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.