. The keeping of public records and making them accessible to the public in timely and convenient ways may not be a profitable thing for the government to do, but it is essential to the maintenance of democracy and the protection of human rights.

Some public services can be partly or totally outsourced, but probably many would fail to be sufficiently profitable to survive a knock-down private sector change process. Similarly, in the public sector, equity issues may play heavily in certain business processes to ensure that our country preserves its democratic principles. The recent national objective to place personal computers in every classroom and library is an example, to avoid the creation of a subculture of 'infonots' who do not enjoy any access to the information resources that most people are able to obtain on their own. There are also special roles of regulatory agencies which are in place to guard the public against such disasters as stock market crashes or dangerous drugs or food preparation practices. Finally, public sector organizations are more subject to political changes and pressures that may reverse themselves with new administrations in ways that force change for reasons not necessarily related to efficiency or effectiveness. A recent example of this has to do with the Food and Drug Administration. A Science journal report warns: "FDA Under Siege: The Public at Risk" (Science, 6/13/97, p. 1627).

Prevailing conditions and beliefs in ARM

In the early 1980s and before, the prevailing belief systems and understandings about recordkeeping that were in place in most ARM organizations were in a state of relative symbiosis with those of the workplace more generally. Some of the prevailing conditions and beliefs are outlined below.

Archives and records management functions enjoyed a typically very low priority - organizationally, budget-wise (both with respect to staffing and investment in technology) and in terms of influence on broader policy or workplace patterns.

Records were organized in 'fonds', 'records groups' or 'archive groups'- "The primary division in the arrangement of archives at the level of the independent unit or agency" according to the creating organization, sometimes called 'the office of record' that created the records (if internal) or received them (if external) - the narrower interpretation of the term 'provenance' that is common in the U. S.

While ARM organizations carried out important services, they typically operated from a perspective of sound administration. Records management was carried out as part of the normal administration of organizations.

ARM professionals carried out their work in the comfortable and reasoned knowledge that what they were doing was either required by the law or other jurisdictional mandate, whether at the national, state or local policy levels or at the organizational levels of churches, private enterprises, associations, etc. They had a mandate that they did not have to justify and everyone understood that. Service came second and low budgetary priority often made it necessary to limit services in terms of hours and days of operation, turnaround times, research support, etc.

The then-current system (what we now refer to as the legacy system) was one that was purely analog in nature, usually stored and presented on the original paper and/or in microform. Some organizations also had non-standard records assets, such as maps, and analog sound and moving picture records assets. From the very beginnings in the use of word processing systems - even before the advent of personal computers - paper records began to increase in annual volumes in a non-linear fashion, possibly one of the first signals that things were changing. This was true both for current operational records as well as for records of continuing value as operational units began to feel the space squeeze themselves and saw the advantage of bringing about early transfer of records to archival custody. Because no serious attention was paid to the original electronic forms of these documents, the increase in volume was somehow managed as a matter of economies of scale. As long as there were no staff reductions, and perhaps with some improvement in storage cabinet technologies (such as motorized, moving shelving) and finding aids (especially if resources could be gotten for a mainframe or mini-computer application), and if necessary with some modest curtailment of hours for user visitors coming to research or borrow files, the existing staff could be counted on to manage the increases in paper files that hopefully would level off in any case. While budgets and staffing levels were usually held flat, sometimes there were even modest increases, e.g., to mitigate the requirements for additional office or storage space. But there rarely had there been budget cuts.

The growth in paper records did not level off, but continued on a rapid upward scale. The advent of personal computers and work group and personal printers seemed to make things even worse. More written communications, more versions of reports. ARM organizations had to really stretch to keep up with the increasing volumes of records. As those organizations began to become vested with personal computers, in many cases years after the bulk of their parent organizations were already enjoying a ratio of 1:1 PCs to staff, ARM professionals began to realize that there was an increasing need to deal more directly with records in their native electronic forms. As organizations began to use local area networks, more files were maintained on servers - no longer just on PC hard drives. Attorneys began to worry that even if these electronic versions were not seen to be records, they were there and might be seen as evidence and be the subject of discovery proceedings and wind up having the same weight in a courtroom as their paper counterparts. Thus, the need for organizing records in their electronic forms and linking them to related paper records began to be realized among leading ARM professionals.

The bulk of the labor involved in managing records was seen to be mainly of a custodial nature. There were, of course, important intellectual processes that had to be carried out as well. Records groups or sub-groups (series) did have to be appraised to determine their administrative, legal and social value to the organization and be sentenced with appropriate disposition or retention schedules reflecting how long the organization needed to keep them. Yet, this activity was lightened by virtue of the fact that some of the records had pre-determined disposition requirements in the law and others were amenable to professional standards or guidelines for different kinds of records (finance, personnel, etc.) They also had to be properly pre-classified upon their arrival in the record center and index them using a thesaurus or other controlled vocabulary or authority list to clearly link them to major categories (subject, geographical area, organization, project) and for use by finding aids. And often there were requirements to go back to the source of the record to obtain missing information necessary for carry out the classification tasks.

However, much more by way of resources had to be spent in physically moving records from originators to the records centers (which is why in many organizations, especially in Europe, ARM, mail room and communications functions were consolidated) and around within the record centers - removing records from the incoming mail trays and sorting them into their appropriate file groups, getting them into the right files, placing the files in the right place in the stacks or cabinets, retrieving them for staff requiring them, logging them out and back in, examining them to ensure that nothing was missing, replacing them in the stacks, etc. In the case of archives, and usually several years after the time that the records were originally created, those records which had been designated as having permanent, continuing or archival value were accessioned to (formally transferred to the physical custody of) and accepted by the archives in accordance with their assigned retention schedules. Various intellectual processes are carried out to assure their proper contextual arrangement, similar to those described above during their earlier life.

Here again, however, a considerable amount of the labor involved is related to physical custody, including: removing staples, clamps and other metal bindings; taking care to ensure that the original order of the records is retained to preserve not just the content and context of the records but even the ways in which they were organized and used by the originating individual, office or institution; updating finding aids to reflect their new physical location addresses by facility, room, stack, shelf and box number; placing them in special, archival, acid-free boxes, marking those boxes with their content, etc. Indeed it was not unusual for vacancy announcements for archives to stipulate as a job requirement the ability (and predisposition) to lift and carry heavy boxes and to climb ladders.

Referring to the custodial mind-set should not be misinterpreted as suggesting that ARM professional do little more than carry out mindless activities, moving mountains of papers around. Senior members of the ARM team not only carry out the intellectual activities outlined above and train their subordinates, but also are engaged in a myriad of important intellectual activities as do senior professionals in any field. What is intended here is to indicate the overall emphasis of ARM organizations, most of which operate with a preponderance of clerical support staff whose pay, training, technological resources and support, and other overhead costs, typically make up the bulk of the ARM budget. It would be impossible to carry out the ARM job without this emphasis, because of the sheer physical nature of paper records, and the enormous facility resources needed for their storage and tending.

These conditions and beliefs were not invented purely by ARM professionals but were generally accepted as part of the cost of doing business and integral to administration in a public or private sector bureaucracy. They are, in fact - give or take tuning for productivity improvements and the use of computer-assisted tools for the management of physical things - conditions and beliefs that in large part are necessary to manage physical collections of records. Nor are they unique to recordkeeping. Like conditions and belief systems have long been in place for many activities in the library and museum communities where a large part of the game is similarly dedicated to the management of physical objects. One of a number of differences, however, that works to the disfavor of the ARM organization is that museums (and libraries) are more likely to enjoy higher status and priority because of the fact that a price can be placed on the objects of their collections and the value of their overall collections is usually very high. Only recently have organizations begun to place a value on information and rarely do they include records in their calculations. On the contrary, most organizations increasingly see records as costs, not assets.

