Integrating information management and records management...Who cares?
by Richard E. Barry
Changing work patterns and technology have resulted in greater use of and reliance upon digital information systems and middle-ware in both the private and public sectors -- including enterprise-level document management services, groupware, electronic forms, workflow systems and intranets (or internal Web sites). Not surprisingly, professionals in records and information management are beginning to consider the necessity or desirability for further integration of activities presently variously under the domain of records managers, archivists, information scientists, information managers and information technology specialists. This paper outlines: some of the key forces underpinning the case for further integration of these activities; some forms that integration can take, and opportunities for initiatives to facilitate such integration for those who find the case for it compelling. I will use a few acronyms, especially the term “A-R-M” or “ARM” to refer generically to archives and records management and the term “IM&T” to mean “information management and technology”. These acronyms are used both in the interest of economy of words and as generic terms for those functions or professions. In some countries, including my own, the functions of archives and records management are quite separate. In those countries I use the term to mean those functions taken together. Despite the existence of separate professional groups, in Australia the archives and records management functions are considered and treated as part of the same continuum of recordkeeping. This is a view that I strongly support. You should therefore interpret my use of the term ARM as simply a shorthand way of expressing that thought.
What is meant by “improved integration”?
What do I mean by improved integration of ARM and IM&T? I mean:
· a much better job of coordinating the management of information, including records, and the delivery of those services, than is typically the case today.
· creating a situation in which IM&T professionals understand and respect concerns about the recordkeeping aspect of electronic systems and seriously involve their ARM colleagues in the teams designing, procuring and building such systems.
· creating a situation in which records managers and archivists see records as having informational value in the broadest sense as well as evidential value in ways that results in recordkeeping systems not just being warehouses of “kept” records, but as dynamic sources of vital organizational information to be used by current and future employees and others with authorized access rights.
· recordkeeping systems that take account of multimedia records and do not rely solely upon the paper storage and presentation medium.
· EDMS systems that recognize the continuing importance of, and link to, legacy paper systems.
· recordkeeping systems that reflect that records managers and archivists have seriously concerned themselves about the end-user interface -- the interests of the people who are, after all, the creators of all these records.
I mean creating a situation in which document management systems are also trustworthy recordkeeping systems that are truly user friendly -- not just serving the needs of the IM&T and ARM functions.
That is not what we have today. Today we have a rising tide of electronic systems that have little or no recordkeeping functionality. EDMS and e-mail systems are purchased without a thought about their recordworthiness. As ARM functions are often among the last to receive the latest technological innovations in most organizations, the records managers sometimes don’t even hear about such acquisitions until after the fact -- let alone be consulted about their design of in advance of purchase. My consulting practice often involves doing workshops or conferences on electronic records management that bring interdisciplinary groups within an organization together -- records managers, archivists, information technology specialists, lawyers, auditors, etc. I have had the occasion in such instances to be the person to introduce the records management and IT people to one another.
What is the case for greater integration of ARM and IM&T functions
What then are the compelling reasons for greater integration of IM&T and ARM? Let me suggest four of them. First, organizations are increasingly at risk because of lack of coordination of these functions. Second, technological advances continue to introduce systems that require strong collaboration on the part of IM&T and ARM professionals. Third, the tools of their individual trades are mutually supportive. Fourth, there is are some considerable advantages to the ARM function to promote further integration.
The Risk of Not Integrating
There is an increasing awakening among attorneys and auditors of the risks and potential litigiousness and associated court-ordered discovery of electronic records, including e-mail. This is filtering up to top managers and down to information scientists, information managers and information technologists and, of course, to archivists and records managers.
Thus there is growing realization that the enterprise systems that are procured, developed, supported or administered by the organization such as local area and wide area networks, electronic document management systems, electronic mail systems, voice mail systems and intranets house large, increasingly multimedia, databases that are subject to discovery in legal cases; and that even though these systems lack recordkeeping functionality they, nevertheless produce records.
