Colleagues who attended the Gartner Symposium IT XPO in Barcelona brought back some fascinating stuff. Not least of which was the text of a presentation by Brian Burke a research analyst at Garter entitled Architecting for Emergence: New Game, New Rules. His paper charts the decline of the hierarchical, structured enterprise architecture and what we are now seeing in terms of its replacement by emergent systems.
I won't attempt to summarise his entire paper, but the following quote perhaps gives a pretty clear flavour of the crux of his argument:
"increasingly technology is becoming the catalyst for emergent behaviour where individuals motivated by differing goals interact to create a higher level of intelligence without the benefits of hierarchical structure. In all these structures there are clear rules that limit behaviour but do not dictate evolution"
At the outset of his paper he makes the historical comparison between Plato's concept of 'Philosopher Kings' (highly educated & solely possessed of the ability to understand abstract representations of classes of object) and enterprise architects. Plato believed the ruling class of Philosopher Kings to be an integral part of the way in which a belevolent dicatatorship functions. Burke argues that the modern enterprise is a belevolent dictatorship and that imposing such a centralised 'command and control' structure on its workers stiffles creativity and innovation and severely limits effective decision making.
To my mind Records Managers can equally be described as Philosopher Kings with the same penchant for imposing as many structures, restraints and rules on users as it possibly can. This may be for what we would argue are sound and justified reasons, but this does not lessen the burden it places on users, nor the resentment it causes.
Nor, and here is the really important part, is it scalable. We are living in an exponential age where information is now measured in terabytes and users are beginning to make increasing use of a plethora of systems to create and manipulate information. Furthermore, many of these systems are now hosted and made available by external service providers and are rapidly beginning to take over the role once performed by 'corporate' systems (for example academics preferring to use Facebook to contact their students, rather than the institutional Virtual Learning Environment or using Flickr to store photographs rather than an institutional repository).
Old style 'command and control' records management can't cope with this. What weight will arguments about retention management to save resources have when Google and others are promising to host all of your documents for ever for free? Besides, how are users supposed to apply series-level retention schedules and micro-appraise such vast volumes of data? Most of the assumptions on which the theory is based no longer apply. Equally it is futile to think the best solution is simply to ban staff from using such systems and naive to think it will never affect the organisation you work for, regardless of the sector it is in. Emergent systems and Web 2.0 are here to stay. If records management wants to remain relevant we are going to have to rethink our existing role as an enthusiastic part of the benevolent dictatorship and start considering how we can continue to play an important and meaningful role in the mangement of information in a very different future.