This paper also accompanies the videotape Electronic Records in the New Millennium:  Managing Documents for business and Government, produced by University College London and the British Library, directed by the R. E. Barry.  The 2-part video (Part I: The Management Perspective; Part II: The Professional Perspective) and associated papers and workbook for organizational & university use is available through the Society of American Archivists <> and the International Records Management Trust, London <>







This presentation outlines changing international political and economic conditions that, together with rapidly changing information management and technology trends, tools and practices, are having a profound impact on the way in which people do work in both the private and public sectors.[1] It:

·          addresses key management issues associated with workplace changes;

·          outlines important present and future implications of changing work patterns as they effect the manner in which organizational records are created and managed (including their appraisal, retention scheduling and disposition management) and the risks they present to the organization as a whole; and

·          provides insights into issues and opportunities afforded by these changes gained by the author from experiences in operational posts and consulting engagements in the fields of information management, information technology, archives and records management.


UCL and Electronic Records Management


Before beginning the more formal portion of my presentation, I wish to salute University College London, especially its School of Library, Archive and Information Studies, for its continuing role in stimulating professional awareness of the important issues that are the subject of this conference and for the leadership it has displayed in the higher education field by re-shaping its own teaching programs to reflect the changing demands of the workplace.  Far too few centers of higher learning -- internationally -- have been adaptable, not to mention on the cutting edge, when it comes to reshaping educational programs in ways that reflect changing workplace needs.  More such leadership would be very beneficial in a macro-economic sense at the national economic level through a form of added value that centers of higher education ought to be in one of the best positions to offer:  heightened competitiveness of the country’s workforce.  It would be beneficial in a micro-economic sense because organizations in the public and private sector alike seek new employees who have the skills necessary to address changing current and likely future workplace needs on their arrival.  It would be beneficial in a very human way by assisting university graduates in gaining meaningful employment in their chosen fields as reflected in their choices of university programs.  All of these would seem to be laudable core aims for institutions of higher learning to pursue.






Normally, at conferences on this subject, I devote the bulk of my comments to articulating the problems and opportunities associated with the emerging use of electronic forms of documents or records and some short- and medium-term strategies for moving ahead in this field.  I might devote a few introductory minutes to the subject of the various forces at work globally that are bringing about fundamental changes in the way people perform knowledge-based work, and draw some implications for the management of records.  Inasmuch as I was asked to lead off this conference on electronic records, and knowing that I would be followed by a very distinguished list of speakers and good friends who would be addressing many aspects of electronic issues and strategies in some detail, I discussed with my colleagues and the conference leaders -- Anne Thurston and Elizabeth Shepherd of UCL -- a different focus for my remarks.  We agreed that it would be appropriate to devote the bulk of my comments at this conference to the subject of macro forces driving change in the workplace and some implications for archives and records management to help set the stage for the presentations of other speakers.  I hope that a better understanding of the forces of change on the part of senior executives, operational managers, archivists, and information and records managers will cast some light on the paths we take in addressing electronic records issues and opportunities.  As most of the participants here today are in the latter categories, in both the public and private sectors, I hope that this presentation, the subsequent workshop period and our open discussion of this subject will help you to bring the importance and significance of these forces of change to the attention of senior managers in your own organizations.


Electronic Documents and Records or Digital Objects?


Let me begin by highlighting the title of this presentation:  "Electronic Objects circa 2001: Problems or opportunities?...Yes."  First, let us talk about the term “electronic object”.  In a field in which the question of what constitutes an electronic record is a central issue, it is probably not unreasonable to spend a little time on the meaning of the words that are the focus of the conference.   I say "electronic records" because the subject of this conference is electronic records management in particular and electronic document management more generally.  These are expressions that have become to familiar to all of us in recent years, and I don't propose to change the way that we talk about the subject of this conference at this stage.  At the same time, I use different terminology in the title of this presentation to draw attention to the fact that one of the problems we have in addressing the subject of "electronic records" is the confusion brought about by our own choice of words.  Having reinforced that choice of words in the past, I hold myself as much accountable for the resulting language problems as anyone.  Just the same, I believe it will help to note that "electronic documents" and "electronic records" are no longer limited to forms that we typically associate with the word "document" or even the word "record", and that it may be time to begin using different terminology to talk about this subject.  This is because of the emergence of separate “multi-media” forms of communications or information packages -- data, text, image, audio and video -- which, when packaged together, constitute various forms of “mixed-media” -- e.g., so-called "compound documents", “hypertext”, “hyper-documents”, “hyper-media”, etc.,  as we will see later in this presentation and in the presentations of other speakers.  The need for clarity in our own communications is particularly important with the growing need for collaboration among information management and technology specialists and archives and records managers


