The records and information management profession gathered once again at the annual ARMA conference, held September 23-25 in Chicago. As with last year, a joint survey by ARMA and Forrester Research echoed frustrations felt throughout the records management profession and sounded a warning note for the profession.
These studies, led by Forrester principal analyst Brian Hill, have been one of the highlights of the event for the past four years and this year was no exception.
Last year's survey called out an uncomfortable truth: that records management professionals were losing ground in their quest to be at the decision-making table. This year Hill’s analysis of the findings called out three key frustrations faced by records professionals: lack of executive focus on RM, poorly integrated technologies and continued shortcomings in skills development.
But there was one other number that leapt off the screen like a flashing danger sign: 45 percent of surveyed records managers had “no interest” in RM in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model.
Three Challenges That Never Seem to Go Away
The Forrester/ARMA survey asked “which aspects are most challenging in limiting improvements in your organization’s records management program.” The responses were analyzed by Hill and distilled into three key themes.
1. Executives Don’t Seem to Care about Records Management
74 percent of survey respondents blamed lack of budget for not improving their organizational records management program, while 69 percent report lack of executive priority as a contributing factor to stalled program improvement.
The value that the records management function brings to enterprise is still not hitting the top levels of management.
This theme has persisted for years, and we need to really understand why -- particularly, as the Forrester research notes, the budgets for RM technology investments are increasing slightly. 40 percent of respondents anticipated a budget increase of more than 5 percent over the next year, with 38 percent staying flat. In fact, only 13 percent of respondents confirmed that they were losing any budget for 2013.
Executives typically do not give budget increases to programs they don’t support or deem important -- this is a disconnect that needs further exploration.
2. Technologies Don’t Play Nicely Together
74 percent of respondents listed “lack of integration with key applications” as a limitation for program improvement. Poor, or non-existent, integrations across RM, e-Discovery, archiving and physical records tracking systems “frustrate [the] potential for standardized retention, disposition, and other policy-based controls across multiple content and application types,” according to Hill in the survey’s companion article published in the latest ARMA Information Management magazine.
The content and information siloes, however, are even bigger than those technologies listed in the survey summary. Inconsistent integration across even Enterprise CMSs, SharePoint sites and enterprise applications such as ERP, HRM or CRM are challenges few companies have truly solved. Initiating good governance across the active portion of the content lifecycle can save headaches downstream, but progress is slow in many companies.
Perhaps some of the reasons for this lie in other portions of the survey results. Only 8 percent of records managers are confident that they have “strong impact” on the technology acquisition process in their company. Putting overall information governance needs, record-keeping and legal hold requirements up front can inevitably reduce the integration and interoperability frustrations down the road.
Better fluency with open standards for interoperability, and more demand for mainstream vendors to adopt such standards can also help fix this problem -- but only if customers push back during the buying cycle.
3. Lack of Organizational Support Inhibits Progress
The soft skills continue to suffer. Training, skills development, finding qualified employees and getting organizational support for programs are persistent challenges in the 2012 survey. Nearly 60 percent of respondents lament “limited experienced staff” and “cultural and training barriers” as reasons for limited improvement of their programs.
This can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, however. If 69 percent of the respondents don’t believe their executives see RM as a “priority issue,” it’s hard to understand how records management professionals can overcome this skills gap unless they take on more of the education burden themselves.
Where an employer fails to offer support, individuals must find ways to fill the gap on their own, or with professional peer support, lest they face marginalization over the long term. Investing in one’s own ongoing learning, professional development and technology skills is essential for any knowledge worker today.
Cloud Risks or Just Fear of Flying?
When 45 percent of records professionals state that they are “not interested” in a SaaS approach to records, it’s time to raise a red flag.
This result may be, in part, due to the interpretation of the question. The actual vendor market landscape for SaaS records management applications today is rather limited. But the volume of business records going into cloud and SaaS applications has exploded over the last few years.
Records managers cannot sit complacently and assume their current RM technologies will keep up with where their business content now resides. It is far more important to understand what other essential content creation tools are going SaaS or cloud-based, and how the records application can keep pace with business content that is now stored off-premises.
Narrow interpretations of SaaS RM will not serve the records professional well. The adoption of cloud applications -- and storage of corporate content -- means records must be comfortable with the language of the cloud and the risks and benefits thereof.
Stay Informed and Flexible
Change is inevitable in the digital work world. Records professionals must keep pace with what their business and IT peers are doing as organizations demand more agile, cost-effective IT alternatives. Failing to become “interested” in cloud or SaaS approaches to business content is a recipe for irrelevance. The challenges will never disappear. Stay informed, stay flexible; be ready to guide your business at the beginning of the adoption curve … not at the end.
Editor's Note: To read more of Cheryl's thoughts on the state of the records management profession: