Monday, December 29, 2008

Bring Out The Best in Others - Week of Dec. 28

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson

Power Point: My friend is the one who brings out the best in me.
Henry Ford


Power Thought – Good leaders are always looking for ways to bring out the best in their people. It’s important to be an encouragement to those around you. As you motivate the people around you it will become contagious. Imagine a workplace that is infected with enthusiasm and encouragement? In that atmosphere, productivity thrives and everyone wins. Try it!
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.
John Maxwell

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Embracing Change - Week of Dec. 21

MERRY CHRISTMAS!



Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: Lucy – “I would like to change the world.”
Charlie Brown –“Where would you like to start?”
Lucy – “I would start with you!”


Power Thought – It’s not uncommon for leaders to feel this way. Change can be an ugly word in any organization, and too often the temptation is to change people instead of systems. Change resistance is overcome when a climate of trust is built within the organization. The more people in the organization trust the leader, the more they are willing to embrace the idea of change.
- Doug Dickerson



Power Surge: If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his true friend. Next, probe to discover what he wants to accomplish.
- Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The greatness of your people - Week of Dec. 14

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: The leader finds greatness in the group, and he or she helps the members find it in themselves.
-Warren Bennis


Power Thought: The greatness of your organization is the sum of the greatness of your people. Everyone brings skill, expertise, and value to the success of your company. While they possess it, they may not realize it. Today, why not tell someone how great you think they are. As you do, they will be inspired to reach new heights.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: If a leader demonstrates competency, genuine concern for others, and admirable character, people will follow.
-T. Richard Chase

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Have faith in your abilities - Week of Dec. 7

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.
- Norman Vincent Peale


Power Thought: In order to be successful we have to believe that we are gifted and have the abilities to get the job done. We must also have a healthy balance of understanding that in today’s marketplace our accomplishments do not stand alone. Our successes are team efforts. Take pride in your work, but celebrate the team.
- Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: The most rewarding things you do in life are often the ones that look like they cannot be done
- Arnold Palmer

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Servant Leadership - Week of Nov. 30

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson



Power Point: Rather than trying to figure out what everybody can do for you, start looking for things that you can do for somebody else.
-Joel Osteen


Power Thought: In management it’s all too common to ask others to do something for us. When was the last time you asked to do something for a colleague? Respect is built in your organization when you are not afraid to give instead of receive. A leader with a servant’s heart is one who is secure in herself. That’s the kind of leadership that will inspire your organization to great things.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: A great man is always willing to be little.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Take care of the individual - Week of Nov. 23

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: The bigger we get the smaller we have to think. Customers still walk in one at a time.
-Sam Walton


Power Thought: In today’s marketplace, too often the bottom line is viewed with the masses in mind. But it’s through individual service and attention that we draw the customers and clients back. When you methodically take care of the individual you will take care of the masses. Your bottom line is reflective of how you treat the individual.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: If a leader demonstrates competency, genuine concern for others, and admirable character, people will follow.
-T. Richard Chase

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Leading through meekness - Week of Nov. 16

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: Quit trying to be humble. You’re not that great.
- Golda Meir


Power Thought: One of the finer qualities of a leader is that of humility. You know the person I’m talking about. She goes above and beyond what’s asked or required, is devoted, loyal and trustworthy. This person prefers to be in the background rather than in the limelight. She may not have the title of boss or chief executive, but has the qualities you wish the title-bearer did. Humility is not weakness, it’s strength demonstrated, not a position flaunted.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: It’s too bad the meek haven’t already inherited the earth, because the unmeek are making a real mess of it.
-Anonymous

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Keep a Peaceful Heart - Week of Nov. 9

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: You can have peace in the midst of your storms if you’ll simply learn to choose the right thoughts.
-Joel Osteen


Power Thought: Times of storming come in our organizations. Stressful times affect all of us. Choosing how we will react and respond is tied to the thoughts we have in our heart. Even in the midst of chaos all around you, be the anchor that others look to. Peace in your heart will help you when there is no peace in your office.
- Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: First keep the peace within yourself, then you can also bring peace to others.
- Thomas a Kempis

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Success is closer than you think - Week of Nov. 2

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: A leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”
-Stephen Covey