The above description uses the past tense. In reality, for many ARM organizations, the same conditions and belief systems are in place today. In others, even where belief systems are changing, the same conditions are in place. This is so because changing belief systems alone does not change the nature of the beast to be managed. As long as a large part of the recordkeeping job entails the management of paper records, many custodial activities will have to be carried out at some level. Especially in large organizations, physical custody of records (including possibly archival records) may have been or will be decentralized to lower organizational levels where the records are created. In such instances, often referred to as the 'post-custodial model' of recordkeeping, the corporate recordkeeping function must shift its emphasis to one that is primarily intellectual in character - policy making and standards setting, including minimal standards for the design and implementation of recordkeeping systems, establishing organization-wide directories of records assets, providing for regular evaluation of decentralized practices, ensuring that records management considerations are adequately and routinely covered in organizational audits, etc. Nonetheless, wherever the physical paper records are kept, many of the above conditions will have to remain in tact. They are inescapable short of moving to digitized records as the only media for recordkeeping. With the exception of a few organizations, such as the United Services Automobile Association, which maintains virtually all of its records in electronic form only, the vast majority of organizations today continue to manage their records in paper only or in a combination of mainly paper and some electronic records.

Emerging conditions and beliefs elsewhere

What has changed, therefore, is not much by way of the conditions and belief systems in ARM units, but in the conditions and belief systems in the rest of the organizations within which they operate. The symbiosis noted earlier began to erupt in the mid-1980s with (what was for most people) the sudden emergence of distributed office technology patterns. Most people did not fully pick up on the significance of what was happening - this author included.

To illustrate, during the mid-1980s, before taking on responsibilities as chief of the office systems division (covering information technology other than main-frame computing, telephony and telecommunications) and subsequently the information services division (including archives and records management), I served as Senior Management Systems Advisor to the World Bank's Vice President for Personnel and Administration. He was responsible, inter alia, for the organizational design, human resources, medical, administration and information management and technology business areas in the Bank. As part of a series of projects related to long-range planning for human, technology and facility management, I prepared an internal working paper called "The World Bank as a Workplace: A Scenario for 1995" for discussion at a November 1984 managers retreat in Columbia, Maryland. It was an attempt to focus our attention on what broad workplace changes might be brought about 10 years hence that might have policy and planning implications that should be dealt with in the relatively short term. The paper posed some internal 'megatrends' in such areas as the changing operational role and product mix, growth and productivity, staff skills and employment mix (permanent full time, full-time and temporary consultants and support, and part-time staff), diffusion of information systems, organizational flattening, organizational and physical decentralization, organizational dislocation and, as an overarching matter, the management of change. Most of the changes that were posed happened - some to a greater or lesser degree and some sooner than others.

In the area of archives, records and document management, it was postulated that by 1995 all internal documents would be available in electronic form and incoming mail would be converted into digital form and be combined with internal documents to form consolidated operational records. This condition has not fully materialized yet, but has in large portions of the organization. One of the areas where the Scenario for 1995 fell short was in its projection of how the operational complex and the support arms of the Bank would share the roles of being agents of change. At that time, facility management, important aspects of human resources management and information resources management - still at that time heavily influenced by the traditional centralized model of mainframe computing services - dominated belief systems. Thus, the expectation for the future was that the operations organization would be a major agent for managing changes relating to the Bank's product line, but the support organization would be an essential agent in facilitating operational change and would play the sole role with respect to the physical and technological makeup of the emerging workplace.

This was a misjudgment. In large part, under top management leadership and in some cases mandate, the operational arm created the changing product future, made it happen and brought about or accepted changes in its own belief systems that forced the support organization to respond both in terms of facilities and information management and technology (IM&T). By assuming it would exercise central control in the shaping of the workplace, the support arm did not invest much intellectually in considering options for outcomes that were not particularly appealing to it at that time (such as decentralized facility and IM&T management). Decentralization of IM&T did happen and decentralization of facility management is happening. The ARM organization did assume that there would be a significant emergence of records in native electronic records and carried out numerous initiatives within the organization and externally, including leadership of the inter-agency, inter-disciplinary task force that produced the so-called ACCIS report on electronic records. Consolidation of the ARM group within the IM&T organization, but retaining its ARM identity, made it possible for the gradual introduction of distributed electronic recordkeeping in the Bank. However, in part because of the multi-national jurisdictional framework under which it must operate, it continues to operate parallel paper and electronic recordkeeping systems. This is the most difficult of both worlds as each requires its own set the skills and staff resources, something difficult to maintain under increasing budgetary pressures.

