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Is Disposition = Retention & Disposal the only thing that Records & Information Management - RIM is about? - July 2008

If it is, then we should all pack up and go home or do something more constructive with our lives!

I am referring to the recent over reactive and unhealthy interest in [ROI – Risk of Incarceration] type of Electronic Discovery driven disposition. RIM is about an holistic approach to the management of an organisations business or government processes. Disposition in itself plays a relatively small, but important role in the overall scheme of things. Escalating disposition to its current level of interest & activity has resulted in a distortion of its position in the total scheme of RIM.

At the ARMA International 2007 Annual Conference held in Baltimore 7th to 10th October I spent most of my time attending sessions & some time on the Exhibition floor speaking with vendors touting their wares. If I did not know better [and obviously many do not] I may have been forgiven for believing that the answer to the above heading statement was in the affirmative & was true & correct. Why?

At one stand where the representative was successful in grabbing my attention with his demeanour I asked the representative if he could tell me what he was offering. I was exposed to a dissertation on the merits of his product which was to save me from the regulators and to address all of my regulatory requirements, for a fee of course. I responded that I was impressed with his enthusiasm & vigour but what was he offering in regard to various RIM issues e. g. classification, controlled vocabulary – CV, Business Classification Schemes - BCS, version control & how did his product offerings add up to the requirements as detailed in ISO 15489-1:2001 Information and documentation -- Records management -- Part 1: General, and SO/TR 15489-2:2001 Information and documentation -- Records management -- Part 2: Guidelines?

His honest response, and he was brutally honest, was that he was a salesman & what he was telling me about his product was the limit of his understanding of RIM. He confided in me that had no idea about the questions I was asking as he did not understand this RIM STUFF.

The beauty of this conversation was that this person was aware that he did not understand RIM whereas many others on the exhibition floor & elsewhere pretend that they understand. There is a consensus of opinion being discussed within RIM circles [and also within ARMA] of the need to educate the vendors in the reality of RIM. We, the RIM professionals are being constantly bombarded by solutions given to us from above & also from THE MAJOR VENDORS when sadly they do not understand the PROBLEM let alone the SOLUTION.

In the early 1990’s, at least in Australasia & also elsewhere, Archivists realised that their ability to preserve information [the thing that they had being doing for centuries] was at peril due to the overwhelming use of Personal Computers – PC’s and the demise of the Central Records & Information Management Registry.

This issue of the demise of the Central RIM Registry process generally went unnoticed in the USA as the Central RIM Registry process [to the best of my knowledge] was not practiced in the USA as it was in most of the of the previous British Empire, in various European Countries & in particular Australia. The solution as worked out over a number of years by the Archivists, Records Managers & others eventuated in the creation of the Australian Records Management Standard AS4390 in the mid 1990’s. The principles espoused in this earthshaking document formed the catalyst and basis for the adoption of the ISO 15489 RIM standard in the early 2000’s, or 2001 to be exact.

The degree of misunderstanding in the offerings from vendors stretches across the gambit of suppliers from the smallest up to the giants & is highlighted in an incident in the case of Microsoft when its Microsoft Records Management Team Blog stated in a posting on Wednesday March 28th 2007 that - We are taking a break from posting on this site because all of the topics that we had wanted to blog about have now been posted. The Microsoft Records Management Team Blog started on April 10th 2006 to much fanfare and it’s disappeared less then twelve [12] months later because Microsoft had learnt all it needed about the RIM STUFF. Sorry to be a disbeliever but I do not buy this assessment. Am I targeting Microsoft? And the answer is a big NO. All of the players want a part of this increasing $ spend and Microsoft is no exception. Microsoft is unique as they are THE or one of THE major players in this market & in my personal view, they & others have got it wrong in targeting the end of the process E.G. disposition while not addressed the whole.

SPECIAL NOTE: No other supplier has ever taken the level of interest that Microsoft did in the RIM profession. When Microsoft created its RIM Blog, many in the RIM profession [myself included] applauded the interest shown & thought at last we had a major world class vendor who would champion the RIM cause due to the interest & effort it was making to understand RIM and that they would provide us with at least some of the solutions required. Time will tell if that is the case but I am not optimistic about a positive outcome that meets the needs of the RIM profession from Microsoft or for that matter any of the majors getting a toehold in RIM via their own efforts in the case of Microsoft or via the acquisition of specialist RIM vendors.

I was unkind enough back in 2003 in an article entitled - Is records management to be the next new buzzword? - to make the statement – “The blue sky merchants, snake oil promoters, unscrupulous salesmen and charlatans will be drawn to the honey pot of potential rewards in minutes of it appearing to be the new hot and valuable product”. This was well before the release of the 2005 study that suggested in 2007 that $2.865 billion dollars would be spent on e- Discovery in the USA. Source: Socha Consulting LLC

What am I promoting? I have a small ask and that is that the vendors employ known, capable & experienced Records Managers & Archivists to assist them to understand the process of RIM & at least to be aware of the guidelines and directives as detailed in the International Standard ISO 15489-1&2. Committing to listen to the RIM profession for a period of only twelve [12] months to fully understand the complexity of this profession is not an acceptable proposition. I have been exposed to RIM in a commercial & professional involvement since 1960 or forty eight [48] years & I am happy to say that I continue to learn something new about this wonderful RIM profession almost every day.

Enough about the KING and the other major players, now back to reality.

We must understand that this thing RIM is not Rocket Science & good RIM is in fact a set of rules & processes based on Common Sense. That said Common Sense is a rare commodity & in my view should be reclassified to what it really is, and that is Uncommon Sense.

Horror stories in RIM abound & everyone has theirs to tell. As a consultant in this marvellous profession I am at the stage that nothing can SHOCK me as I may not have seen the entirety of these wonderfully bad RIM disasters but I have experienced enough to know that most, if not all are avoidable. The application of Uncommon Sense would have worked wonders in most of these situations. If your need to reinforce your understanding of what can, or does go wrong in the real world my Australian business associates keep a record of known situations on their website at Lest We Forget in an attempt to keep alive the memory of significant records management incidents or situations.

I do not need to detail what I believe to be the main game to achieve success in the implementation & ongoing operation of a successful RIM program as I have documented my thoughts many times & those thoughts are available for FREE & online at my website located at this website under Articles.

I will detail some dot points for your consideration:

  • 1: Records & Information Managers & Archivists should be involved in the design, selection & planning for any proposed RIM solution in addition to the Information Technology & Business Application users plus Legal [and possibly others]. These parties should sit at the board room table level as equal partners to start building the foundation blocks on which to create a successful RIM application. Yes! A motherhood statement.

  • 2: Before we get moving [usually in the wrong direction] it is essential, NO CRITICAL that we first have a documented Controlled Vocabulary - CV [sometimes referred to as a Dictionary or Thesaurus] for the organisation. NOTE: If we do not speak the same language we can never succeed.

  • 3. Again before we get to the main game we need to address the Business Process requirements by creating a Business Classification Scheme – BCS. NOTE: If we do not mandate the language & the functions & activities of the Business Processes we can never succeed.

  • 4. Technology is not a solution, it is only an enabler. NOTE: The sooner this fact is imprinted into the brains of all concerned the better off we will be at applying an effective, capable & workable RIM solution.

    This list could continue on & on, but so as not to bore the audience into a stupor, suffice to say that in the current century we have become used to instant gratification. We are a - I want it now generation - & the same goes for our corporate masters who want a solution today to fix all ills, past, present & future at the least cost & the lowest possible timeframe. Press a button & out comes the solution. The IT vendors have made a fortune catering to this psyche.

    As they say at the gym, or on the sporting field, NO PAIN = NO GAIN! The same goes for RIM applications & implementations. The analogy is: I want to run 100 yards in 10 seconds but I do not wish to train. Or I want all my personnel to be records management savvy but I do not wish to provide them with policies, procedures & practices or allow them to be trained [or to provide ongoing training for all & I mean ALL personnel] to provide that outcome.

    The overwhelming attitude is that, we gave them the technology so let them get on with the job. OH! If RIM solutions were so easy to make happen! The vendors are very happy to promote to us that that all that is required is the MAGIC WAND & that just happens to be, you guessed it – their particular TECHNOLOGY.

    The reality is that there are up front & ongoing costs plus ground rules & preparation involved but vendors do not know the extent or the process involved & secondly they do not wish to expose the real Total Cost of Ownership – TCO to prospective clients. TCO can be many times the cost of the software. In a recent situation that I was personally involved the ratio of software cost to the TCO was a staggering 31:1 as against the $ outlay for the software the client had decided upon. No wonder the vendors of RIM solutions are not exactly outgoing with the disclosure of these sorts of figures.

    RIM is not just about disposing of those records that may come back to bite us or any other records for that matter if we do not legally have a process to dispose of them implemented into our day to day disposition procedures before the corporate Armageddon where we get dragged into a legal quagmire where our past misdemeanours come to light due to a discovery action. If we did the crime, we must pay the time and no attempt to redress the situation [within a veil of legality] can be achieved by making records disappear when in fact they prove our complicity in some previous misdemeanour. This is not what quality RIM is about, nor should it be.

    RIM is about good business processes without which no business can succeed. Disposition is a logical outcome of the implementation of good RIM not the main aim, or at least that is what should be set out in the guidelines for the application & implementation of an effective quality RIM program. If the organisation has no system in place to properly classify their records via a Business Classification Scheme –BCS it is thus neigh impossible to know what groupings of records to apply the disposition rules applicable let alone to do it auto magically via some of the often touted Information Life-Cycle Management – ILM systems.

    Change Management:

    What is the possibility of success in designing, documenting, purchasing & then implementing a RIM system if we do not set the organisations needs criteria correctly? Everyone is in a hurry to get a solution in place so shortcuts are made that almost guarantees the failure of the application no matter how much money is thrown at the program. From time to time there appear statistics in relationship to the non performance or under performance in respect to the implementation of an RIM application and these situations are not assistive in respect to the image of RIM as a PROFESSION. The identification of the underlying reasons for non performance or under performance need careful attention. All projects [not just the successful ones] should be put under the microscope after implementation to assess their effectiveness. An organisation will learn more about how to succeed the next time around from these documented assessments. Usually we learn more from our documented failures [if someone has the gumption to accept that a failure did in fact occur] than from the heady heights, trumpeting & self gratification related to our successful projects.

    In Australasia research has shown that where the business process and classification / thesaurus or dictionary is NOT mature at the time of system implementation (technology) that 75% of all calls to RIM Helpdesks are about “other than the technology”. Questions like “where do I put this document?, what do I call this document?, how long will it be kept?, will it be secure? If 75% of the questions relate to these issue this fact should indicate where 75% of the budget should be applied i.e. to RIM foundation type development, which can be applied to all system including the way information is managed without a technology solution.(Source: SMC)

    Change management is often highlighted as an issue & one that if not addressed will certainly kill the potential success of an RIM implementation. Things as basic as the tree structure offered by Microsoft in their Windows offerings now for many years is the concept of My Documents e.g. On Microsoft Windows operating systems, My Documents is the name of a special folder on the computer's hard drive that is commonly used to store a user's documents, music, pictures, downloads, and other files. The My Documents folder was first introduced in Windows 95 OEM Service Release 2, as a standard location for storing user-created files. Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia. NOTE: In Windows Vista the terminology has been changed to Documents.

    The concept of My Documents utilized by Microsoft is one that still survives today. In a recent article published in January 2008 promoting a Web based solution the creators of the software proudly promote the concept that the end user be given the rights to allow access to HIS or HER Documents in respect to 1. Access [Read Only], to Update, or to Delete the documents [which in the majority of cases would be records]. WOW has this supplier ever read ISO15489-1&2 or understood the concept the information captured or created by an individual in their work process is a CORPORATE or ORGANISATIONAL document & or record and needs to comply with the corporate set of rules as espoused by ISO15489-1&2. NOTE: The situation supports the increasingly held view for training in RIM for creators and supplier of RIM solutions.

    I am a strong believer in the adherence to the principles & practices as set down in ISO15489-1&2. Is ISO15489-1&2 perfect? I think not, as in my personal & not so humble view my interpretation of the Standard is that some of the guidelines stated as could or should are things that if one does not implement in an RIM environment then the overall concept espoused by ISO15489-1&2 are not, nor cannot be fulfilled.

    Summation:

    RIM is not only about disposition as RIM is about good business strategies, policies plus processes & practices. The issue of indexability & also findability should be high on the agenda for any RIM implementation which is achieved by the creation of a Controlled Vocabulary for the organisation which then allows for the creation of a Business Classification Scheme - BCS [via integration with & input from all parties with a need to be involved] which provides a foundation for doing some of the desirable automation with the linking of records to Records General Retention & Disposition Schedules.

    With a BSC in place an organisation could possibly address the latest & greatest buzz phrase, Information Life-Cycle Management - ILM & make it a reality rather than hype or blue sky stuff as it currently stands. Maybe the clams of nirvana or utopia via the use of ILM could be realised IF, & only IF a workable controlled vocabulary – CV – Thesaurus which enables a BCS to be created and put in place before ILM was implemented. Having a BCS in place is good, NO essential RIM practice.

    Happy RIMing,

    Laurie Varendorff ARMA

    The Author

    Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president & national director, has been involved in records management and the micrographic industry for 37 years. Laurie has his own microfilm equipment sales & support organisation - Digital Microfilm Equipment - DME - and a - records & information management - RIM - consulting & training business - The Varendorff Consultancy - TVC - located near Perth, Western Australia, & has tutored & written course material in recordkeeping & archival storage & preservation for Perth’s Edith Cowan University - ECU. Phone: +618 9286 3705; mobile: +61 417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff

    The author, Laurie Varendorff of the Varendorff Records Management Consultancy - TVC - Helping clients manage their e-World gives permission for the redistribution or republishing of this article by individuals and non profit professional organisations without cost based on the condition that he as well as the URL of the article are recognised at the introduction of the article when redistributed or republished.

    SPECIAL NOTE: Use of this article by publishers, commercial, government, or educational organisations requires a financial agreement to be negotiated with Laurie as the copyright holder for this work.