So long as things don't get much more complicated than ordinary simple (text only) documents or compound documents -- such as are represented by familiar government and business reports that include static text, static spreadsheets and possibly static maps or pictures -- the terms "electronic document management" and "electronic records management" may continue to serve our needs adequately.  Even then, we stretch our understanding of the terms "electronic document" and "electronic record" to embrace data systems, such as financial transaction systems, which certainly include important organizational records but not normally in the form we associate with the word “document”.  We are now, however, emerging beyond relatively simple-compound documents.  (The oxymoron is intended because documents that what we regarded not so long ago as “compound” are now on the simplex end of the spectrum of business documents.)  We are now moving into an environment in which the "document" may a view of several independent digitized objects packaged together through dynamic links that appears on a computer screen as a single document.  These might include independently stored spreadsheets that are referenced and seen in a "document" through object linking and embedding (OLE) technology that causes the contents of the spreadsheet that appears in a document to be updated whenever the spreadsheet is updated.  The same dynamic nature could also be applied for imbedded maps, text, etc.  Beyond that is an environment that will include reports and other "documents" that include audio or video clips. 


Once a package of information, in whatever medium it was created, is converted into digital form, it may be possible to change the view of that information into a different form.  For example, if a person is traveling away from home base, or is hearing impaired, it may be more convenient for that person to receive voice mail messages in the form of electronic mail.  Speech recognition technology will soon make it possible to convert digitized speech patterns into digital text.  It is already possible to do that by "teaching" the computer to understand the vocabulary of a single speaker but this technology is not yet reliable when it comes to interpreting the speech patterns of multiple persons.  The reverse may also be the case.  A person does not travel with a computer, or a sight impaired person, might wish to have all electronic mail converted to voice mail.  Computer-based speech generators have been available for several years.  (You can even choose different speech generators to get the preferred sex, age group and accent of your "speaker".)  In this kind of environment, with these more complex communications that may take different forms at different times and that do not necessarily conjure up the concept of “document”, we would understand one another better if we used -- instead of the term "document" -- the term "object".  Similarly, the term "electronic" may also be confusing.  Voice signals such as are produced by earlier generation telephone systems and message recorders are electronic, but they are analog not digital and cannot be converted in the manner described above to text or image without first being digitized.  Thus, to make ourselves most clearly understood we would characterize “electronic documents” in the broadest sense of the term as digital objects most, though not necessarily all, of which are also digital records.  Finally, the term “media” is also open to misinterpretation.  While the information scientist normally associates the term with one of the five major forms of information processing:   data, text, image, audio or video -- as in data-processing, text-processing, etc. -- or as the related types of information stores, as in data-bases, text-bases, etc.  On the other hand, the archivist or records manager hearing the term is more likely to think in terms of one of the physical media or forms in which records traditionally have been stored -- paper, microform, magnetic tape, etc.


Digital Records:  Problems or Opportunities?


There is a tendency to focus on the problems and issues associated with digital records almost to the exclusion of the opportunities afforded by modern technology.  These opportunities include the potential for capture of digital records at or near the time of their creation.  This makes it possible to carry out early or preliminary appraisals of the value of the information to the organization.  It should also help ensure the long-term access to such information in contrast to the practice today in which records are transmitted to archives several years after their creation, if they haven’t been lost or discarded in the meantime.  Introduction of automated systems that produce records also forces early articulation of functional requirements for record keeping, which can have only a positive effect in enhancing the archivist's understanding of the information and the subject system.  Automation affords the chance for better access to information in digital form than is possible in paper form if appropriate steps are taken to avoid loss of access due to technological obsolescence of the office systems in which they were originally produced.  It thus opens the way for more of an outreach approach by archivists and records managers, in which they are seen not just as the keepers of information but also as the purveyors of organizational information.  Finally, automated systems offer the possibility for changing the appraisal of information at a higher level.  Rather than appraising at the records series level, it will be possible to appraise at the system or major business process level.


It is important that senior managers who must make decisions on potentially large capital and human investments in electronic document management systems (EDMS) have a balanced picture on the extent to which electronic or digital records present a new set of problems that they must address versus opportunities in terms of better, more efficient, life-cycle document or records management. Such systems do offer solutions to many document/records management problems (including some that we have experienced  for years in the world of paper documents and records) in ways that are not possible or feasible with paper records.  Yes, there are both problems and opportunities facing us with the kinds of records we will be using increasingly as we approach the next millennium.  Public and private sector managers and senior professionals responsible for information management, information technology, archives and records management services as well as managers of the core business processes producing crucial organizational records have an obligation to understand each other’s perspectives on this important subject.  Moreover, they have an obligation to articulate the problems and opportunities surrounding electronic records to their top managers.  Senior executives in turn must take the steps necessary to guard against their organizations becoming at serious risk in terms of deteriorating management accountability, operational continuity, preservation of evidence, and contribution to the ‘institutional memory’ of their own organizations and of society at large.  The advent of the 21st Century is an artificial way marker at best, since many modern organizations are already at serious risk in these ways.  The lead time between now and the start of the next millennium is very short, given the planning and implementation tasks necessary to address the issues that are the central concerns of this conference. 