Archivists and records managers more generally overestimate how much control they will have over the records creation process and have not keep pace with other workplace conditions that began to change in significant ways in the mid- and late eighties. These were largely brought about by and, with a vengeance, following the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 and the subsequent events outlined above. Some important ways in which organizational conditions and belief systems changed during the decade ending in 1995 that have particular bearing on ARM practices are outlined below.

As more organizations became involved in change processes, it became apparent that traditional hierarchical organizational structures and cultures were getting in the way of progress. Driven first by competitive forces in the private sector such as when Japanese car manufactures cut their costs dramatically by virtually eliminating inventories in favor of "just-in-time" concepts, private sector organizations shifted their focus away from products and toward business processes. Organizational structures (traditional ARM anchors) were flattened and became more fluid and less influential as management layers gave way to more stable process models and process management on the ground floor. Organizations began to re-think what businesses they were in and wanted to be in, where they enjoyed a competitive edge, and who their real clients were. The public sector has begun to follow this path more recently with 'market testing' concepts in the U. K. and 'reinventing government' projects in the U. S. ARM professionals would not likely have created this future and find little comfort having it suddenly dropped all around them. Practicing traditional methods of recordkeeping in this kind of environment is challenging to the most innovative among us.

At the same time, most organizations have embraced the notion that the single most important recipe for success is to clearly identify who are the clients and to place service to the client above all other considerations. This is a change not easily brought about anywhere, but more easily brought about in the private sector than in the public sector where belief systems tend to be more entrenched and where traditionally jobs have been more secure. Thus, service tends to dominate considerations in business process re-design and support organizations are expected to retool themselves to support the service paradigm in every way possible. Once again, the likelihood of being blindsided is there for ARM professionals who have built their practice on the older belief system in which top notch administration was the benchmark and where the internal ARM group or corporate or institutional management were seen to be the primary clients.

Use of business systems analysis tools and focus on business processes and their improvements can have enormously beneficial effects for an organization, properly and wisely carried out, because re-engineering practices often involve examining the roles of all stakeholders in the business process and asking hard questions: why are they stakeholders? Are they necessary to the making of commitments for which the process was established, and their satisfaction? Where are the 'handoffs' from one stakeholder to another? What added value does each handoff bring to the process in terms of fulfilling commitments or services to the customer? Are there better ways to do it? Among the final steps that are essential to preserve in the process, are there ones that could be done in parallel rather than series? Which among the steps is amenable to information technology (IT) solutions? Many people who have been involved in such exercises observe the tendency to see technology as the 'silver bullet' needed to kill any and all enemies of the process. It is fairly easy to quantify the alternative costs of solutions based on different capital (technology) and labor (human) tradeoffs and to calculate return on investment and payback schedules. The hidden costs of reduced operational continuity, diminished accountability, potential future litigation and less rich research information are less obvious. Moreover, for the most part those things reflect future costs. When not properly done, process redesigns can easily focus on short-term costs and benefits in a way that can be very seductive to organizations with high executive turnover rates.

IT has often been (or been seen to be) the enemy of good recordkeeping practice. ARM professionals are often among the last in the organization to benefit from it in carrying out their own work. By the same token, when they do get and begin to master the technology so that they have a good appreciation of the recordkeeping issues and potential strategies for managing records created using it, often the rest of the organization has begun to move on to the next generation of technology placing the ARM professionals back two steps in their planning for electronic records. They are often lacking in IT skills themselves, though this is changing, and rarely do they have IT professional in their own organizations to help them cope internally with the new tools and to represent their interests in the central IT departments which is more likely to be keyed into the organizational change process. Moreover, the faster the technology evolves, the more suspicious many ARM professionals become as to the longevity of records produced by such systems. They used to wonder how long electronic records could be maintained in various media, such as CD-ROM. Now they wonder how long it will be before CD-ROM goes the way of the 78 RPM record or the 5½ inch diskette. And with good cause. When was the last time you saw a new computer with a 5½ inch disk drive? In short, they are growing concerned not so much with preservation as they are with access to today's records even a decade or two in the future - not very long on the archivists calendar.

