The MER Conference was held in my backyard this past week. Hordes (well, hundreds) of industry experts descended upon Michigan Avenue and generally behaved themselves, much as you’d expect of a group of people with graduate degrees in Library Sciences.
We did not host a booth this year. Rather, we sponsored the MER Podcast Series. A number of my RSD colleagues had previously attended a dozen or MER Conferences, and recommended it enthusiastically. I’m glad they did. I attended a Pre-Conference Tutorial, and as many Case Studies and Panel Discussions as I could manage. Here are a couple of observations from a MER Rookie.
Orthodox Records Management 101
My Pre-Conference Tutorial was the AIIM Electronic Records Management Practitioner Certificate Program, facilitated by former Marine Drill Sergeant and Professional Chocolate Connoisseur Jessie Wilkins. For me, this was a useful and thoroughly welcomed introduction into traditional Records Management principles. It provided a nice foundation for the rest of the week’s sessions, as well as important context for my conversations with customers and prospects steeped in these concepts. This is exactly what I expected from this tutorial, and I was glad to get it.
What I was unprepared for was the extent to which the rest of the conference continued to beat on the same themes. In fact, a template for speaker abstracts might go something like this: “Tried and true RM practices will likely suffice, so long as you account for (insert session topic here).” More specifically, I heard the following specific tenets of orthodox RM in multiple sessions:
- Define a small number of very general and highly inclusive buckets of records. It’s just too hard to expect people to adhere to complex retention schedules.
- Manual retention enforcement means RM’s must be diligent about reminding people of the policy, and why they should be adhering to it.
- Event-driven retention, though useful, is very difficult. Instead, apply a broad time-based retention period that will likely meet your intent, even if that means over-retaining some content.
- Auto-classification doesn’t work well for unstructured content, regardless of what the vendors say. RM’s will spend more time reclassifying improperly classified content than they would have spent manually classifying it (or asking users to do so) in the first place.
To this MER Rookie, the irony was obvious: on the one hand, stay with the tried-and-true RM approaches. On the other, these approaches don’t address:
- Accounting for applicable laws, regulations, industry best practices, and internal standards and guidelines.
- Enforcing jurisdictional variances on these mechanisms.
- Making content readily and securely available for business users.
- Applying those policies across a heterogeneous landscape of repositories.
At the risk of channeling Solomon on you, is there nothing new under the sun? In fact, in the few instances where any of these items were mentioned, the speaker or panel did so in the context of how difficult it is to solve these problems. For example, I did hear Julie Gable mention that the future of RM is automatic enforcement of policy… but even here, she left me with the sense that she wistfully regarded this as an ideal future state we may reach some day, shortly after we solve cold fusion and everybody has flying cars.
Records Managers as Salespeople
This theme cut across multiple sessions; there was no single session (that I am aware of) dedicated to this topic. In a nutshell, the takeaway for me was that RM’s need to constantly sell their organization and colleagues on the value of adherence to good RM principles. The difficulty here is that people, including executives, legal, and accounting professionals who should know better, are predisposed to over-retain their records. “Abide by the retention schedule” is not something people want to hear.
In the past, the sales message has been focused on the doom and gloom side. “If we don’t behave ourselves here and consistently apply our retention schedule, bad things will happen.” I sensed widespread agreement that there needs to be a positive side to this message, focusing on improved competitiveness or operational efficiency. I found no information on how to build a business case around this, except for the usual mention of reducing storage costs. In Teresa Drabenstadt’s outstanding session on a RIM Program she helped institute at CUNA Mutual, she cited some impressive storage cost savings as a key benefit. Otherwise, the storage argument seemed unpersuasive to me.
The best friend RM’s have in this process is an enlightened, supportive, and empowered executive sponsor. Indeed, every successful case study mentioned executive support as a key factor. NOBODY, however, had any insight into how to get your executive team on board with an RM / IG program, if the idea wasn’t spawned at the executive level in the first place. Failing this, the best an RM can hope for is incremental improvement in adherence to the retention schedule.
I’m absolutely looking forward to returning to MER next year. However, knowing what I know from this year’s conference, I think it may also be beneficial for me as an individual and RSD as a company to assume the role of friendly agitator. MER, and the field of Records Management, needs this. In my informal conversations with fellow attendees, I sensed frustration in the lack of new messages and themes.
As a MER Rookie and RSD employee, I am not disappointed by this. If anything, it is further confirmation of our strategy and positioning of RSD GLASS. After this week, I’m more convinced than ever that our approach is unique and revolutionary. I believe an RSD GLASS customer success story will make for a useful and informative Case Study session.
We are well positioned to lead the conversation away from the shortcomings and pitfalls of traditional Records Management approaches. We’d rather focus on the benefits of a repository agnostic Information Governance platform on which you can define fine-grained, multijurisdictional policies that account for laws and regulations, and automatically enforces these in your file plans.