Forces of Change


Let us turn now to the global forces that are bringing significant changes into the workplace.  Organizations that are most likely to succeed in understanding and achieving the purposes for which they were created are organizations with managers who understand the forces of change that impinge on their world.  Not only do they understand the links between global changes and local impact, but they observe those forces in action, interpret their likely impact, plan accordingly and consciously navigate their organizations through changing times and patterns of work.  They understand that new opportunities and new technologies usually involve risks, but that there is also risk associated with not taking advantage of these forces.  Sustainable organizations, whether in the public or private sector, will take deliberate steps to maximize the potential benefits that will come with change and minimize the associated risks.  That does not equate to risk avoidance through avoidance of technological and other opportunities but rather to careful management of inevitable change and careful planning of discretionary change.


Political Forces


The relatively sudden and unanticipated disintegration of the long established centrally planned economies in Eastern Europe, beginning with the fall of the Berlin Wall, came at a time when the trend toward multi-national and trans-national businesses was already on the rise.  The rapid breakup of the Soviet Union and its allies in Eastern Europe/Central Asia and the related emergence of new nations has created, and continues to create, profound changes in the international landscape (both literally and figuratively), the full impact of which remains to be seen or felt.  Included are: changing roles of international organizations including the UN and the IFIs (international financial institutions); access of the former Soviet states and allies to IFI resources; establishment of new IFI mechanisms for dealing with the fallout of political changes; changing military alliances and their roles; and the creation of new trading opportunities and alliances.


In the past, public sector organizations have tended to concentrate their efforts as watchdogs over broader public interests or "the law", or as places where the public could come to seek certain largely monopolistic services.  Today they are increasingly sensitive to forces that, while not new, are growing in degree of importance -- the growing alienation of the public to government, the sense that many government organizations aren't relevant to large segments of the public, that public funds frequently are not wisely used, that some of the most visible and senior public officials are often seen to be lacking in judgment or character.  This has been accompanied by increasing public pressures toward greater access to government information, including actual source documents and records.  New forms of so called “informal” communications such as electronic mail are not exempt from these pressures.


Economic Forces



In part because of developments in robotics and other manufacturing and information technologies, and because of the emergence on the world trading scene of a vast new supply of cheap labor, we are seeing a fundamental shift, at least in the industrial countries, from an industrial-based society to a service-based society in which the objects of production and the major human factors of production are more oriented to information and knowledge transfer than to assembly-line production of goods.  This shift is no less pronounced or profound in impact than the previous shift over a century ago from an agricultural society to an industrialized society.


Prior to the spectacular political changes of the past few years, the forces of change in the free world aimed at reducing international barriers to trade were already at work; however, political changes in Eastern Europe accelerated the pace of change -- NAFTA, EEC, EU, EFTA, GATT, EBRD, ERM[2], are acronyms that have become commonplace in the news media -- not only in the countries directly effected by them but internationally in other countries as well. These developments have had varying degrees of impact on individual countries.  Even in countries not participating in or endorsing these forces of change, it is quite dangerous if not impossible to ignore their impact on the political, economic and social fabric. Today, the words of John Donne could not be more timely:  No man is an island unto himself.  We might add: nor is any country.  Many of the world's industrialized countries have begun to shift priorities from defense to economic recovery and growth.  There is a sense, extraordinarily even at the level of the common person on the street, of observing tomorrow's history in the making at the very moment that the final chapter of World War II is only now being written.  The organizational instruments created at the conclusion of World War II are showing signs of stress and strain and are the subjects of re-examination in the light of realities of a changing world political and economic order including considering new ways for these organizations to fuel the needs of emerging nations in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, South Africa and Palestine.


