Records Management “RM” and Findability, Searchability or Discovery, which is the most appropriate term?

When one is attempting to locate information [no matter where it is stored or for what reason] it is said that not to be able to find the information [which is known to have been captured] is worse than never having captured the information in the first place.

What is discovery? The act of discovering something; or a productive insight; or (law) compulsory pretrial disclosure of documents relevant to a case; enables one side in a litigation to elicit information from the other side concerning the facts in the case. Source:

What is Searchability? I was unable to locate a definition at Onelook and its 6,153,428 words in 972 dictionaries indexed but there is a website by Paula Dragutsky @ which address the subject that is basically a methodology to help people use search engines to do research on the web.

What is Findability? Again, I was unable to locate a definition at Onelook but it referred me to –Find-Discover; or determine the existence, presence, or fact of or after a calculation, investigation, experiment, survey, or study or come upon after searching; find the location of something that was missed or lost; and again, a productive insight. There are several excellent websites dedicated to improved finding aids for use on the internet e.g. and they are worth a visit.

I will express my preference and state that I prefer the term Findability for use with the www and RM.

After attending the ARMA 2004 Conference in Long Beach from 3rd to 5th October I was very much Records Managemented Out and especially after spending 27 hours on an aero plane on my way back to Perth. Not being one to give up easily I began reading all the session papers from the event that I had been unfortunate not to have attended.

After this exercise I began thinking what wonderful tools we have at our disposal in the RM profession for findability. With the use of tools such as e.g. Taxonomy; – thesauri, thesaurus or thesauruses; -ontology; – functional thesauri; – business classification schemes; – information architecture; – metadata; – metatags; – controlled vocabularies; naming system, etc. we have, [or should] an advantage over our non-RM colleagues in never losing the data or information received and hopefully indexed when it enters, is created within, or leaves our organisations.

Ever tried entering a misspelt word in Google [or for that matter any other of the major search engines] to see what you receive as a result? Give it a go and be prepared to be surprised at what you get back. In my example I entered the misspelt wording of “plam pilot” complete with the to restrict my search results and received 1,380 hits in only 0.45 seconds but Google did ask Did you mean to search for: “palm pilot, yes I did, but there were all of these misspelt results out there in www land. When I agreed with Google that plam was a misspelling and clicked on the correction I received 1,300,000 hits for palm pilot.

But which one did I want? If any. Why did I search on the term in the first place and how do I get to the one or several hits that are of interest and value to me? If you follow Paula Dragutsky advice at his Findability website, you may succeed in your quest.

But what are we doing in RM?

It is my belief and that of many in this RM profession that Functional File Classification or Functional Business Process/Activity Classification is the or at least the best answer currently to be able to capture information and to find it in the future or even tomorrow.

Functional File Classification has been in vogue in Australia [predominately in government agencies at all levels] for some time and was a concept promoted as part of the 1996 Australian Standards for Records Management AS4390 parts 1 & 2. The concept is also a part of the International Standard for Records Management ISO 15489 Parts 1 & 2 as item 4.2.2. Business Activity Classification, 4.2.3 Vocabulary incorporating Vocabulary Controls – list of authorised headings and Thesaurus then 4.3.4 Classification, including all its related components.

The use of a functional classification, vocabulary control “VC” and hierarchical listing of terminology consistent across an organisation provides other benefits with the potential for automatic linking of files to retention and disposition schedules. This last process is something that is driving the RM industry in the USA and elsewhere with the realisation that the appropriate disposal of records based on an approved or legislated timeframe is or could be the Saviour in addressing an organisations responsibility in THE court room or with legislative oversight bodies.

I have provided a presentation titled Why the Americans are beating us at Records Management! on the 26th November here in Perth based on my assessment of the situation on the ground in the RM arena in the USA. Copies of this presentation are available online

In a real-life RM environment, we have a different set of requirements to that of locating information from the internet.

When the CEO of the organisation or for that matter any supervisor or a client is on the phone requesting details from a file, we want the file and or the document in question and now while the person is on the phone and not one of 1 plus Million hits that will take us hours or event days to decipher, which sadly is the case in some organisations.

In my past life I was a distributor for an RM software product and in training sessions I demonstrated the ability of the software to find the and only the record [file] I wished to locate using a functional drill down approach.

By bringing up the Function applicable even if we are guessing as to the function and selecting the most appropriate one of twenty [20] or thirty [30] or even forty [40] or so Functions [if one has over fifty [50] Functions or in most instances then something is wrong, or possibly wrong in the process of defining functions in your organisation] then seeing the list of second level Activity Descriptors applicable for that Function and then selecting the appropriate Activity Descriptor, [usually not a massive list [sometime two [2] or three [3] and up to twenty [20] or thirty [30] or so Activity Descriptors as a maximum, we can drill down to the file we require. With this process we can then limit the selection down to the third level of the title of the file, the Subject Descriptors or as I prefer the term [Topic or Transaction] which are subsets of that selected Activity Descriptor. Once we get to this point, we have a list of the fourth level terms which in 99.9% of systems is a free text field. This is here we find the file and I mean only the file related to our requirements and query.

Trust me, IT WORKS if we have done our homework at the start and applied a Controlled Vocabulary across the organisation plus implemented a Functional Business Process/Activity Scheme from day one and before we implemented out Electronic Records Management System “ERMS”. This findability provides for improved efficiency and the provision of answers to queries in a timely manner.

What do we mean by a Controlled Vocabulary? A simple example:

If our ERMS did not have a controlled vocabulary the following may apply:

Let’s look at the following words: Petrol, Gas, Diesel, Methylated Spirits, Ethanol, Methanol Hydrogen, Petroleum, Compressed Natural Gas, Oil, Crude Oil, Fossil Fuels and possibly more terms. If we were searching for a possible fuel type and we asked for one or some of these terms in our search criteria we would find files related to certain types of fuel dependent on our breadth of query and may miss out on some important results.

If on the other hand, had, we implemented a controlled vocabulary the following would apply.

If we had listed the word Fuel as our preferred term and had advised the use of the term as the preferred term, we would then have this scenario.

Fuel: Definition or Scope Note: A material with potential energy which can be transferred into kinetic energy, or as heat or mechanical work. Non-solid fuels include oil and gas (both fuel types have myriad varieties). Solid fuels include coal, wood, and peat. All these types of fuel are combustible, they create fire and heat.

Use for: Petrol, Gas, Diesel, Methylated Spirits, Ethanol, Methanol Hydrogen, Petroleum, Compressed Natural Gas, Oil, Crude Oil, Fossil Fuels.

Alternatively, one could define Fuel as being Fuel = Petrol etc., etc. Petrol etc., etc. = Fuel.

Under this scenario no matter if one searched on Petrol, Oil, Diesel etc. one would find Fuel and alternatively if one searched on Fuel one would locate information on Petrol, Gas, Diesel, Methylated Spirits, Ethanol, Methanol Hydrogen, Petroleum, Compressed Natural Gas, Oil, Crude Oil, Fossil Fuels.

I trust that this may assist in converting any sceptics of the Functional approach to file classification and the use of controlled vocabularies.

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 first published in the – The GREEN SHEET – INCORPORATING THE MICROGRAPHICS MARKET PLACE AND THE MICROGRAPHICS NEWSLETTER – in Issue No. 30 ISSN 1476-3842 November/December 2004 Edition on page (8).

The author, Laurie Varendorff of the Varendorff Records Management Consultancy – TVC – Helping clients manage their e-World 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.