Information Governance and Records Management Need to get Radical Together


A couple weeks ago I ranted that we were beginning to make many of the same mistakes with Information Governance that we had made with Enterprise Content Management (ECM), and to some extent Records Management. The post stimulated posts from James Lappin and George Parapadakis.

I respect both of them and it is entertaining to see them taking completely opposite approaches to the problem. It would be entertaining, for me at least, to see them debate the issue. I suspect it would get quite…energetic.

Of course, being on extremes, they both missed the mark.

The Past has Few Answers

James took a very practical approach. He feels the successes, there are some, must be studied along with the failures. He would like to take a structured approach to creating the new ways to solve the existing challenges.

This is a very evolutionary approach. If only we had years to solve this problem. The successes out there took many of the same approaches as the failures. There were subtle differences in the execution but that is the problem. It shouldn’t be that hard.

Why do these systems fail? Records management is too much work for the average employee. There is too much metadata and thinking involved. To do their job, all a person wants to do with a piece of content is:

  • Save it
  • Find it
  • Share it

Anything that goes beyond that is extra work. Tagging requirements need to be minimal. Getting content into and out of a repository must be simple.

The questions James needs to ask is this, “What is absolutely required to be done to meet the Records needs?” Start at the basics. Assume that the tools can do magic and define the ideal solution that is easy for everyone to use.

Start from scratch. Assume if it was done in the past and it didn’t succeed 80% of the time that it is flawed.

More than Theory

George took the opposite approach, stressing all the ways that Information Governance is different. At first I thought we were on the same page. Then George proceeded to ignore many of the realities in the practice of Records Management and ECM.

Information Governance is a discipline, not a tool. The purpose of IG is to define all aspects of how information is being managed. The purpose of RM is to do the managing of some of that information.

That is both very right and very wrong. Even though the word “management” is used in industry terms, it has always been used in the same way that “governance” is used by George. Tools were always secondary as the keys to success were defined by everything George puts under the umbrella of Governance.

Records Management is a subset of Information Governance that needs to include data as well as content. It is not a single defined system. George does understand that these practices need to be applied to data and content, so he isn’t far off here.

My largest issue with George’s piece is his desire to divorce Information Governance from the discussion of how it is going to be done. That is very appealing as that is the one thing that we haven’t managed to master yet. It is all well and good to talk about the Governance of every piece of information but you have to put together practical guidelines for how it is going to be done. If you don’t, you are just wasting everyone’s time.

If you cannot tell me how you are going to solve these basic governance requirements for content and data, you have an incomplete approach:

  • Capture (easy for data, challenging for content)
  • Categorize (easy for data, challenging for content)
  • Control (challenging for both)
  • Protect (easy for both if rest is done)
  • Dispose (challenging for data, easy for content)

Tools are still independent from this discussion. It is all about how we can do these things to meet the organization’s needs. How do we incorporate all of this into the business so it is done not only in a way that it doesn’t hinder productivity, but it enhances productivity?

Final Comparison

George ends with this comparison,

Trying to compare IG and RM is a bit like trying to compare Central Government (or Federal for my US friends) with a local school’s governing body. Both have something to govern, one takes direction from the other and… there the similarity ends. Neither one is a replacement for the other.

Ouch.

I would argue a slightly difference view.

If Information Governance is the Central/Federal Government, then Records Management is the military. Their job is to protect information according the the dictates of the government. They are a critical piece of the picture and part of why there is a government in the first place. I could take this analogy further but I am sure I would upset an entire industry when I assigned one to the tax service.

The key point is this, Information Governance is the big picture that needs revolutionary new Records Management approaches to be successful. These radical changes are needed in all parts of the ‘government’.

The past has failed us. New terms won’t help if we don’t work on radical new ways to solve our old needs.

7 thoughts on “Information Governance and Records Management Need to get Radical Together

  1. I think most records managers might like being the military in this organizational structure. You know where I stand on this issue. If anyone proposes that for IG to be successful “everybody has to be educated” forget about it.

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  2. Laurence – largely I agree with you. I had my own mini rant on reading George’s article.

    I would disagree that the past has failed us – our approaches were fit for purpose at the time. Just look at the beautifully organised, well preserved and accessible archives that we have today. Our “old approaches” have given us the discipline, the broad perspective and methodologies that are still relevant today.

    But, the issue that we have, is in assuming that these approaches didn’t need any adaptation, that the status quo could continue and people should just ‘do as they are told’ – Command & Control over Engagement – that’s where we messed up.

    “Assume that the tools can do magic and define the ideal solution that is easy for everyone to use” – Here is the crux of our problem, the tools do need to advance, but in order to do that we also need a profession that is capable of articulating those needs; that truly understands and accepts that we need to change and instead of feeling fearful of that change, embrace the exciting new world that could be.

    Technology has advanced but does the RIM profession understand it enough to be able to advise, to design solutions that are “easy for everyone to use”. Legacy EDRMS/ECM systems forced a singular view of the world on people (our RM view) but our world, our content has so many different perspectives, needs and contexts that a singular view is overly restrictive.

    We need a more holistic blend of skills, a more open conversation, we cant have a discipline established without thinking about the how – but we do need a vision of what comes next. Where will this profession be in 5 years time – will it even exist?

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