Over time [remember I have been associated with Records And Information Management - RIM for over 30 years] I have come across some interesting 'HORROR" methods of operation in the area of Records And Information Management - RIM and Retention & Disposal [Disposition] and other activities in this fine country of Australia and I wish to share some of these gems with you.
There are in 2005 numerous examples of the latest and greatest STAR WARS types of solutions in the marketplace in comparison to the actuality on the ground here in Australia in respect to the state of the art of Records And Information Management - RIM as practiced in isolated pockets of our real life working environment.
Here are some of these GEMS.
I can assure you that these are isolate exceptions and not the general rule for Records And Information Management - RIM practice in the land of the Australian Records Management Standard - AS4390 which was the basis of the International Records Management Standard - ISO15489.
Real life situations are in many instances more hilarious than fiction.
1. THE FOUR CORNERS, RETENTION AND DISPOSAL - DISPOSITION POLICY: I am advised that this is a true real life situation with a large and profitable commercial operation with a senior manager of the organisation. You start by piling all incoming and outgoing correspondence in one corner of a room. When the pile of documents in corner one  reaches a height where it has the tendency to fall over, you then move to the second corner. I am uncertain as to which of the four corners you start the process. It may be the North, South, East and or West corner, [I am making the assumption, possibly erroneously that the room has four corners]. I doubt that it matters but there may be some religious or cultural significance as to which corner of the compass that one should, or could start the process. Once the second corner commences to indicate the falling over tendency as in corner one , you move to the third and then subsequently to the fourth or more corners and repeat the exercise. Once you return to the first corner of the room it is time for the disposal for all documents located at that position. The process then starts once again.
I am advised that the above is not a JOKE; this is the real life situation practiced in a real life organisation.
2. THE WHITE ANT [termite], RETENTION AND DISPOSAL – DISPOSITION POLICY: Again I am advised that this is also a true life situation. All inactive material is stored in cardboard boxes in the basement. The building has been constructed at some time in the past over the top of a disused timber sawmill. All documents transferred to the basement are placed in cardboard boxes with all of the latest boxes being placed at the top level near the ceiling. The documents in the basement have never been culled over some seventy  years. The reason for this inactivity of culling is that the unpaid workers, "white ants" keep destroying the lower level cartons on a consistent basis so that space never becomes a problem.
Try and beat this system on cost, or with the latest technology.
3. THE PYRAMID STORAGE SYSTEM: I know this one to be real as I have seen it in operation, personally. Documentation from the organisation is transferred to the lowest cost centre. This low cost centre is the basement where the existence of overhead pipes causes one to crouch when entering, and where sump pumps toil continuously, 24 hours a day to keep the water level at least six inches below the records. Unused or unwanted or maybe even unloved documents are piled onto a hand trolley in the operational area and the documents are then transported to the basement where they are offloaded direct from the hand trolley into piles, sorry PYRAMIDS of paper. Once a pyramid reaches the point of spread where it flows outward uncontrollably, a new pyramid is created. I am unsure of the sophistication of the removal of old pyramids or how a decision is made to remove old pyramids from the system, but this is a real life scenario in a government agency.
This forth situation is a little different from the three above. This situation is a non written, non spoken but real life procedure applied in the operational process and culture of a government agency.
4. LOW COST OUTSOURCING IN THE MANAGEMENT OF OUTGOING CORRESPONDENCE: When a request is made to the organisation, lets call them [organisation A] either verbally or in writing in response to a letter or correspondence outgoing from the organisation [organisation A], a request is made to [the sending person or organisation B] from which the verbal enquiry, letter or correspondence is received to supply a copy of the letter or correspondence sent to them in the first instance by the [organisation A]. Due to the fact that the [organisation A] has no method of knowing what letters or correspondence it has initiated or to whom the correspondence was sent they require the responding party [the sending person or organisation B] to provide a copy of their original outgoing correspondence from [organisation A] to enable them to know why the person or organisation [the sending person or organisation B] is making contact with them. This is a deliberate policy of [organisation A] to overcome their inability to know what letters or correspondence is being sent out. The process seems to work for this [organisation A] but I doubt that it could be claimed that it is a successful Public Relations exercise. The person who advised me of this situation was in a senior position and thought the situation to be hilarious. MANAGEMENT COSTS FOR CORRESPONDENCE CONTROL IS BORNE BY THE RECIPIENT or this is how it is perceived by some individuals in [organisation A].
I trust that by now you are CRYING professionally and not laughing.
Laurie Varendorff ARMA
Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president and national director, has been involved in records management for 31 years. He has his own consulting and training business near Perth, Western Australia, and has tutored in recordkeeping and archival storage and preservation at Perth’s Edith Cowan University. Phone: +61 (0)8 9291 6925; mobile: 0417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff
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