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Miles Ahead in the Roadmap of an Electronic Records Management Implementation

By the second month of your electronic records management (ERM) implementation, the project plan has been curtailed several times. It happens regardless of your industry or the company you work for. Despite the beauty, simplicity and elegance of your critical path, one or more surprises will suddenly appear.

Typically, it’s one or all of the following three scenarios:

  • Information Technology cannot provide enough storage to kick off the project,
  • Administrative assistants claim that applying retention is too constrictive to their ways of working, and/or
  • Departments quarrel over the moral authority to manage their own content and records.

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An ERM implementation is like a cadre of jazz musicians: each player must negotiate their own agenda through their own instrument to create a great sound ensemble. Moral authority to play the most notes doesn’t enter the argument. 

Sure, if you’re a member of The Miles Davis Quintet, you know Miles Davis is the highlight of the piece, but John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley will solo, too (and later become great leaders in their own right).

“Some Day My Prince Will Come”

The field is changing. Today, Records Managers want to be known as Directors of Information Governance. The title is considered more C-level to Records Management because it encompasses much more than the basic storage step of the records life cycle: responsibilities may include e-discovery, content management, records management or information security.

Many records colleagues are placing their professional hopes that this trend has some teeth to it, as if it instantly guarantees new opportunities achieved through the osmosis of re-titling.

“Half-Nelson”

We’ve spent the past ten years struggling through ERM implementations — very few of us have implemented — and it’s partly due to our lack of technical skill. The other part is our lack of drive.

I’ve informally interviewed several members of more than one Records and Information Management-related discipline and their admitted reticence to learn the technical skills needed to implement e-records surprised me. It’s the strangest dichotomy: they acknowledge they don’t have the proper skills, but they don’t want to learn them anyway. 

If we ceded the field to Information Technology back in 2005, it’s our own fault. Most of us want to be policy people only. The statement is less a criticism than just a simple acknowledgement of the facts. Those of us who are crazy enough to try the technical side have a long, lonely, isolated road ahead.

“Love For Sale”

Well, not love, exactly… more like strong negotiation skills. Everyone in your organization is a stakeholder in the new project and you will be tested. In the same vein as, “everyone’s gotta right to be famous,” the perception in your organization will be “everyone’s gotta right to manage their own records.” Which is partially true.

As your records responsibilities grow, so will your awareness of the subtle nuances in corporate culture. Negotiating for a development environment to nurture your product as well as the Records Administrator role in production is a delicate entreaty to the Information Technology department that is side tracked often by the vague argument of moral authority.

Viewed objectively, it’s a fascinating negotiation, because it’s as much an internal struggle as an external one. On the one hand, Information Technology does not want to be in the content management business; on the other, Information Technology is not prepared to share its administrative authority. Meanwhile, Records Management has the education and training to build the application’s records services, but isn’t given the autonomy to construct it or quality-assure the build if Information Technology assembles it.

Hence, no one knows whether or not retention works until it doesn’t (and by the way: it never does on the first eligibility run. Usually it’s a database problem.). 

This is why the executive sponsor is a tremendous advantage for everyone.

“In a Silent Way”

Any executive sponsor is appreciated; a good executive sponsor is a talisman.

It’s their job to explain the culture to you. As trying as these times are in the electronic records management implementation, you must always see the stakeholder’s side. This perspective is accompanied by a healthy dose of fear: fear that at any time your implementation may grind to a screeching halt.

 

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