Worse than that, in many cases, not only are electronic systems lacking in recordkeeping functionality, they may even have functionality or incorporate features that actually run counter to good recordkeeping practices. For example, most e-mail systems are set to destroy messages beyond a certain age, say 30 days. This practice is normally established by the system administrator purely as a measure aimed at reducing storage demands and the need to purchase additional, expensive, disk units. This is an understandable position for a system administrator to take, viewing the practice purely from the perspective of efficient systems operations. Unfortunately it results in records disposition decisions being made on the basis of factors having nothing whatever to do with the importance or value of the information to the organization as evidence of its activities, decisions, actions and transactions -- the records management perspective.
Similarly, as electronic systems normally are not considered to be part of the recordkeeping environment of the organization, the records that are the residue of such systems are not being treated as such and they threaten the integrity of the real recordkeeping systems of the organization. In a court of law in which an organization is the subject of a law suit, it is not too difficult to demonstrate that, because of such systems, organizational records are not being managed consistently. This is especially true with respect to established disposition management policies and procedures. If this can be demonstrated, the organization’s real recordkeeping system can be put in dispute very much to the favor of opposing litigants. Consequently, more IM&T managers are coming to the realization that they need the assistance and skill of the ARM community in their organizations to help reduce and ultimately neutralize those risks to the extent that it is practical to do so.
Then it can be said that ARM needs IM&T and IM&T needs ARM. Top management and the management support functions such as legal and auditing, need them both. Where the ARM and IM&T functions don’t come to this realization on their own and begin seriously to coordinate if not integrate their functions, top management under pressure from legal counsel may well mandate it.
One of the more compelling forces for integration rests in the technology itself. The fact that each new technological innovation is creating records in native electronic form, often with no provision for the production of paper trails of what has transpired over the system. In many cases, these innovations are resulting in the creation of multimedia records. This is making it inevitable that ARM professionals will have to provide intellectual control for such systems and work with the IM&T people to ensure that these systems are also trustworthy recordkeeping systems.
The Natural Underlying Affinity of the Functions
As can be seen from this discussion, the fields have significant common areas of professional interest even though they branch out with different words and different meanings. Although recordkeeping involves other areas of interest it is, nonetheless, a rigorous form of information management. It is concerned among other things with the organization, management and preservation of information and its future accessibility. In the post-custodial age of recordkeeping in particular, the importance of future access and use of records is a paramount feature of records management, involving the use of information engineering tools to organize large collections of records and to establish directories that link records in whatever physical location or storage medium. Thus, the records manager will benefit greatly by learning and importing information management skills (and related tools) that have been developed in the information management profession such as business systems analysis, information engineering with CASE tools, use of the ISO standard, X.500, for building directory services, etc.
Advantages to ARM Function
Colleagues and clients have sometimes said to me: if we begin down the road of integration, don’t we put ourselves at risk of being taken over by the IM&T function? My answer is: That need not be the case, but if it is, could things be worse than they are today? That is a question that every records manager and archivist must ask for themselves and for their organization. Even if one puts aside reasons for integration that have to do with the broader interests of the organization and considers purely turf and personal considerations, the results need not be threatening. My experience is that for many years the ARM function has enjoyed one of the lowest priorities. In some countries where I have consulted, titles and grades for the clerical staff operating records centers are lower than the lowest secretarial positions. Most are seriously lacking in staff to carry out their current responsibilities, not to mention the new responsibilities related to electronic records management. Where I have seen close integration of these functions, I have seen the status, staffing and budgets of the ARM function elevated.
What Forms May Integration Take?