Business Forces



Macro-political and economic changes, such as those noted above when added to the pressures of nearly world-wide recession, have reverberated in the private sector and worked in ways that have driven substantial changes in businesses in the interests of their own economic recovery.  Old managerial and organizational molds are being broken.  Economic recovery and the accompanying high levels of competition to avoid bankruptcy in the private sector is behind much of the change.  Some of the fiercest competition is taking place in the information technology market itself which is both racing to respond to the rapidly changing business needs while, at the same time, fueling changes in organizational and work patterns.  Organizational structures are becoming flatter, cutting out whole layers of management, both as a means of reducing the cost of doing business and in shortening lines of communication between the sources of innovation in organizations and their decision makers, and thus their times to market.  Similarly, there is a shift away from the old production model in which organizations saw themselves as islands, developing and making virtually all components of a service or product.  This is becoming replaced, especially in the information technology area, with an approach that is not centered on the island model but one that involves strategic alliances with others.  Often these alliances are made between large industry giants and small upstart companies with a highly specialized product line.  For example, whereas in the past IBM even made its own line of office furniture to go with its technology products, today IBM is linked to a very small company that is a leader in the specialized field of carrying cases for notebook computers.  Thus, the new model combines the approaches of making some of the components within the organization while buying other components externally from other organizations that already have them.  This may entail opening the internal information systems and business records of a company to external supplier organizations.  In some cases it may require that in the form of electronic data interchange, or EDI, as a precondition of doing business.  Those developing such information management and technology (IM&T) tools and products as EDI have attempted to respond to these forces of change.  In some cases, they have also produced innovations, not particularly in response to economic or business forces but because of the existence of strong, innovative, centers of research and technology.  This model may be an effective means of substantially decreasing the time to bring new and more competitive services or products to market.  It may also mean that public and private sector organizations procuring the products of such vendors may be buying into a well established company’s office equipment, but with internal components that are produced by a new company with an uncertain future.  More to the point of the subject of this conference, the same model is increasingly being used to dramatically shorten the software development cycle with all of the concomitant risks.


Requirements for changes in the structure and conduct of business struck first and hardest with some of the largest and most established organizations in the private sector, such as IBM and Xerox, much to the surprise of the public at large.  Nonetheless, even in those companies, change continues and is becoming a way of life.  Such organizations are beginning to place customer satisfaction ahead of profit making as their central priority -- not because they consider turning a profit to be unimportant, but because of a new realization that if they truly understand what their client base is, what the needs of their clients are, and satisfy them well, the rest (including profits) will fall in place.  Moves towards loosening government regulation on business activity has also provided impetus to businesses to invest in change and the tools that will enable needed changes.  Particularly in the United States, but in other countries to a lesser degree, the cost of litigation has become very high.  It isn't simply a case of winning or losing.  Even the winners endure heavy legal costs to become winners, whether that means settling out of court or arguing to a successful conclusion in the courts, not to mention the costs associated with poor publicity that often accompanies litigation, even for the “winner”.  This, in turn, has brought about a greater awareness of the potential role of organizational records and retention scheduling, including digital forms of records.  The opportunities afforded by political and economic changes, coupled with significant improvements in global communication facilities, has contributed greatly to the rising presence of multi-national and trans-national businesses which has complicated legal, regulatory and recordkeeping considerations.  Are the recordkeeping laws of one country where a trans-national organization is doing business an adequate basis on which to build its recordkeeping practices or does it have to take account of the recordkeeping requirements of all countries in which it does business.  Although there may be a time lag, similar forces of change are devolving to smaller, less known organizations. 


Public Sector Forces


Where the impact of many of these forces was originally seen to be limited to the private sector, largely to avoid going broke, it is now becoming clear that like forces are beginning to have a similar impact on the public sector at all levels of government.  Whereas the single major driving force in the private sector might have been bankruptcy avoidance, in the public sector the main forces are related to avoidance of becoming irrelevant or becoming an organizational dinosaur, and thus losing out in the battle for a share of diminishing public budgets. 


The different role of the public sector -- e.g., protecting established social values and needs, providing essential services not available in the private sector -- has often been used as a reason to overemphasize the point that the lessons learned in the private sector are not very relevant in the public sector.  In the past, public sector organizations tended not to see the applicability of forces such as those outlined above.  Increasingly today, most elected officials who set budgets and public servants who vie for their share of those budgets, understand that changes in the economic picture due to mounting costs of servicing debt and public services, and recession, have brought about decreases in government revenues and enormous corollary pressures on government budgets.  These, in turn, are hitting home in government bureaucracies where long established functions and organizations are being put to the "needs" test:  is this function or service, or the law that created it, still needed or still relevant?  Could it be done a better way or more effectively and efficiently by someone else, internally or externally?  There have been cases even of local governments declaring the likelihood of "bankruptcy" as the justification for radical changes in public services and levels of service. 


In the United States the "Reinvention of Government" strategy of the Clinton Administration illustrates this awareness at the highest levels of government.  In the U.K., a current example of the same approach is the emphasis in ministries across the Government on "market testing" techniques to determine the relevancy, effectiveness and efficiency of publicly provided functions and services.  The basic elements of reinvention of government and market testing come from similar techniques being employed in the private sector under different names -- business process re-engineering, business process renewal, etc., in which the notion of "client orientation" is central.  This idea is somewhat novel in the public sector.  Thus, it can be seen that many of the forces of competition and efficiency driving change in the private sector have already (or soon will) become forces for change in the public sector and that even some of the remedies employed in the private sector, possibly with some adjustment, have application in the public sector.  Moreover, the public sector is subject to additional forces, not all of which necessarily operate in the same direction. 