Power Thought: How many times have you climbed up the ladder to what you thought was success only to discover you were leaning against the wrong wall? In challenging times when you appear to be off- course, your leadership is critical. Thomas Jefferson once said, “Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” Success is closer than you think; don’t panic.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: A man must be smart enough to admit his mistakes, smart enough to profit from them, and strong enough to correct them.
- Anonymous

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Making Hard Work Fun - Week of Oct. 26, 2008

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: If the hard work is also fun, the performance will be enhanced.
-Dean Smith


Power Thought: Legendary coach Dean Smith, in his thirty six years as the head coach of the University of North Carolina’s basketball team, won more than seventy five percent of his games. His work ethic speaks for itself. Yet he also knew the importance of making hard work fun. That might seem like a contradiction of terms, but to succeed, we must work hard, smart, and enjoy the journey. No one has ever raised a championship trophy over his head with a frown on his face.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: I never did a day’s work in all my life. It was all fun.
-Thomas Edison

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Taking The Next Shot - Week of Oct. 20, 2008

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: Your next shot is a new experience. It might be the best shot you ever hit in your life.
- Harvey Penick


Power Thought: I like to play golf but unfortunately, most of my shots are hooks or slices. The temptation is to get frustrated and quit. The same can hold true in business. We missed a deadline, earnings weren’t what we projected, and perhaps a client let you down. My encouragement to you today is to step up and take that next shot. Don’t give up. That next shot may be the best you’ve ever made.
- Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.
-Samuel Johnson

Monday, October 13, 2008

Are We Listening? - Week of Oct. 13, 2008

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: No man ever listened himself out of a job.
-Calvin Coolidge


Power Thought: If we are going to be productive leaders we have to be exceptional listeners. People in your organization need to know that they have your ear. When they know they have your ear then they know also they have your heart. Effective leaders are known not just by what they say but in how well they listen. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason; so that we can listen twice as much as we talk.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you into trouble.
-Frank Tyger

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Dream the Impossible - Week of Oct. 6, 2008

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson


Power Point: We try to be too reasonable about what we believe. What I believe is not reasonable at all. In fact, it’s hilariously impossible. Possible things aren’t worth much. These crazy impossible things keep us going.
- Madeleine L’ Engle


Power Thought: When was the last time you attempted something others considered impossible? Defying the odds and expectations of others begins when we dare to defy the limitations that we place on ourselves. What may appear to be an unreasonable expectation to others should only been seen as a golden opportunity as you dare to dream the impossible.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.
- Thomas Edison

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Greatness Among You - Week of Sept. 29, 2008

Management Moment
By Doug Dickerson



Power Point: The leader finds greatness in the group, and he or she helps the members find it in themselves.
-Warren Bennis


Power Thought: The greatness of your organization is the sum of the greatness of your people. Everyone brings skill, expertise, and value to the success of your company. While they possess it, they may not realize how much you appreciate them. Today, why not tell someone how great you think they are. As you do, they will be inspired to reach new heights.
-Doug Dickerson


Power Surge: If a leader demonstrates competency, genuine concern for others, and admirable character, people will follow.
-T. Richard Chase


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

An admirable summary of Managing the Crowd

I am indebted to James Lappin at TFPL for posting as succinct a summary of the main points contained within Managing the Crowd as you are ever likely to find.

In fact, it makes me wonder what I wasted the other 60,000-odd words on...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Launch of the Records Management 2.0 social networking site

Some of you may recall from previous postings that I have been keen to try to conitnue discussion and debate about the future of records management and in particular with regards to its role in the 'Web 2.0 world'; and hopefully to find ways of enabling those with an interest in this area to work together to create practical solutions.

After investigating a few different approaches I settled on creating a social network within Ning, not least because this platform combines the ability to keep in touch with like-minded colleagues with useful tools including online forums and event management. To be honest, I was still thinking through the details of how best to take this foward when a particularly interesting and robust debate about the future of records management on the Records-managment-uk jiscmail list convinced me that now was the right time to run with this (ready or not!). As with any such site, it will succeed or fail depending on the commitment of its members. Initial take up has been brisk, lets hope this burst of enthusiasm is sustained and turned into ongoing collaboration, discussion and progress.

If anyone else would like to join this site, please drop me an email and I will send you an email in return containing the relevant joining instructions.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Separating management from storage

I’ve recently been mulling over the nature of the relationship between where we store the information we create (the repository) and the rules governing its management – not least because it seems to represent one of the fundamental divides between the approach to records management which I am advocating (RM2.0 for shorthand) and the majority of ECM products on the market.

