Records managers, how do you start the defensible disposition conversation? Say it with flowers.

Chucking Daisies: Ten Rules for Taking Control of Your Organization’s Digital Debris
by Randolph A. Kahn, Esq. and Galina Datskovsky, Ph.D., CRM, is a 2013 publication from ARMA International.

This ambitious book may be under 70 pages, but it is a dense and quick read. Kahn and Datskovsky introduce the concept of planned, and therefore defensible, disposition.

They utilize several analogies:

Imagine a small sprouting daisy bursting through the ground struggling to get closer to the sun. It grows and grows, getting stronger by the day. At some point, that little daisy … will be harvested and find its way to your office in a vase filled with fresh water. The daisies are beautiful to the senses and light up the room.

However, as the days pass and no matter how much fresh water is added, their beauty will begin to decline. After a couple of weeks, their stems will start to bend, their once bright white and yellow colors will turn brown and their petals will wilt and fall off. They begin to stink and you throw them out.

Information is no different.

Think of the information in your organization as the daisies. It has a lifecycle -- it comes into existence and at some point, when it no longer has business or legal value, it begins to “stink” as it clogs up your systems and should be disposed of. Old, outdated information needs to be “chucked” (or thrown away) just like dying daisies -- maybe not in just a few weeks, but at some point it needs to go."

Flowers are only the beginning:

  • “imagine … a house with a family of packrats”;
  • “too much background noise means hearing the good music is much more challenging. So reduce the noise … throw out bad data”;
  • information as a “pile”;
  • 100 terabytes of data as “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”; and,
  • the old man in the flood who asserts, “God will take care of me.”

… you get the idea.

Chucking Daisies.jpg

The book is divided helpfully into ten rules, which I quite like. I also appreciate the latest research on data growth from IDC, Gartner and The Council for Information Auto-Classification.

Rule 1: Stop Keeping Everything Forever (KEF)

The authors claim that most organizations have an unspoken “Keep Everything Forever (KEF)” policy. Kahn and Datskovsky launch the heart of the book correctly: they argue against the “storage is cheap” position.

When you add in the costs of the systems that run the storage devices, the buildings they sit in, the energy required to run and cool them, the licenses for software and maintenance, the back-up processes required, and the people to manage it all, you’ll soon discover that storage is not so cheap after all!"

Some helpful tips and tricks to augment this position?

  • Engage IT management to help solve the information over-retention problem.
  • Find ways to reduce the employee burden of information management so they can focus on their core jobs.
  • Make employees aware of how their “packrat-itis” impacts business efficiency and costs.
  • Lawyers should guide the organization about what can be legally disposed of.
  • Litigators must drop the “preserve everything” approach unless ordered by the court.
  • Limit the use of technologies and storage areas for anything designated as a “record” that can’t be centrally accessed or controlled.

Please note that bulleted lists frequent each chapter -- a perfect format for the executive-level audience.

Rule 2: Clean Up the Past to Gain Business Efficiency

Agreed.

Rule 3: Keep Only What You Can Access and Be Sure You Can Access What You Keep

I was surprised to read this statement: “even if there is a records manager, he or she cannot be expected to actually manage all the content created enterprise-wide by the organization.” Why not?

Rule 4: Create an Enterprise-Wide Information Governance Team

Agreed. And may I be included?

Rule 5: Strive for Reasonableness, Not Perfection

Nice to see the chorus supported by ARMA.

Rule 6: Policy Must Come Before Technology

The book is worth buying for chapter six alone.

Rule 7: Don’t Expect to Totally Control Your Cloud Provider

Seems very tech specific for a book on defensible disposition of objects from all storage locations -- and at least superficially counterintuitive given the previous chapter.

Rule 8: Manage Information from Creation to Disposal Using Big Bucket Rules

I pulled up full stop here. If an author begins a chapter with one of their previously published statements it reminds me of my college professor who leveraged their “this-got-me-tenure” textbook for the class syllabus. But in all fairness, it could be my distaste for big bucket theory. I don’t care for it.

Rule 9: Automate Information Management and Take the Responsibility Away from the Employees

The book is worth buying for chapter nine alone. Automation is beautiful. Here’s why:

The Council for Information Auto-Classification found that 41% [of responding organizations] depend on the IT department to manage all electronic documents and records which creates issues for the enterprise because IT typically has no knowledge of the “content” actually stored in many systems. Almost one-quarter of the respondents are taking a “reactive” approach to information management and waiting until litigation or investigations hit the company before they begin to categorize information.”

Rule 10: Don’t Live in Fear of Discovery - Be Prepared with a Discovery Response Plan

I am terribly excited at the mention of information maps in this chapter. I love them. One of my favorite tools, I believe they should be leveraged more often in the inventory-to-retention-schedule phase of the electronic records management project. Information maps: they’re not just for e-discovery anymore.

In summary, if you seek a tactical guide to destroy data, this is not it. The good news: anyone on your Information Governance team can read this and understand the imperative to destroy information in a structured way.

Do not assume that this is the appropriate book to introduce information governance to your organization. Kahn and Datskovsky offer several points for discussion that may help you introduce the topic of defensible disposition to your executive level. In particular, the checklists are very good. At US$ 25, the text is overpriced. I suspect it is valued at what they imagine the market will bear.

"Chucking Daisies: Ten Rules for Taking Control of Your Organization’s Digital Debris" by Randolph A. Kahn, Esq. and Galina Datskovsky, Ph.D., CRM, is a 2013 publication from ARMA International and is available here.

Editor's Note: Read more from Mimi in Records Management: Retention Schedules Take a Back Seat