Too often, when introducing the silver bullets, production of evidence of the business process in a trustworthy recordkeeping system (whether internal to the business process or as a communication to a recordkeeping system that is external to the process) is not even considered. It seems as though there are counterproductive forces at work in that where a human being is involved in a business process juncture, there is more likelihood that a record will be produced (a decision memo, minutes, a dissenting email message) than when the process element is handled automatically - not because technology is incapable of producing records, but because the designers didn't design it that way. In part, this is because of a lack of appreciation of the importance of recordkeeping as part of organizational risk management. In part it is, for perhaps many reasons, simply that ARM professionals are rarely invited to the highly labor intensive re-engineering table or have the resources to show up when they are invited. Just as, in decades past, archivists and records managers lamented the fact that information systems were being designed without the benefit of their inputs, today the same thing is happening at the higher and riskier business process and sub-process levels. Ironically it is at these very levels where the opportunity may exist to tackle some of the more intractable electronic records issues - security, preservation, data migration and macro-appraisal. In a presentation this afternoon, Julie Luckiewicz <> outlines such an approach to macro-appraisal for municipal level governments in her paper "Business Systems Analysis: Tool for Information Management and Macro-Appraisal Business Systems Analysis: Municipal Modeling and Functional Thesauri".

Do organizations become fixated on IT because technology is seen as the irresistible silver bullet? Or do they see technology as the silver bullet because there is already in place a long standing imbalance in favor of IT interests relative to the organization's information management (IM) interests? In an exercise of understatement, this refers to over-investment in the media relative to the message. As part of a client study and workshop carried out in October 1995, the author surveyed a group of nine United Nations organizations that were represented in the U. N. document management task force. Most of the organizations were represented by their IT managers. In one question, respondents were asked to describe the balance in their organizations' capacity to satisfy IT needs and IM needs. The respondents were given three choices: 1) the balance was about right; 2) the organization was too heavily imbalanced in favor of IM needs and 3) the organization was too heavily imbalanced in favor of IT needs. The unanimous selection of the respondents in the surveys and later in a workshop was that their organizations were overly concerned about IT and inadequately concerned about IM needs.

Records management involves information management. Where organizations do not see the necessity to invest in information management tools and resources, they are not likely to see the necessity to invest much in records management. A further discussion of this subject may be found in a draft paper by this author, "Making the Distinctions Between Information Management and Records Management". The author invites comments on that paper.

In the emerging organizational belief systems, ARM functions are at best being ignored in most organizations or, at worst, become the subject of sudden and unexpected ambush. As a result, the ARM functions may be severely cut back in resources or even eliminated altogether. There are stories around that are usually told quietly by the casualties or uncomfortable survivors of downsized or outsourced ARM groups, only a few of whom talk about it openly. Because of a combination of an oversimplified understanding of recordkeeping on the part of many line managers, the absence of an informed ARM perspective at the tables where decisions are made regarding process design and resource allocations, and because ARM professionals in many organizations have failed adequately to communicate to their senior management the organizational risks of poor recordkeeping. One April 2, 1997 RECMGMT List posting put it this way:

Date: Wed, 2 Apr 1997 02:31:04 UT
From: William Creamer
Subject: Re: "The Inexperienced and the Cheap"
In our firm it was the powerless and the cheap and the invisible (records
and document clerks, mail room staff) who were let go first...