In the pre-Web 2.0 world there was a division between the applications we used to create information (e.g. MS Word) and the repository we used to store our outputs. We didn’t store our documents in Word, we stored them on our C://, on a separate file server, or even a removable storage device (though the MOD are beginning to wish they hadn’t!). All of which created a separate shared repository available for the storage of unstructured information created by a range of applications. This, in turn, influenced the nature of first EDRMS and latterly ECM technologies, the majority of which included their own separate repository for storage and intrinsically linked it to their management/rules layer.

As noted in Managing the Crowd: "The crucial difference with Web 2.0 services such as You Tube, Flickr, Facebook and the like is that they are content storage repositories as well. They no longer just represent the tools, but also the filing cabinet" which changes things considerably – especially when you consider that the majority of these services may be hosted outside the organisation. In this model there is no shared underpinning repository, nor is it possible to create and rely upon an intrinsic link between the management/rules layer and the repository of content we wish it to control. To my mind, this places those systems which are built upon the assumption of a combined repository and rules layer at a severe disadvantage by closing off the ability to manage information which it does not itself ‘physically’ hold.

One of the reasons for musing over this now was in the wake of an interesting chat I had the other day with some folks from Computer Associates marking the release of their new CA Records Manager product. In contrast to most other ECM products it apparently does not include its own integral repository – it’s a management layer only, managing content in its original native location. Though there are still currently limitations in terms of how widely this management layer can be applied (not yet extending to encompass the externally hosted Web2.0 services mentioned earlier) it seems to me to at least represent a more open-ended solution which at least offers the promise of achieving some of these wider, more demanding goals, further down the line.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The need for dynamic records management

I’ve made the point before that one of the greatest challenges posed by Web 2.0 to records management is the fact that the underpinning focus of control has now shifted significantly from the organisation to the individual (a fact acknowledged by Time magazine two years ago when it made ‘You’ its prestigious ‘Person of the Year’ in recognition of the fact that in the Web 2.0 world ‘You’ control the information age. This trend is, of course, contrary to many of the assumptions on which records management is based which relies upon and extols the virtues of organisation-wide standards, policies and conformity.

In the latest print edition of Information World Review (though curiously not yet on their online version which is still showing last month’s column) David Tebbutt alludes to the same general trend in relation to social networking technologies:

“Forget centralised planning and control. No one can plan these connections, or their value, in advance. Power shifts to the participants who, frankly, deserve it most”.

Though not talking specifically about the RM and governance agenda, its not difficult to see how these same trends apply in this context and point to the need for far more reactive and dynamic approaches to information management which are able to adapt and change ‘on the fly’ .

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The 10 (published) principles of Records Management 2.0

Finally, after many months of effort and angst, I have held a copy of my finished, published book in my hand. Authors are prone to equating the process of writing a book with that of pregnancy and giving birth to a child. Rather foolishly I tried this analogy earlier today to my wife who is currently 7 months pregnant….

Without sounding too clichéd I would genuinely love this book to represent the beginning, rather than the end, of this (self imposed) mission to rethink and reinvent records management to ensure it is fit for purpose in the modern world. I have been gratified to receive several supportive emails from around the world from other professionals who share my concerns and desire to initiate change. What I would love to do is to build on this by establishing a community of like-minded records managers, plus those from related professions such as the library world and of course the web technologists. I am sure that collectively there exists the expertise and range of skills required to make a genuine difference to our profession, its just a question of identifying the right online tool(s) to facilitate this creative discussion and, perhaps, finding the odd bit of funding to help make this happen. I make no apologies for the fact that my book raises far more questions than it answers, but now those questions have been raised and are out there for discussion lets move on to actually doing stuff: practical stuff that results in applications and approaches which can make a real difference. If anyone is interested in being part of such a community feel free to let me know, likewise if you are familiar with any ‘business models’ and/or technical platforms to help realise them (or sources of funding of course).

Finally, I thought I would end with some of the conclusions from the book (don’t worry, it doesn’t spoil the ending!). Part of my conclusion is that what we need at present is a set of guiding principles and shared characteristics which help define ‘Records Management 2.0’ and which can be used to set the parameters for any further development work in this area. More detail on each of them is given in the book and naturally they are all open for discussion (see Principle 9) but I thought they might at least get the debate started and were a fitting way to celebrate the arrival of the book.

