Is records management to be the next new buzzword?

Hallelujah! Records management is finally out of the closet.

If you searched Gartner Inc’s Research WWW site using the term records management in March 2003 you would have received 200 hits. Only eight have records management in the title and of these, six were published in the period March 2003. The other two are about takeovers of records management software vendors by the minnows of the IT Industry, IBM, and Documentum. The term records management does not appear in the article title of the balance of 182 hits, but one may assume that it is mentioned somewhere as the articles ranging from a high of 100% in relevance down to minimum of 14%.

Here are some off the top of the list.

Records Management Essential for Risk Management 100% 21 March 2003 Inventories and retention schedules are vital for effective records management and can prevent problems when facing regulators and court cases. Delete unnecessary documents before they get you in trouble. Records Management Tools: Choices Abound 100% 18 March 2003 A range of vendors offer records management functionality. Enterprises must decide whether they are seeking stand-alone records management or functionality incorporated as a feature in other applications. The CIO’s Guide to Effective Records Management 90% 18 March 2003 Records management is both a business process and a technology. Cooperation between IT managers, librarians and lawyers can lead to strategies and systems that will end the scandals caused by poor records management. Records Management Needs Metadata and XML 72% 14 March 2003 Metadata for records management has been proliferating for several years. XML representations may make it more usable for records management but does not replace the fundamental modelling challenges. IBM’s Tarian Acquisition Boosts Records Management 50% 5 November 2002 IBM’s planned acquisition of Tarian Software indicates the importance of electronic records management (ERM) in helping enterprises comply with mandates for record retention. Inventories and Schedules Key for Records Management 47% 21 March 2003 Inventories and retention schedules are vital for effective records management and can prevent problems when facing regulators and court cases. Delete unnecessary documents before they get you in trouble. Records Management Heats Up After Sarbanes-Oxley 32% 21 March 2003 Business continuity requires that enterprises have robust records management strategies. This is especially true in an era of increased government scrutiny, due in part to the “Enron Syndrome.” Documentum Will Benefit from Records Management Acquisition 20% 5 November 2002 Through its purchase of TrueArc, Documentum will get valuable electronic records management technology at a competitive price. Customers that use TrueArc with a Documentum competitor may want to consider migrating.

Why am I so upbeat about this recent resurgence in the discussion of records management “RM” by a major player in the information management research area?

Because the likes of the Harvard Business School and most, if not all business management program providers worldwide have been negligent in their DUTY OF CARE in not having records management where it should be, at the forefront of any management mindset or a major component in their MBA and other management related programs. These providers of leaders to government and business have failed their students and the international corporate body at large by this neglect. Facts highlighted in recent events e.g., Enron Syndrome, the obliteration of one of the world’s leading accountancy and consultancy organisations, Arthur Andersen and the odd one or two recent major Australian corporate plus numerous other international disasters shows that the chickens are coming home to roost.


Because of poor records management training or a lack of understanding by leaders of government and business for the need for quality records management strategies, policies, and procedures plus other unlearned ethical issues.

A history lesson: Has records management come full circle?

In the Middle Ages, I am advised, in Italy at the University of Bologna for a student to study for a major in Records Management they first needed to study a minor in Law. Maybe the Harvard Business School and its colleagues worldwide should consider elevating records management back to a higher level in their business-related programs that mirrors its past position in the hierarchy of learning.

In a Gartner Research article of the 14th March 2003, “RECORDS MANAGEMENT NEEDS METADATA AND XML” the writer Rita Knox advises” The records repository represents a knowledge repository for enterprises. With metadata – machine – processable information describing record attributes relevant to its retention – that repository can become a corporate asset, not just something that protects enterprises from legal entanglements. With care, the data collected for regulatory reasons can do double duty as a resource.”

I have a number of issues with this article, but the important statement is – that repository can become a corporate asset, not just something that protects enterprises from legal entanglements. And With care, the data collected for regulatory reasons can do double duty as a resource.

What a wonderful statement from this respected research organisation. The records management profession has been trying to get management to recognise this fact for many, many years. Is this fact now recognised by the observers of business processes at large or is this an isolated observation by one writer?