IM&T Forces

Increasing sales volumes and shortening delivery times between technological advances are causing the costs for obtaining IM&T products to become more and more within the reach of most people.  As one recent computer journal put it on its cover, to draw attention to its cover story on the latest line of laser printers:  "4x the Power for 1/2 the Price".[3]  It may seem ironical that we should be seeing the emergence of faster and cheaper personal laser printers, suggesting the likelihood of more paper, while at the same time observing growing needs for digital document management systems (in the multi-media world, more appropriately "digital object management systems").  Apart from the fact that technology and business practice have never promised or guaranteed the absence of contradiction, this apparent contradiction may not signal anything more than the fact that most people will continue to use paper forms of information in the short run, especially for large documents that no one really wants to read on a computer screen, but will want to rely upon digital forms of information for storage and later retrieval purposes.


The introduction in April of desktop systems using the new DX4 100 megahertz desktop computer chip brings a level of computing power not dreamt of by most people five years ago.  At the same time, delivery commenced on 6-7 pound notebook computers that package this chip and deliver 75 megahertz (three to four times the speed of what was generally available just a few years ago) and with 500 megabytes (one-half gigabit or several file cabinet equivalents) of storage.  This puts extraordinary computing power in the hands of people on airplanes, in hotels, and at home -- of such a magnitude as to make it practical to seriously consider the use of a single computer for office, home and travel use. 


Why does anyone other than the scientist need such powerful tools?  Because these levels of speed and storage capacity make it possible to introduce software that makes it easy for the average person with little or no technical expertise -- just some practice -- to do otherwise very complicated tasks not possible on a slower or less powerful machine.  Software that makes things easy, such as Windows, are usually resource intensive.  The use of images (whole pictures of pages, possibly including digital photographs in digital form, rather than simply word-processed streams of letters and other characters) requires even more.  Image technology not only requires considerable storage space, but also very fast communication channels to transfer the information from one computer to another and, within a computer, from one part to another.  The use of video clips requires computer resources that are orders of magnitude greater than what is needed for still images. 


The idea of using hypertext documents in business applications would have constituted a very sophisticated and costly application not many years ago.  Moreover, most people would not have seen much by way of opportunities afforded by this technology to business.  Because few people had used it, application of the technology to business needs came slow and its application was fairly limited to on-line encyclopedias stored on CD-ROM (compact disc read-only memory) in which it is possible to call up a section on, say, medieval musical instruments, click on the name of an instrument and have a picture appear, and click again to hear a sound track of the instrument.  The hardware and software constituted a large investment.  Yet, the notion of including, as part of a computer-based human resources system, the capability for a hiring manager to "click" a mouse cursor on a citation in the bibliographic portion of an applicant's curriculum vitae (c.v.) and have the referenced published paper appear on the screen for browsing or for local printing out and later reading on the train, seems not so cumbersome any more.  Carrying the idea a step further and having a digitized picture of the applicant that the reader can click on while reviewing the c.v. and have it show a digitized videotape of the job interview with that person, seems like a logical next step -- no longer so much like the stuff that dreams are made of.  Once again, history teaches us that if technology produces new and highly innovative capabilities, people will search for ways in which to use such innovations to make things easier to do or to do things better than was possible before.  In the field of information technology, new capabilities almost always require more computing resources.  The new lines of desktop and notebook computers are beginning to deliver the levels of resources needed for some such applications.  Some of the notebooks now include optional slim line "docking stations" that can be left on one's desk in the office so that the notebook can be plugged into it when used in the office in order to connect into an office enterprise network, eliminating the need for a separate desktop computer.  Alternatively the docking station can be plugged into the bottom of the notebook, approximately doubling its size and weight (to, say 12 pounds), and be taken on the road for use with multi-media presentations or hypertext/multi-media documents in which video or sound objects (e.g., voice annotation) are inserted into of textual "documents" (causing, as noted earlier, many information and records managers and archivists to begin to rethink the concepts and definitions of "document" and "record"). 


If 12 pounds is too heavy and history is prologue, similar capabilities will become available within the next few years in the "sub-notebook" class, a classification normally reserved for relatively full-functionality computers under four pounds (not including "hand-helds", the applications for which are limited to such tasks as calendaring, telephone directories, etc.)  For anyone in their 40s, or possibly even 50s, the chances of seeing and using a 6-8 pound notebook, including a docking station, to "work smarter rather than longer" during their working years is by no means far fetched. 