Integration can take many forms:
· common organizational reporting chains
· fully integrated functions and budgets
· business systems analysis and reengineering
Many organizations today do not have a policy an e-mail, for example. Who owns it -- the employee or the organization? What are the organizational monitoring policies and practices? Under what circumstances will the organization have access to so-called ‘personal e-mail’? What is the policy on informing staff members after the fact when their e-mail has been accidentally or purposefully accessed by the organization? Are employees authorized or encouraged to use encryption systems when communicating outside of the organization? Are they limited in what encryption systems they may use? When is e-mail a record and how are e-mail records captured into the recordkeeping environment? These are some of the questions that need to be asked and answered in developing e-mail policies. In the case of one client, when the question was posed about the need for an e-mail policy, the administrator of the e-mail system offered to “knock one out” in an afternoon. I suggested that the e-mail system administrator was not the appropriate person to initiate such a policy, although certainly someone who should be consulted. The result was a collaborative team process in which ARM and IM&T professionals developed a policy that was subsequently quite quickly approved by senior management because the way had been well paved through the process on both sides of the house. More recently, with other clients, it was established up front that the head of archives and records management should take the lead in developing a draft policy, in full consultation with the chief information officer or equivalent, for review by a management committee.
Integration at the policy level naturally leads to integration at procedural levels. To follow through with the e-mail policy example, assume for the moment that the policy is that all e-mail communications are regarded as records because they are communications that are conducted in the normal course of business and are recorded. Assume further that the policy is that the decision as to which of these records should be kept beyond the immediate needs of the record creator is one that is left to the author of the e-mail or EM, using whatever criteria might be supplied by the policy. And assume that the policy is that it is the responsibility of the author to see to it that any EMs that meets such criteria should be conveyed into the appropriate recordkeeping system. Such a policy would then have to be supported by appropriate procedures. Some of my clients have adopted a procedure that requires that such records be printed out and mailed to the record center. How well such user-oriented procedures work, and how sustainable this approach will be in the long run, are other matters for a separate discussion. However, given that policy, such a procedure is necessary.
Drawing from my experience of the late 1980s, when I was a manager at the World Bank, we undertook a similar policy. To make it easier for the author-user, we made changes to the user interface in the e-mail system. This was accomplished by altering the e-mail system in two ways. Originally, the system had only one format in which an EM could be written, the so-called “Note” format, a simple To/From/Subject form. Another format was programmed into the system that had the words “World Bank Group OFFICIAL MEMORANDUM” that looked very much like the pre-printed memo letterhead that was commonly used for memos created on word processing systems and typewriters before them. Secondly, the EM creation screen was altered so that the author could not proceed past the envelope screen to write a message without first answering YES or NO next to a box marked “Official”. If the author selected NO, the traditional Note format was selected and the message could then be written and dispatched. If the author selected YES, the Official Memorandum format was selected and the author was required to indicate whether a copy of the EM should be sent electronically to the appropriate record center. Once that selection was made, the author could create and send the message in the Official Memo format. This was coupled with a records management procedure in which e-mail so received by a records center was printed out there, classified and filed in the appropriate paper file. Thus, we see the integration of a policy, an enabling system, a user procedure and a records management unit procedure. System level integration becomes more complex when we think about including recordkeeping functionality into existing or planned EDMS or other automated systems.
Some level of functional integration can be encouraged if not produced through integration of certain ARM and IM&T training programs. Training sessions provide a very non-threatening platform in which to engage in inter-disciplinary discussions and hypothetical problem solving. Moreover, most internal training of this kind would not include managers. Thus the focus is more likely to be on professional and technical levels and not on turf. Yet, such discussions can lead to real problem solving. I have watched this take place in interdisciplinary workshops that begin with something as non-threatening as a discussion of a topic like: What is a document -- what is a record? This typically leads to discussions of EDMS and electronic recordkeeping systems that, in turn, often lead to the question being asked: Why have two parallel systems if one could be made to serve both purposes? Finally, this inevitably leads to the conclusion that electronic document management systems should also be trustworthy recordkeeping systems. When that happens, the participating parties from the ARM, IM&T and user communities begin to ask: Why not us? What started out as a hypothetical discussion led into a discussion of current practices within the organization. As a minimum, such experiences result in the professional and technical level staff learning how to communicate with one another and learning that the other disciplines also have something of value to bring to the table. At best, it creates back pressure at the lower ends of the organization toward better coordination and integration of functions. If this happens at the same time when there is pressure coming down from the top to do the same thing, it can significantly help to reduce the time it takes to overcome turf barriers.