Back in early 2001 I authored an article based on presentations to the Records Management Association of Australia (RMAA) National Convention in Sydney, the previous December. The article was published in the USA and Canada by several Chapters of the Association of Records Managers and Administrators International (ARMA). The title: What is Records Management? In this article I made the following statement which I still support, I quote:

“So, what is records management? To me, it is a core business activity [and I mean business in the broadest sense] without which no organisation, however large or small, can meet its operational activities and requirements, its moral responsibilities, or document proof of meeting its statutory, legal, financial or shareholder responsibilities, or provide details regarding its history.

Records management is the foundation stone on which all organisations are built and which, without, they cannot operate effectively or efficiently. It is A, or THE core business activity and not an add-on, which we are forced to implement by threat of penalties or embarrassment.

Records management is a good management practice and should be at the forefront of any executive mindset as a strategy for best practice, to provide efficient, effective, and cost minimisation initiatives. Without effective records management processes being in place, inefficient and ineffective decision-making will be made and remade, with mistakes repeated without a reliable decision-making information base from which to start to appropriately manage any situation. Effective records management will provide returns in proportion to the effectiveness of the records management system in place.

Records management is not a cost centre; it is a strategic investment from which all organisations will benefit greatly.”

End of quote.

Where are we heading with the so-called data avalanche and the many other dramatic warnings that appear increasingly on the web and information industry publications e.g., “lost or drowning in a sea of data”, “information overload”, “information anxiety” and “overwhelmed by the data deluge” which is getting bigger and faster by the day?

Are our friends in the Information Technology “IT“ area able to assist us with their technical expertise? Their technical speak with such terminology as “we manage stuff”, “buckets of stuff” and “we suck data from here and put it there”, does not bode well for being solution providers for our many records management related requirements.

I recall a discussion I had with an IT manager where he tried to convince me to report to management that the way to manage the corporate information environment was utilising Uncle Bill G’s Microsoft suite of Office products rather than expand the current records management system which then managed only paper records. The installed records management system had been identified as the potential solution to handle the scanning of incoming correspondence, capturing emails, word documents, excel spreadsheets and access databases etc. and I was evaluating the situation. On interrogating the organisations IT environment, I located in excess of one million emails, over one hundred-thousand-word documents, thousands of excel spreadsheets and a lesser number of access databases and PowerPoint presentations.

Storage space is inexpensive but there is never enough of it. The organisation had not purged its electronic environment for over ten years due to the availability of inexpensive electronic storage space.

By browsing the system with the security level of the average user I was able to access most network drives except for the Human Resources and the Executive areas drives. With this level of security, I could open, alter, and delete most word documents and excel spreadsheets but I did not play with the access databases or the PowerPoint presentations. The IT manager was proposing more of the same with this uncontrolled and potentially dangerous environment.

The saddest part was that this IT manager honestly believed that his position was the most appropriate solution. I thought at any moment he would break out into the Microsoft song or slogan, [if there is such a thing]. This guy was hooked; someone in the IT training environment had done a wonderful job in brainwashing him into believing that Microsoft’s suite of Office products provided the solution for every information management problem. Uncle Bill G would have been proud of him.

There is more to this IT situation.

The IT industry loves new terms and acronyms. Some of the more recent ones are ontology, taxonomy, information architecture and CV’s ‘controlled vocabulary”, from our web [footed] friends. On further investigation one finds that ontology is a little older than the IT industry with Aristotle being the first recorded ontologist around 400BC. Ontology is, in its simplest meaning, the science of classification and we should applaud the IT industry for trumpeting this process. I personally do not have a problem with the term or that of taxonomy as I feel they both reflect the actual situation better than the term Thesaurus. “Thesaurus” in a records context is often misunderstood by those outside of the records management profession but is an integral part of the records management equation.

The call from some people in the trenches and from others who should know better, is for FREE TEXT! And more FREE TEXT! I would like to advise those who advocate this flawed concept that FREE TEXT ain’t FREE. It is worth exactly what you paid for it; NOTHING, ZERO, A VALUE of NIL and the cost for its use will be ongoing and multiplying over time with a continuation of the destructive examples of more data avalanches, losses, and drownings in seas of data, information overloads, information anxieties, and being overwhelmed by data deluges.

Should we in the records management profession or industry be concerned or threatened by the inroads being made by our web [footed] friends with the application of information architecture and CV’s or controlled vocabulary?

I believe so.

If you have not followed the advances in Information Architecture in the WWW site creation area, I suggest that you take a look, and soon, before it is too late. The use of connected and controlled relationship e.g., parent/child/cousin/uncle-aunt/grandmother-grandfather plus the possibility of extending to 2nd and/or 3rd cousins and great-grandfather even and the reverse, provides a basic five-level hierarchy with the potential to extend the matrix as in a genealogical manner for a family tree.

