Friday, January 18, 2008

GARP THREE: Hard Copy or Electronic Inventory

In discussing the inventory, the format of record is irrelevant. The inventory prepares structure and symmetry in the file plan. Robek suggests three approaches: a survey created and conducted by the business unit personnel; a questionnaire prepared by records and sent to the business unit to be returned upon completion; and an interview by records personnel combined with the questionnaire. The interview with questionnaire derives the best results because both pieces--the interview and the questionnaire--are prepared by trained records experts and quality is assured. However, it is the most expensive. Since budget and deadlines are constant project management factors, concessions must be made when deciding upon the best strategy to inventory. While records personnel treat inventorying as a project, it is also an opportunity to promote Records and Information Management.

Customarily, the questionnaire is designed in-house, although I have known them to be shared. The questions are only slightly different for hard copy versus electronic records. As opposed to a number count of "How many file cabinets do you have?" the analyst will ask for electronic records locations, "What drive/folder/subfolder are these documents in?" The larger concerns for the analyst focus on function, process, and whether or not the business unit understands records jargon. I have discovered that I must explain that filing an email is a records process, not one based on business unit function. For example, conversation openers (beyond inquiries regarding the pictures in an employee's cubicle) include "How many convenience copies a matrix team retains for the latest IT implementation?" and "Once you've finished with this email string, where do you file it? Is it placed in a group archive folder? Who has access?" Questions like these open the eyes of an employee to treating their documents as potential records.

Treating documents as potential records is the big payoff for the records program. The inventory is the delivery mechanism to promoting the sound competence of records personnel, which is the key to strengthening records and information management's position as a bona fide field of study overall. Utilizing project management techniques, sound records jargon, a clear explanation of details and expectations, and the analyst cannot miss. If you have questions in the future regarding electronic records inventorying especially, please don't hesitate to contact me. I have a few good worksheets and some additional tips of interest for you. Good luck!

Originally published in the ARMAdilla, January 2006.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

GARP TWO: In Order for a Program to Flourish, A RIM Policy Must Be Endorsed

Nay, try establishing, enhancing, and protecting a Records and Information Management program without a policy. Whether a Records Manager is blessed with the opportunity to develop one from scratch or inherits, the first step towards credibility of a records program is a written declaration of purpose. It is our most basic rule of thumb that a Records Management Program cannot endure without upper management support. The policy should be simple but encompassing.

It may be structured into three main parts--this is who we are, this is what we do, this will be our future. Or, it is a simple statement of "we work, therefore we are", followed by bullet points supporting the claim. Custom dictates it mimics company policy (which will satisfy the management team). Readers will find often in the first sentence, appropriate words like "vision" and "mission". The script mentions "records and information management" at least once. Gerunds are popular for bullet points.

Many programs have secondary policies for particular functions and technologies (for example, an email policy) but the policies are rarely enforced. Place the mission statement as the declaration of purpose on the department's webpage. Accompany all policies with procedures and training modules. Change management is the responsibility of every Records Manager, knowledge management is the result of the good policy, and the company intranet is the beginning.

Originally published in the ARMAdilla, November 2005.

Monday, January 14, 2008

GARP ONE: All Records Are Created Equally

The birth of a document is the same as a record, regardless of medium or content, because a potential record is only assigned its retention value after it is acknowledged to belong to a records series.

The first chapter of Robek Brown and Stephen’s Information and Records Management states clearly the top tenets of the profession (including the basic factors that delineate a document from a record). The most important tenet is the first: to control the creation and growth of records.

To control the growth, organizations must have two components: a creation-control component that attempts to limit the creation of drafts not required to operate the business in the event of a disaster and a records retention component under which useless records (records that have met their retention period) are destroyed at about the same rate at which new records are generated, thereby stabilizing growth.

Saffady explains the concept somewhat differently: it is still a matter of time and reference, but information-bearing objects that meet the requirement of containing information directly related to business are described as having “record status.” Therefore, those documents without relation to business are destroyed. That is the mechanism of control.

To understand the mechanism, we assign value to a document based on the content as if we already know the value; we use the maieutic approach (from the Greek maieutikos, meaning "giving birth")--that is, eliciting the truth by asking questions as we recognize already the potential benefit of the document to the organization. However, GARP One is only concerned with the creation stage (the first stage of the records lifecycle).

For example, an employee types a document on her company workstation. The document is a memo referencing an electronic document management product she reviewed during her visit to the vendor floor at ARMA Houston 2005 at the Stafford Centre.
Impressed with the potential benefits to the company, she emails a brief note to her Director of Records Administration and the Director of Technology Solutions, along with the committee members of the EDMS research committee. Until the content is identified and the email is deposited into the corresponding file, the email sits in the employee’s inbox. The content remains in limbo until a time and reference value is assigned (a metadata stamp is not yet a consideration in assigning value).

Originally published in the ARMAdilla, September 2005.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

GARP: Generally Accepted Records Principles

A basic financial accounting text will reveal two immediate items of importance: accounting is a game of logic and accounting is based on records. The discipline of accounting is the analysis and application of records content to determine an entity's strength. The tenets of the profession are based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), which are rules and jargon that govern the calculation of a particular entity's value. Similarly, in records management we have essential rules to establish the length of time at which we should retain content for the intellectual health of the organization (records are assets). I understand RIM theory in the following manner:

1. Establishing a Records Program
2. The Records Policy
3. The Records Inventory
4. The File Plan
5. The Retention Schedule
6. Managing Active Records
7. Managing Inactive Records
8. Managing the Program
9. Auditing the Program

This is our foundation for Generally Accepted Records Principles (GARP). Generally Accepted Records Principles are the tenets records colleagues agree to be universally true and influence the decisions we make daily. We establish rules and jargon to declare the inherent beliefs of our own new records management. Please understand: I do not begrudge Records colleagues their need for specializations (ex. legal records management). The above principles are more...broadly based. However, we must decide whether content or technology will rule. The skill sets for the twenty-first century will be derived once we acknowledge that the integration of general records management into partnered disciplines is of great interest. We must discuss openly whether it is possible for an electronic record to be vital if it is copied in multiple locations. We must decide the true definition of compliance. We must ensure the work we've accomplished in the past 100 years will survive to create a strong interdisciplinary member of the corporate team in the form of a new records manager.

Originally published in the ARMAdilla, July 2005.