Records Management 2.0 must be:
1. scalable to an (almost) infinite degree
2. comprehensive: with the potential to address all aspects of the management of information throughout its lifecycle
3. independent of specific hardware, software or physical location
4. extensible and able to absorb new priorities and responsibilities as they emerge
5. potentially applicable to all information
6. proportionate, flexible and capable of being applied to varying levels of quality and detail as required by the information in question
7. a benefits-led experience for users, that offers them a positive incentive to participate
8. marketable to end users, decision makers and stakeholders
9. self-critical and positively willing to embrace challenge and change
10. acceptable to, and driven by, the records management community and its practitioners

Friday, June 6, 2008

The way forward? Niche solutions for niche problems

One of the (very few) advantages of being laid up at home with tonsillitis has been the opportunity to catch up on some reading when energy levels allow.

One thing which caught my eye and which I never expected to see was an advert in the 17th May issue of The Spectator for an advert for a records management system. After all, think about it? When was the last time you picked up a major, national current affairs periodical, with no ties to records or information management and saw such an advert? I thought so.

The full page advert is for Niche Records Management Systems, a specialist system for police forces and is jokingly aimed at the new Mayor of London, Boris Johnson (presumably on the assumption that he should buy it for the Met Police). Of course, in reality, it’s designed to appeal to more than just one person but what we can assume from this is that this is an advert for a records management system which is not aimed at the records manager, nor even the IT manager – but the senior executive, policy maker and purse string holder.

The ad then goes on to spell out in clear empirical terms what benefits have been derived from implementing such a system by other police forces (e.g. “Hampshire Constabulary – a sex offender caught in four hours, not two days; North Wales Police – 42% reduction in case file preparation time” etc).

Now these are bold claims and I’m in no position to be able to comment on the true contribution of records management or this particular system to achieving them (so please don’t see this as any endorsement of this particular product which I know nothing about). For me the interesting thing is to contrast this with the usual way in which RM systems (and often RM as a whole) are marketed. Here it is being sold as a specific answer to a specific problem; rather than as an enterprise-wide ‘bucket’ and ill-defined answer to all information woes.

There is no mention of this system helping your police force to cope with FOI or vague promises to reduce costs. No, its selling points are its direct contribution to achieving the specific organisational targets on which senior managers are themselves judged. This is not RM as a universal panacea, nor RM as self-evidentially important. It is RM as a specifically designed niche solution to a niche problem in a niche market and as such is aggressively targeting a market which we seldom seem to reach.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Increasing interest in Google Apps

When I first started hitting the conference circuit and blogsphere last year with my concerns regarding what the rise in Web2.0 and particularly Office2.0 solutions might mean for the future of records management, many I spoke to thought it would never happen to their organisation. So whilst it may have been an interesting theoretical exercise, many dismissed much of what I said as being largely irrelevant to their organisations and their circumstances - particularly if they worked in the public sector. Even at the RMS conference in Edinburgh last month many I spoke to were still clinging to this belief.

But all the while the signs are that this is the direction in which we are heading. Whether this be the use of YouTube to conduct public consultation, as addressed earlier this week, or Paul Dodgson's post on the RMS Blog discussing how Leicestershire County Council is already 'dipping its toe' into Google Apps to explore its potential. Certainly in the Higher Education sector things are moving a pace. Whereas this time last year there were only a couple of examples of institutions wishing to outsource their email to externally hosted services there are now dozens with most IT departments currently at least exploring the pros and cons.

Make no mistake about it: this is something we, as records and information professionals, need to come to terms with and quickly - and not just by paying lip service to it, but by developing new approaches which meet records management objectives in radical new ways.

Monday, May 19, 2008

YouTube but who manages?

Very interesting to hear today that Gordon Brown is to conduct a ‘Question Time style’ discussion forum with members of the general public via YouTube. Of course this isn’t the first time that there have been high profile users of the service, with both the Queen and The Archbishop of Canterbury using it to broadcast their Christmas messages for the first time last December. Number 10 have also had their own YouTube channel for some time now (alongside a rather interesting and eclectic mix of other stations!)