This outline lends itself to two dimensional formats with linkages up/down and across/back as compared to the records management functional three level hierarchical model with Function, Activity Descriptor and Transaction/Subject Descriptor being a single dimensional model linking up/down but not across/back. The advantage I see with the records management model is that the hierarchical format can be locked in its 3-level relationship.

I do not see this control in the WWW site creation environment, but it may be possible and may already exist. The management and control of a limited number of quality WWW sites using this two-dimensional model is becoming sophisticated. This evolution appears to be working for those who have implemented these practices and procedures. Many others will see the light and follow on this success.

These limited number of quality sites have been created by some of the smart cookies out there in web land who understand how to implement information architecture and CV environments. I am not talking about the Microsoft type of cookies here [cookies were originally a UNIX program known as Fortune Cookies] but those precious few who are leading the charge and improving WWW site management via the implementation of quality information architecture practices.

The WWW has a long way to go getting it right. Go to search engine Google enter CD-ROM and receive 5.66 million hits in only 0.04 seconds. Fast as heck, but the results are useless or near useless. But they are supplied in a timely manner. Big deal!

Enter the word Fleight [this is a misspelling of either Freight or Flight] and see the results, 240 hits in just 0.20 seconds. I can forgive the sites translated into English and the several genuine surnames, but the rest is garbage.

Go to eBay and type in the misspelled Plam Pilot instead of Palm Pilot and check the results received. I received 5 hits on 1 April 2003, and not because it was April fool’s day. I am told you can get great bargains at eBay with misspells because nobody can find the item and almost nobody bids, you get a bargain. This example is a sad indictment on the lack of quality implemented by site designers and the processes utilised in inefficient management of WWW sites generally and especially one with elevated levels of exposure. WWW sites should be set up to handle misspelling and provide assistance to make the correct choice even if the search term is entered incorrectly. Try Google with a misspelling e.g. auguts and the site will ask “Did you mean august “. Yes, I did.

This is not dumming down, it is a feature to assist those who have limited literary skills, poor hand coordination, lousy typists whose fingers are larger than the keys, or who are not native English speakers. It is quality WWW site management. This feature would be excellent in a records environment where spell checkers are absent from some products and have only limited coverage in others.

There are real advances being made by some individuals in the WWW site creation process and those involved in the quality information architecture end of the market. These are early days, but the concepts are sound and in some instances the processes are, I believe, more sophisticated and effective than the Functional File Classification approach being utilised and expanded in the records management arena. In a recent discussion paper circulated for comment by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the USA, it is proposed that Functional File Classification be made a standard across all US Government Agencies.

Are records managers (RMer’s) to be the lifesavers and Saint Bernard’s of the information age who can save business from a fate worse than death by drowning, page by page, [physical or electronically] in its own uncontrolled data?

Is it SAFE out there in RM land?

Possibly, but probably not!

The blue-sky merchants, snake oil promoters, unscrupulous salesmen and charlatans will be drawn to the honey pot of potential rewards in minutes of it appearing to be the new hot and valuable product.

Some may already be here.

The next full-page advertisement published in the world’s leading newspapers could be:






Dear Lord, let it be me!

Happy RMing, Laurie Varendorff ARMA

The Author

Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president & national director, has been involved in records management and the micrographic industry for 37 years. Laurie has his own microfilm equipment sales & support organisation – Digital Microfilm Equipment – DME – and a – records & information management – RIM – consulting & training business – The Varendorff Consultancy – TVC – located near Perth, Western Australia, & has tutored & written course material in recordkeeping & archival storage & preservation for Perth’s Edith Cowan University – ECU. Phone: +618 9286 3705; mobile: +61 417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff

Please Note: This article was reproduced in the publication – Image and Data Manager – May / June 2003 Edition on page (28) Records Management with the revised title – Hitting the Charts – Is records management making a comeback?.

The author, Laurie Varendorff gives permission for the redistribution or republishing of this article by individuals and nonprofit professional organisations without cost based on the condition that he as well as the URL of the article are recognised at the introduction of the article when redistributed or republished.

SPECIAL NOTE: Use of this article by publishers, commercial, government, or educational organisations requires a financial agreement to be negotiated with Laurie as the copyright holder for this work.