ARM units are targets for downsizing also by virtue of the fact that they tend to be populated with clerical staff. These are the staff who are not only as Creamer has said the powerless and invisible, but they are also performing the tasks that are most amenable to automation. As Raśl Medina-Mora will tell you this afternoon in his presentation "Implications for Recordkeeping in Organizations that are Redesigned around Business Processes, Commitments and Customer Satisfaction", many new systems - especially workflow systems - now include 'clerkware'. Where there is clearly a case to be made for substituting labor with capital, ARM professionals should not present themselves as the enemies of efficiency but rather accept that there are areas that can more effectively and efficiently be automated and use this as leverage to obtain recordkeeping functionality in other recordmaking systems.

In the processes of organizational change, there is the very real risk that what appears to be a positive direction from a management perspective may turn out to have negative consequences or implications from a records management perspective. This contrast, even if somewhat overdrawn to make the point, is better depicted in graphic tabular form, contrasting the different perspectives on the same actions depending on where one is sitting:

Reductions in staffing almost invariably involve reductions in support staff both in the record creation departments and in the ARM units, as noted in Chauncey Bell's "Remembering the Future: Organizational Change: What it is and what does it mean for records professionals?" Secretaries are among the first casualties of downsizing. They are the ones who used to be the recordkeeping gatekeepers in the offices of record who used to check distribution lists for completeness and see to it that the multi-colored carbon copies got to the right places - the white to the office files, yellow to the corporate files, blue to the circulation file. When record center file folders were not returned on time, they were the ones who got the calls from the record center and chased down and returned the files from errant borrowers. Now, only the 'big boss' has a secretary and s/he is not typically involved with the document creation process so may not be aware of a key communication created by the manager even after it has been replied to. As noted in the Records Management list posting above, ARM units are increasingly targets for downsizing. The bottom line may look good on the financial statement, but the bottom line in records management terms often equates to less tending of the recordkeeping function both at the records creation sites and the archives and records management centers.

Managing the Risks

In short, there are several risks at different levels that are related to the making and management of records and to the organization more broadly that need to be addressed. They need not be barriers to change, but they do need to be managed to minimize their potentially negative impact.

Recordmaking/keeping Risks

Organizational Risks

It could happen to you

Below is a copy of a Notice in the 12/21/92 [name of organization redacted] Weekly Bulletin following a major reorganization resulting from an extensive change process:

§         Missing Boxes!!

Five unlabeled Xerox boxes containing important documents were removed from Rm.5103 following the recent office moves. If you have boxes stacked in your area that don't belong to you, contact Ext. 7161.

The embarrassed poster of this announcement had been part of an organization that was made defunct as part of the change process. Thinking that her records would no longer be needed, she placed them in boxes in the corridor outside her office before the movers came. A few days later, someone in a new organization that had inherited a portion of her previous division's portfolio of responsibilities called her to obtain the legacy records. The records were never recovered. The Facility Management janitorial staff had collected the 'discarded' boxes along with dozens of others from the residues of other disestablished offices that had been left in the corridors of vacant offices. Shouldn't have happened? Correct. Could happen? Yes. It is not the only good reason for the chief of ARM to make an alliance with the chief of facility management; but it is reason enough.

So what?

What are some of the lessons we can take from these experiences and warnings? In a large sense, traditional ways of ensuring operational continuity, maintaining accountability and preserving evidence are at risk. We have relied upon sometimes seemingly invisible legacy recordkeeping systems to make it possible for organizations to find out how something like an agency information disclosure policy was handled several years ago when it was last updated without plowing the same field over again. Not perfectly by any means, but that system was also reasonably effective in assuring accountability for decisions and actions taken. By contrast, today it is not uncommon for managers to send email announcements of their travel plans and appointments of subordinates who will act in their absence during different times of their absence. Without appropriate consideration of recordkeeping needs in the use of such systems, five years from now it would be difficult to ascertain with any accuracy who was in charge of an organization during the period in question. As change becomes a more prevalent feature in the workplace, it will only become more difficult.

Change activities that result in the introduction of new technology may also present challenges to the preservation and strengthening of sound recordkeeping practices. If those systems do not have recordkeeping functionality, or if they are designed using proprietary software instead of accepted open systems standards, the archived digital records may be virtually inaccessible in just a few years time.

