The Day I Learned NOT Everyone is a Records Manager!
The first time I took Records Management training, I was only a few weeks out of college, and auto-categorization systems had yet to be invented. I had started a job in the RM division of the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, and at that point I knew nothing about the nerdy world of RM that I was about to fall in love with.
Like so many of you, the first line of my training was “Everyone is a records manager.” It was a line I immediately embraced and would later repeat with the frequency of a broken record. So as my career grew and the mechanisms of RM changed, from collecting disks to storing word docs in an RMA, I went on organizing my RM plans and programs around the notion that everyone would (and should!) be included in some form or fashion.
When deploying my first RMA, HP TRIM, I was forced to stand tall in front of a room of cranky senior-level guys who insisted they “didn’t do records.” They had been forced to go to the training by their Chief of Staff, and I was selected as the messenger. I now realize I was put in that position for the same reason Eisenhower made sure the least experienced solders landed at D-Day first, no one with any experience would have gone in with the blind vigor that I did. I was adamant that everyone is a records manager, and it didn’t matter how senior the audience. In fact, I argued that precisely because they were senior, it was even more important that they “do records.”
From that deployment to deployments that would take me to Japan, civilian agencies in DC, and around the private sector, I continued to build my RM world around the tenet I learned in that first RM training.
But for all that effort, the millions of dollars spent in time and resources, and my passion to improve the RM capabilities of the organizations I was sent to help, I never managed to build a program that got all or even most of my users to fully comply with RM requirements. I began to think about the root causes of that challenge; here is what I concluded:
- No matter how easy we make it; users will never do a consistent job of applying metadata
- Most users don’t see the value of RM, so there will always be digital litterers
- Great systems align both user needs and management desires
I began to realize that, in fact, everyone is not a records manager. That meant I needed to rethink the entire way we build RM plans and programs. I calculated that to change the dynamic, RM would need to become something that was far easier for users to do, and it would need to add a lot more value to the business. If I could make RM easier for users, there would be no reason why a user couldn’t be a good RM. By making the results of RM so valuable that users couldn’t live without it, the users themselves would want to be good at RM.
So, which should come first: the value or the or the user experience? As it turns out, we needed a system that could do both at the same time. Today, the best systems for that job are auto-categorization systems.
Auto-categorization systems are tools that automatically clean, tag, and organize unstructured data. When I began considering these systems, they were just starting to be developed. Today, auto-categorization systems exist that are fully developed and easy to use. These systems fundamentally change the value equation because they enable a single RM expert to apply metadata to hundreds of TBs of records (in what amount of time?). Without the need to have end-users to tag records, users quickly found that the bar for good RM had been reduced to almost nothing. Even the job of maintaining PII and sensitive material was easier, because auto-categorization systems can find the risky data and automatically move the records to a quarantine without user intervention.
But more than lowering the bar for good RM, auto-categorization systems also add a tremendous amount of value. For example, by creating “inappropriate word” lists, the system allows you to quickly find and remove possibly embarrassing emails. Through searches to find client information, you can support GDPR. By tagging your data, you can begin to transform your organization from being information poor to information rich. In fact, organizations in both the private and public sectors now routinely use auto-categorization systems as a mainstream part of their core business process.
The truth is, most people are not records managers, and I’m glad that they are not! I love RM, and I love learning and practicing my profession. If you are a records nerd like me, you can now use today’s modern auto-categorization systems to empower yourself and your entire organization to finally have the amazing RM program you have always deserved. You can become central to your organization’s business by using auto-categorization systems to defer risk and create value. Perhaps the best part: you can become the super RM who takes something off everyone’s plate, instead of being the person, like I was, who was there to add to it. Now that’s a change we can all live with.
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