Common Organizational Reporting Chains
Much faster and more comprehensive integration can take place when all of the various organizations related to information and records management are placed under a common manager. In some organizations, especially in Europe, it is still not uncommon to find the chiefs of archives, records management, information technology, document management, library operations, communications, mail services, printing and graphics reporting through totally different chains of command such that one would have to go to the second highest or highest executive in the organization before finding a common superior for these functions. When the situation is like that, it is usually accompanied with a very robust layer of middle managers. For every different chain there is a multiplier effect on why something cannot be done or cannot be done for at least another year or two. Yet, all of these functions are having to respond more and more to digital stimuli, whether they like it or not, because that is the way the workplace is going and those decisions are being made by other people for different reasons. Thus, reducing the organizational boundaries among those functions can hasten the day when, though serious coordination, the problems of electronic information and records management will be addressed.
Fully Integrated Functions and Budgets
The most highly integrated form of organization occurs when all of the information and records management services of an organization are placed within a single department -- today probably a chief information officer or equivalent. This places the onus on the department director or CIO to ensure that proper recordkeeping is retained as a function but is fully integrated into the information management strategy and function for the whole organization. This can have a number of beneficial effects. It can:
· greatly reduce managerial friction
· get the disciplines working together and respectful of the contributions of one another
· reposition the ARM function so that it is pro-active rather than reactive
· enhance the priority of the ARM function in terms of its information technology assets and tools to do its job
· better position of the ARM function from a budgetary perspective
So when people express concerns to me about getting eaten up by IM&T, I ask them: How well are you eating today? And who is eating you up now? Moreover, where is it written that the CIO position cannot be filled by a person coming out of a records management career? I know of no tenet that states that the chief of archives and records management is the highest level to which ARM professionals can aspire. It isn’t likely to happen in most organizations today, but integration of these functions could hasten the day when the CIO role is part of the career stream of both IM&T and ARM professionals. Even within the ARM profession today, it is noteworthy that national archivists in several major industrialized countries -- a position regarded by many as the highest to which records managers and archivists might aspire -- are presently occupied by individuals who did not rise through the ranks of the records management profession. Let us be careful not overstate our current state of well being as a professional community. This point is not meant to be denigrating in any way, but rather as challenging.
Business Systems Analysis and Reengineering
Organizations all over the world are generating or responding to organizational change initiatives -- whether created as a result of external market or political pressures, legislative mandates, budget cuts or simply executive decision making within the organization. Business systems analysis tools are often employed to facilitate such initiatives, including business process engineering, value engineering, market testing, reinvention of government and similar methods and approaches. Most of these approaches involve:
· identification of major business areas (e.g., operations, human resources, finance, information, administration) necessary to carry out the core aims for which the organization was created;
· identification of enabling business processes and their decomposition;
· analysis of organizational interfaces and means for streamlining processes;
· redesign of the process without regard for the protection of prior organizational arrangements.
The more traditional approaches began with premises that certain organizations had certain responsibilities and these governed how business must be carried out. In those models, organizations were seen as enabling elements and, at best, they were. By contrast, current practice is to deconstruct the business processes making up homogenous families or business area and asking: What are the bare essentials required organizationally and how can information (or other) technologies make it better, more responsive to service needs as seen by the clients and more competitive with other internal or external options for providing this service or carrying out this process? In this model, organizations are seen as barriers rather than enablers and, at worst, they were. My purpose here is not to advance the reengineering model. In fact, I have a number of concerns with the manner in which reengineering is too frequently carried out today; and I believe that there are some other socio-technical approaches that can be as effective or more effective. But that is not the subject of this paper. Rather, my point is that organizational change is a reality and, along with it, the whole concept of the learning organization in which organizational change becomes a way of life rather than a cycle with a beginning and an end; and that there are significant implications for recordkeeping functions and systems.
