ARMA InfoGov 2019 site: Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn.
PHOTO: Laurence Hart

ARMA's annual conference, which took place Oct. 21 to 23 in Nashville, Tenn., had a different feel this year. This was to be expected, or at least hoped for, after its merger last year with the Information Coalition and its InfoGovCon event. The change was reflected in part in the conference’s new name: ARMA InfoGov 2019.

Of course, labels can only show intent. To deliver on the promise, ARMA brought in some energetic hosts from ARMA Canada. It also built a keynote roster that focused on new technologies that relate directly to the information governance space. The result was an event focused on building an engaged community that is looking to the future.

Where Records Management Fits With AI and More

The focus on the next generation of technology stood out. All of the keynotes reiterated how important it was for records managers to understand this new technology. The goal was not only to help the audience remain relevant, but to better serve their organizations. Several speakers noted that when it comes to the organizational information needed to drive digital transformation, records managers have a universal view of what is there.

One of the highlights was Alan Pelz-Sharpe’s keynote on artificial intelligence (AI). He shared stories of startups trying to solve information governance challenges. They would show him their solution and he would quickly realize they hadn’t spoken to any records managers. Pelz-Sharpe stressed the need for records managers to learn what AI can do as they have the organizational knowledge to provide the proper guidance. More importantly, if records managers don’t get involved, AI will take their jobs and likely won’t do it very well.

In another keynote, Kathryn Rattigan spoke compellingly about the privacy approaches of companies collecting DNA data, such as 23andMe and Color. She shared real-life stories — both positive and negative — of people sharing their DNA and raised a critical point: while you may be able to change most of your personal identifiers, once you give up your DNA, it's out there forever.

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An Aging ARMA Membership

As you looked around the show, many of the more, shall we say, established ARMA members weren’t sure what to make of the extra humor and discussions of new technology. A lot of people are still fighting boxes of paper. The buzz the Ripcord scanning robots created was as much about the robots removing staples as the realization that too many organizations still have, and produce, a lot of paper.

Cloud skeptics also abounded. As 2020 bears down on us, you wouldn’t expect that level of skepticism in a field that relies on computers as much as the ARMA crowd. However, if a group of people are going to be conservative, those preserving records and history are likely to be those people.

That said, for every attendee who seemed stuck in the 20th century, just as many were looking ahead. When I spoke with first-time attendees, they liked the energy and focus on new technologies. It was a great show for them, and they will likely return. This is a good thing because the industry needs some fresh blood. The practitioners in this space are not getting younger and a lot of important knowledge needs to be passed down.

Related Article: ARMA and the Information Coalition Merge: What Comes Next?

The Future of ARMA

A lot of talk at the conference focused on continuing the efforts to reinvigorate ARMA resources and to embrace the broader worlds of information governance and management. However, the search for a new ARMA CEO loomed over the conference. That hire, expected by the end of the year, will be critical in determining if ARMA's new direction continues.

Until then, it is worth keeping an eye on ARMA. If the new energy persists, and it can leverage the strength of its chapter network, ARMA could become not only relevant again, but important for information professionals. When we all reconvene in Detroit next year, it will be interesting to see if the organization has maintained its momentum.