Full-page personal image scanners have become common on the market for as little as about $1000 (less if you are willing to forego color), making it possible to improve the readability of documents through the incorporation of graphics, pictures, newspaper clippings, etc., and therefore their attractiveness and likelihood of being read.  For the most part, the use of imaging technology has been largely limited to centrally managed, fairly specialized, organizational applications.  The use of personal scanners, because of cost, also has been typically limited to such applications as newsletters, even though small, hand-held, partial-page scanners under $300 have been on the market for years.  With the increasing availability of full-page scanners that are relatively inexpensive, organizations will be more likely to provide such resources, at first on a shared basis much as they did initially with personal computers, to units throughout the organization.  As the price/performance ratio becomes even more attractive they will likely be provided for individuals.  Individuals will also begin to obtain such systems for their personal use so as to have greater flexibility in the use of multi-media and mixed-media information bases and to provide a way to reduce the need to maintain so much paper. 


Technological forces are joining with organizational pressures to reduce paper delivery and storage costs, to reduce paperwork and the time it takes to process paper, to facilitate the retrieval of only that information -- those records -- that are needed for a particular purpose from the ever increasing volumes of records, and to make office and personal files more accessible to staff virtually anytime, anywhere, and anyway.  With these forces coming more into play, it is only a matter of time before multi-media becomes a regular part of  business and government reports and records.  Speech recognition products are available today in relatively rudimentary forms.  More sophisticated “continuous speech” systems with retroactive correction capabilities are currently being developed and tested that will further open the possibilities for readily changing a digital record from one form to another, e.g., voice to text.


A long-standing concern of archivists and records managers has been the inviolability of records and the belief that it is easier to change digital records undetected than it is to do so with paper records.  How does one guarantee to a court of law that digital object records are authentic and trustworthy?  The answer is that one cannot make such guarantees, and probably one cannot make such guarantees for records in any form, including paper.  There are, however, many ways in which courts and others can be convinced of the reasonableness of the whole system of recordkeeping, not simply its individual parts[4]  In addition, a recent innovation developed by Drs. Stuart Haber and Scott Stornetta of Bellcore Laboratories in New Jersey was recently created with the original purpose of certifying intellectual property rights.  It is achieved by an author placing a research report, even before publication, into a service system that uses what is known as "electronic time stamping" or "digital time stamping" technology to compress the report to a relatively short string of characters in an open environment that is characterized as being "widely witnessed".  This string becomes a code, the key to which is public.  That makes it possible in future years to reveal any subsequent changes in the report, no matter how small -- even the introduction of a blank space where there wasn't one before -- because changes in the report will cause a change in the unique code for the report.  What is clear now is that this same technology can be used to ensure the trustworthiness of digital records and to detect when they have been changed.  Stornetta and Haber have just opened a Bellcore spin-off organization that will market the service.  This technology may constitute a much sought after means of certifying the authenticity of digital records.


It would be remiss to discuss the forces of information management and technology without mentioning the Internet -- the so called “Information Highway” or “Infobahn”.  An inter-network of hundreds of smaller networks, the number of users now exceeds 25 million in well over 100 countries and is growing at the pace of 10% per annum.  It has done probably more than any other single development to promote information interchange worldwide.  As a combination electronic mail system and network of thousands of data bases, it is truly and enabling technology for the globalization of academia, government and industry.  As with any electronic mail system, it exacerbates the management of records, because although it constitutes an informal means of communication, organizations use it to carry out business communications most of which are not printed out and therefore do not find their way into any records management system.  This is one of the more striking examples of how technology has changed work patterns and of one of the most difficult digital records issues that archivists and records managers have to face.  It illustrates the need for greater recognition of the functional requirements for the management of digital record keeping systems[5], especially the need for computer-assisted record disposition management.


Where is the Workplace Going?


At the organizational level, the forces of change discussed earlier in this presentation have brought about a new focus on end results defined not as products or financial results simply, but rather in terms of the ultimate purpose for which the organization or unit was established and continues to function.  This, in turn, has brought about greater attention to specific business processes within the organization, especially processes that cross organizational boundaries where there are often inefficient "hand-offs" for review, handling, approval, recording, redirection to the next hand-off point, etc.  How does this process contribute to the ultimate purpose of this organization or this organizational unit?  What is the "value chain" in this process -- the added value contributed by each step along the way?  How might it be done more effectively?  More efficiently?  How might information management and technology innovation help?  What is the most direct value chain necessary to produce the desired end results?


In the early 1980s, before the rapid diffusion of desktop technology, information technology was too often the tail wagging the dog, a function in and of itself where operational users had to vie for attention and a piece of the resource pie.  In the late 1980s and 1990s, the role of information technology has changed, and it will probably be more so the case in the next millennium, to one of an enabler of business.  The thrust is to get the business aspects right -- are we in the right business and are we doing it in the best possible way? -- and then apply the most appropriate feasible technology and information management tools (including records management systems). 


As to the kinds of IM&T products developed by the vendor community, in the 1980s the priority was on supporting the productivity needs of the individual, i.e., providing such utilities as word processors and spread-sheet software.  In the 1990s the focus has changed from the individual to the workgroups -- what can be done to make workgroups more effective?  This change in focus has elevated the use of group-oriented technology:  client/server enterprise networking; middleware in the form of workflow management facilities and document management systems with filing, information retrieval, conversion, electronic messaging, records management functionality; group authoring tools, "roomware" or computer-assisted meeting rooms in which participants interact anonymously and where a journal of the discussions is maintained by the system.  When this technology is used, participants rely on the computer-generated information rather than minutes of meetings.  Archivists and records managers will have to ensure that provision is made to capture the results of important decision meetings that take place this way.  With the rapid pace of improvements in notebook computing and portable printers, organizations are getting in a position to match needs for location-independent computing with corresponding capabilities.  All of this is bringing about changes in skill mix needs for the workforce. In the U.S., there has also been a considerable increase in the use of part-time and short-term employees.  Different trends may be at work in the U.K. or other countries.  It is important that managers find which of the changes have the greatest impact on their own operations and organization, and plan accordingly.  Among other things, this will undoubtedly point to the need for the assignment of one or more senior information technology specialists directly in the archives and records management organizations.  As there is little time for mistakes, it is probably the fastest way in which to add these skills to the archivists' and records managers' collective skill sets.


What are Principals Doing Differently?



Organizational pressures and IM&T developments have brought about some noticeable changes in how principals carry out their work.  At the individual level, principals are doing work differently.  Mainly they are taking charge of their own work and, for the large part, producing their own reports.  They are maintaining their own records, including some in electronic form, and their own non-standard filing schemes and practices, contributing to the loss of access to organizational files. There is more ad hoc, unofficial, “telecommuting” (working elsewhere than in the traditional office) and more working at home on evenings and weekends.  Thus there is a growing demand for access to files electronically and remotely.  As capabilities improve, the likelihood is that principals will make greater use of multi-media and hyper-media information and, as noted earlier, more flexibility in converting from text to image, voice to text, etc. They are relying less on traditional internal sources of information and more on information tools that address their special needs and their current needs.  Increasingly, they are using the vast and rapidly growing external reference data-bases available over the Internet and elsewhere and sharing their own information with others on the Internet.  Finally, they are relying less on traditional organizational systems for the management of documents and records.  This includes practices that have been long established for the appropriate management of organizational records.



What are Support Staff Doing Differently?


The work of support staff, especially secretaries, has noticeably changed.  Firstly, we are seeing an overall reduction in these staff categories in many public and private sector organizations as more of the task of producing reports is integrated by the authors.  Advanced software tools for calendaring and time management purposes have resulted in principals handling more of their own affairs.  Electronic forms of communications reduce the urgency for copying support and voice mail is reducing the need for telephone support.  In some cases, support jobs have been redefined and roles have been changed.  In others, the positions have been eliminated or replaced with temporary staff.  One of the major implications for records management comes about because of the deterioration of the traditional role of secretarial staff in the creation, editing, distribution, filing and disposition management of records.  As that role disappears, it is not typically being replaced by the principals who now do exercise almost total control over document creation and management but who do not, often unwittingly, see the importance of preserving records in an accessible manner. In an effort to turn this situation around, some organizations are beginning to redefine the roles of selected support staff who are qualified or trainable as departmental assistants on records management.




What it Means for Information Management, Including Archives and Records Management



If we believe that these technologies, some of which are already in growing use, will become common instruments of business and government in our professional lifetimes, then we must suffer the consequences in information management terms and also believe that this will accelerate what is already becoming the ubiquitous use of digital forms of record creation and keeping, and acknowledge that we shall have to organize different approaches to recordkeeping.  With the decentralization of computing power to the individual desktop there is a decentralization of physical custody and control of records and loss of intellectual control of information.  As more records are maintained within information systems, especially if under the control of information technology specialists who do not have a mandate for maintaining intellectual control over information resources, it is essential that archivists and records managers share in the responsibility for the logical organization of information.  If this does not happen, there is a risk not only of loss of intellectual control but of systems control as well.  To the extent that records are maintained on the hard or floppy disks of personal computers, ultimately it will be more than logical control that will be lost.  The records themselves will be lost.  If decentralization of computing resources is not managed well, it will also result in enormous duplications of records and effort.  Although a certain amount of this is to be expected since many of the copies are for short-term working purposes, a considerable amount of duplicates remain in the system over time.