Taking a Brighter or Darker View

There is, of course, a brighter side to the arguments posed in this paper. Some observers of organizational change will admit privately that maybe we've gone too far or too fast in rightsizing, but it simply had to happen. It has been a period of adjustment to the information age that is making our country stronger economically, and in the end this will be a net benefit despite the dislocations of the past few years. Other countries are or are going to have to undergo the same kind of thing to remain competitive in today's global marketplace of governments and private sector enterprises. Technology will empower people - admittedly fewer in the old jobs than before. But it will also spawn new industries and jobs. Moreover, properly designed IT systems will improve recordkeeping systems and help to overcome many of the generally acknowledged shortcomings of legacy systems. Lastly, as Chauncey Bell has noted: Archivists and records managers have the opportunity & responsibility to help invent the future by changing the arithmetic.

But doing the arithmetic is still discomforting:

Thoughts About Ways Out

These risks are neither inevitable nor inescapable. However, minimizing their impact will take an understanding that these risks are present and a combined effort on the part of executives, chief information officers, archivists, records managers, users, vendors & standards makers. The problem is that many of these stakeholders haven't heard about it yet. Archivists and records managers bear considerably the responsibility to change that situation by appealing to the self interests of their legal counsels, auditors, facility managers and users.

What can archivists and records managers do to avoid getting blindsided themselves by organizational transformation processes?

Don't assume the added value of archives and records management to the organization. Articulate in writing what it is for your organization and identify at every stage who are the beneficiaries of each item of added value. Then get that paper discussed, agreed and understood by your stakeholders.

The first step will help to identify the true clients of ARM work. and listen to what their needs are. Then examine each step in the ARM processes and see how it can be improved from a service perspective.

Don't rely purely on the evidentiary value of records. Many clients in the user community - the makers of records - take that term in its most legal sense and see ARM as a way for the organization to use what they produce as evidence against them somehow in the future. Embrace the informational value of records as well and provide services accordingly.

Don't wait for the change process to be undertaken to carry out the above tasks. It's too late. Do them before there is a crisis.

The people who rely most upon trustworthy records in your organizations, beyond the ordinary users, are the lawyers and auditors. They cannot exist without a reliable recordkeeping system. Get them to say so. Facility managers are pressed for ways in which to reduce office space costs. When they are informed about the potential for electronic recordkeeping systems that will eliminate the need for prime space, or a significant part of it, they quickly become allies of electronic recordkeeping systems. Make all of these people your allies. They sit at senior management tables where budgetary and space allocation decisions are made. There is no more effective way to gain support for causes of good recordkeeping than to make senior level advocates in other parts of the organization.

Make good recordkeeping solutions of planned information technology changes, as part of enterprise document management systems, intranets and workflow systems. Instead of reacting to high-risk technology, put technology to work for ARM. Making the case for this will also help ensure a place at the change management table.

Technology gives us the best chance to link legacy, transitional and new recordkeeping systems and their records together. Overcoming these disconnects will help to reduce one of the most serious and costly emerging recordkeeping problems.

Work with management as part of the change process to get ensure that RFPs for new systems require recordkeeping functionality along with other functional and technical requirements. Similarly, foster a procurement policy that requires that new or upgraded information or knowledge systems include the cost of migration of legacy records from the current system to be factored into the cost of the upgrade. Keeping information accessible in the current technology platforms is the best way to ensure continued, long-term access to that information.

Consider records management as risk management. Rethink business continuity plans to include some of the new risks. The next disaster could be a reorganization.

Become an advocate for the creators of records. Don't be just a 'taker' from the users. Understand their issues, e.g., with the user interface of recordmaking systems, and fight their cause as you would want them to fight your own. It is the recordmakers whom we count on to supply recordkeeping systems and from whom we expect to get some of the needed metadata for document profiles. What have you done for them today?

Nothing can happen to make electronic records management a reality in the absence of very close working relationships between the ARM and IM&T units in your organizations. Take the initiative to make that happen.

Take to heart the message presented by Chauncey Bell: listen to and shape the forces of change. Don't be among the future consumers. Become one of the future makers. Change doesn't just go with the territory. It is the territory.