Many in the records management field are being threatened by such change processes. I know of several ARM functions that have suffered serious staff and budgetary reductions and in some cases elimination of posts of archivist or records manager. I know of other clients whose records centers have suffered downsizing of the most experienced and best educated supervisory staff and positions, resulting in clerical staff moving into those positions who have little or no education, not much experience in the center and very little by way of communications or other supervisory skills -- a recipe for slow death of the recordkeeping function.
In other cases, however, recordkeeping functions can be significantly enhanced. This is especially the case where the ARM function is well represented in the business systems analysis teams. In such cases, recordkeeping is seen not solely as an independent function but rather as integral to each and every business process. The results can be very helpful to the ARM function. They can:
· facilitate a better understanding of, and regard for, distributed recordkeeping
· result in encapsulating needed records metadata right into the processes that create the records
· facilitate retention scheduling at the business process level
· enable computer-assisted records disposition management
Opportunities for Improved Integration of Information and Records Management
There are a wide range of possibilities for integrating IM and RM at every level of activity -- the personal, organizational, national archives and professional association levels. Time does not allow for more than a few examples taken from a paper that is available on my World Wide Web homepage.
In All Our Capacities
· implementation of systems that are based on, and are contextually imbedded in, the operational business aims and work of our organizations and that include ARM functionality and address ARM concerns and
· early and frequent hands-on experience with such systems
As Professional Groups
· invite senior-level speakers from potential client communities to speak -- e.g., jurists, attorneys, auditors, facility managers -- and solicit their advocacy of sound recordkeeping practices in their own professional journals;
· consider joint conferences on subjects of common interest with such groups as the Australian Computer Society, the Australian Library and Information Association, the Australian Society of Archivists;
· provide members with interdisciplinary continuing education opportunities in electronic records
· open a dialog with the national archivist and legislators to consider the potential contribution of ARM in addressing some of the current and burgeoning major social issues of the new millennium --
· alienation of the public from government and associated threats to democratic institutions;
· protection of personal privacy rights;
· protection of intellectual property rights
· continued and improved public access to records of the business of government, whether maintained in the public or private sector;
· protection of public records archivists and national archives from political manipulation;
· the potential for democratizing history with increased public access to public records.
As National Archives Organizations:
· establish own internal IM&T capability;
· promote government acceptance for integration of national ARM an IM&T functions and budgets;
· assert leadership role in national information management policy and organization;
· establish national information directory X.500/web sites;
· lobby national standards groups to ensure inclusion of ARM requirements in important information standards, e.g., PDF, SGML, HTML, DFR and most especially PDF;
As Operating Organizations:
· gain senior management awareness of the importance of information (including records) as strategic assets;
· promote an interdisciplinary team approach to information and records management;
As ARM Business Units:
· place ourselves in a listening mode and resist too much of a prescriptive mode in dealing with those responsible for mission-critical business processes in our organizations;
· promote improved recordkeeping practices on the part of users by becoming greater advocates of their concerns in such areas as the human engineering of user interfaces designed to capture recordkeeping metadata;
· don’t disdain the value of a little public relations;
· prepare for the greater use of multi-media in future records systems as records will increasingly not be able to be fully represented in paper form;
· take responsibility to maintain continuing education;
· join a professional society and/or participate in meetings of a sister profession in the information field.
· prepare, and seek out opportunities, to become the leaders of organizational information management programs, including but not limited to traditional archives and records management responsibilities -- if you can’t beat ‘em, manage ‘em.
Even discussing these ways and means for improved integration with your colleagues in other disciplines, and others that you may have of your own, will in itself be a healthy and effective form of integration. It is not enough, but it is a good place to start. By not going the extra mile and engaging their IM&T counterparts, we help perpetuate the growing and very risky disconnect between paper and electronic documents and records. In the absence of a strong leadership posture on the part of the ARM community, there is little hope for bridging the gap in information and records management practice, short of a calamity-inspired executive-level intervention to cause the engagement, integration and attention to corporate-level interests in information both as a strategic asset and as a matter of record. And that is something a lot of people should care about.
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