The notion that current laws do not permit the use of digital forms of records, and therefore by definition there can be no such thing as "electronic records", constitutes a very short-sighted view.  Some countries have already changed their laws to recognize the inevitable.  In the U.S., the Federal Rules of Evidence now recognize every and all electronic versions of a document as "originals" and subject to the same procedures and rules of recordkeeping.  This suggests an interesting analogy to the term “exemplifications” used in diplomatics to refer to medieval documents (such as Magna Carta) where there are several signed versions of the same document, no one of which is regarded as “the original”.  It might be said that current U.S. law treats all electronic documents as exemplifications.  Even in countries where laws governing the use of digital records in evidence do not exist, many require that all copies of documents be governed by the appropriate retention schedule.  Accordingly, if digitized versions of paper records exist on an organizational computer, they will have to be dealt with as working copies of the records and subject to the same disposition management rules.  In short, we have electronic records whether we want them or not.  Over the ages, laws have been changed to accommodate commonplace events, just as the Gutenberg press in the middle ages and the growing literacy of people in the Renaissance brought about changes in the established common law exclusion of written documents for purposes of evidence in courts of law.  The time necessary for institutions to prepare for the widespread use of electronic records is sufficiently long that no responsible manager can afford to wait for the laws to change to begin to deal with the realities of the workplace.


Information management practices, including those related to records management, are not standing up well in the changing organizational and individual environments.  As the focus shifts from the management of products and services to the true end aims of the organization, operational managers, archivists and information and records managers must ask the question:  Are we keeping records on the right things?  Is the system producing unnecessary records?  Is it not creating records that it should?


Where do We Go From Here?



To begin to address the issues and opportunities outlined in this presentation, archivists and records managers will have to rethink their services and functions in the information management context of the organization's major business purposes and processes.  While preserving their orientation toward the assessment of information value both in organizational and societal terms, an extremely strong asset they bring to the information management table -- and without giving up their unique view toward the long-term future -- they will have to adapt their own systems and approaches to the changing patterns of work or risk losing important whole sources of organizational records.  In carrying out their responsibilities in their new environment, they will need to open up to seemingly radical ideas and form alliances with their colleagues in the information management and technology arm of their organization, and with the family of users who create records and senior managers whose initiative and support will be needed to ensure successful collaboration of all the stakeholders in the digital records environment.  They will have to actively participate in the renewal of organizational business processes and the integration of the organization's overall information management strategy.  Where core business re-engineering is not taking place in their organizations, they will want to consider re-engineering of the institutional document management and records management services for which they do have responsibility, and involve the whole family of stakeholders in the process -- substantive organizational departments,  information management and technology units, etc.  They will have to acquire the skills necessary to make this happen, over and above the professional skills already needed for excellence in records management.  This means technical skills in the area of information management and technology and organizational skills in business analysis, oral and written communications through a combination of in-house training, with the assistance of the internal IM&T group and in collaboration with local universities, promotion of curriculum changes in archival and records management graduate programs and (at least for the next few years until the university pipeline provides the necessary balance of skills) importing of information scientists directly into the archives and records management organizations.  While the implied change in the way they will carry out their work should not be underestimated, nothing about this should be foreign to what has always been important to archivists and records managers -- preserving important information assets for short- and long-term operational, evidential and societal purposes.  Finally, archivists, records managers and information management and technology managers will have to understand and articulate changing work patterns and needs in a manner that is both clear and persuasive to senior executives in their organizations. For their part, senior managers should listen to the concerns of their information specialist organizations and take the necessary steps to ensure identification and collaboration of the stakeholders in these issues.  Mainly, they are the only ones likely to be in a position to getting something started to begin to tackle the issues and capture the benefits of the digital record environment.



[1][1]It should be clearly understood that the purpose of this paper is in no way to advocate, promote or necessarily even to agree with all of the changes outlined herein.  Rather it is to observe the reality of their impact on the way in which records are beginning to be managed today and increasingly will be managed in the future.  Many of these forces and changes present very complex and troublesome social concerns and issues -- e.g., their impact on employment, the quality of the workplace, access to public information, individual privacy, etc.  It is important that government and business address these issues with the involvement of an informed citizenry; however, addressing them will not necessarily require or result in the reversal of all or most of these trends.  That set of concerns, as important as it is, is not the subject of this paper.

[2]North American Free Trade Agreement, European Economic Commission, European Union, European Free Trade Area, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.  In this instance, and given the primary audience of this paper, ERM does not stand for "electronic records management", but rather for "European rate mechanism".

[3][3]WINDOWS Magazine, cover, August, 1994.

[4]Barry, R.E., "Ensuring the Legal Admissibility of Records in an Emerging Electronic Environment", in the U. K. Records Management Society Bulletin to be published in August, 1994.

[5]See the discussion of "Functional Requirements for Record Keeping Systems", a U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (National Historical Publications and Records Commission) research grant project at the University of Pittsburgh in David Bearman's article in Archivaria 36, Autumn 1993.