The difficult implementation of records management

This is the second article in the trilogy about the “undercarriage” (read part one and part three here) in records management and is about the difficult implementation phase. In this article I will also attempt to identify stumbling blocks along the way. 

One of the biggest challenges in records management is to make implementation easy and painless. Why is it so difficult to make others do as they are supposed to? It may sound trivial and simple, but it rarely is. It is a fact that has been known for decades and we have still not been able to find the right path to quick and easy implementation. Despite more automation, AI, better IT systems, and a large focus on training, implementation is still hard. Deletion and clean-up of obsolete and irrelevant records and the use of proper systems are examples of tasks, which can be challenging to implement; another one is classification. In state and municipal organizations, insufficient journaling is still a common problem. 

 It is important to point out that many companies try their best to foster effective and correct records and information management. Significant resources are spent on developing policies, procedures, processes, IT systems and maybe on establishing physical archives or carrying out scanning projects. Some companies create new positions and upgrade organizational charts to include functions related to records management, document control and business information. In other words, they build a solid undercarriage for records management in order to ensure compliance, maintain a good reputation by being able to access correct and updated information quickly, and to support processes, workflows and knowledge sharing. 

How come it is so hard to maintain focus and management back up? Maybe we spend too much time on building the undercarriage, and when it comes time for the car to run, we have exhausted ourselves and are unable to execute. In other words, the car needs fuel! Is there a type of super fuel that can get the car moving? 

Illustration of the metaphor used in this article about the implementation of records managament.
A burning platform might be the answer. There are several well-known examples of burning platforms, such as lawsuits or business opportunities that have been lost due to missing or inadequate records and documentation. These types of internal events are in no way desirable, but they can be used to put focus on records management. For all public and private companies in the EU, GDPR can be considered a burning platform. Personal data exists in documents and records, and as such, it makes sense to use GDPR to fuel the implementation of records management. For example, some companies have defined deletion dates for personal data, but also operate with retention periods for records. However, this can be difficult to manage in practice, because how do you determine which guidelines should be followed? An integration of GDPR and records management could be beneficial in this situation and others like it.  In the introduction, I promised to identify stumbling blocks that can make implementation difficult.  An example of a stumbling block is that the necessity for change management and communication is frequently underestimated. Information management is both personal and habitual. It can be hard to change how we tend do things, including how we choose to organize or delete files and e-mails. For many of us, it can be quite hard to give other people access to our personal folders and mailboxes, even if we don’t technically own the data. Another potential stumbling block occur when policies and procedures are so stuffed with facts and details that they become overwhelming to read, let alone follow.  A possible solution is to approach the undercarriage less ambitiously in a way that prioritizes the bare necessities, and then develop it further as you go along. Records management can be simple, and its implementation can be taken using a step-by-step approach. Maybe we as records managers – and our organizations as a whole – should also be more willing to take risks in terms of making mistakes and be more inclined to employ new technology that can help eliminate manual tasks such as classification and registration. Better integration with business processes and MSR (Management Systems for Records) as described in ISO 30301:2019 can also be obvious opportunities to ensure focus, leadership backing and ongoing improvement.