What strikes me as different about today’s announcement, however, is the fact that on this occasion the Government will be using YouTube to conduct a two-way dialogue: with members of the public posting their questions to the PM and (as I understand it) he then answering in kind via the same media. This is a potentially significant difference with resulting implications for its subsequent management. Previously YouTube was just one of many channels of distribution being used (with the apparent safety net that it didn’t matter if the Queen’s speech was being distributed by YouTube as the traditional ‘master copy’ would undoubtedly continue to reside and be managed internally). With this announcement, however, the ‘record’ is surely the combination of both questions asked and answers given with any separation between the two rendering the final record of little informational or evidential value. And it seems to me that only YouTube alone will be in a position to ensure the integrity and longevity of this evidence.

I suppose in this instance it could be argued that hosting such a debate via YouTube is fundamentally little different from the Prime Minster appearing on a televised discussion programme such as Question Time, where the final record belongs to the television production company or broadcaster and is therefore their responsibility to manage, rather than the government’s. Where this comforting analogy might breakdown in the future is if more and more public bodies start to use established Web2.0 services such as YouTube to collect evidence or conduct public enquiries in ways which rely on an accurate record of the dialogue being preserved as part of the formal decision making process. That may still be some way off at the moment, but announcements such as that made today suggest that it is a question of ‘when’, not ‘if’ that day arrives.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

EDRMS: The case against

I've just finished playing my part in the mock trial at the RMS Conference: 'Has EDRMS been a success?' with me playing the part of the prosecution and David Bowen from Audata Ltd acting for the defense. My opening statement pointing out the failings of EDRMS are now available via GoogleDocs (its a 10 minute read).

I should, of course, point out that this is not intended to be a balanced, reasoned piece, but as forceful and convincing an argument as possible (after all, this was my Rumpole of the Bailey moment) - though that's not to say that I wouldn't stand by these comments....

Monday, April 21, 2008

From YouTube to YouManage: The need to democratise information management

I thought I would make available the text of the keynote presentation that I have just given at the RMS Conference in Edinburgh. The paper explores themes which will be familiar to readers of this blog, namely the challenges posed by the move to Web/Office2.0 and the way in which records management will need to radically change its methodology in order to remain relevant.

The only way I can see to achieve this is for us to control less and trust more: that is to trust the collective wisdom of our users to assist us in the management process. As ever, all thoughts and comments gratefully received and I look foward to continuing the discussion in Edinburgh with delegates over a beer in the bar this evening...

In fact the first feedback is now available via Keith Gregory's live blogging from the conference, worth a look for his take on all the sessions coming up over the next couple of days

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sharepoint: new technology; same issues?

The TFPL workshop on Microsoft Office Sharepoint 2007 (MOSS) I attended yesterday provided some interesting food for thought at a time when MOSS is increasingly being mentioned as ‘the next big thing’ in records and information management.

I thought I would share a few of the observations which occurred to me at various times throughout the day. Some – or indeed all – may just display my own ignorance of MOSS and its capabilities. If so, I’d appreciate any enlightenment from those who may have more knowledge than I.

Firstly, there seemed a sense of déjà vu about some of the proceedings. Many of the claims now being made of MOSS (a single point of access and management control for all corporate information, integration of structured and unstructured data, reduction of duplication, breaking down of silos etc) seem very similar to the claims which were being made about EDRM systems 6 or 7 years ago - but which rarely seem to have been achieved in practice. Many of the case studies made the point that, though linking to line of business applications and other systems is possible with MOSS, few had actually gone down this route due to the technical complexities and resulting costs (sound familiar?). This begs the question of whether, despite its theoretical potential, will the reality of implementing MOSS, as with EDRMS, actually fall far short of this mark for most organisations, leaving it as a partial solution for unstructured data only?

Secondly, none of the presenters really broached the topic of how MOSS handles external content. Does it allow the user to integrate information they have found useful or have used which it held on external websites or within external services (such as YouTube or Flickr) with the other internal information that it relates to – for example as part of their Mysite or a Teamsite, and if so, how is this achieved?

Thirdly, and on a related theme: there was little real mention of Web2.0 throughout the day and where it was mentioned it was mainly in the context of barring its use or turning it off. Some did mention that they provide their users with their own MOSS-provided, approved versions of blogs and wikis. Though this might seem a sensible compromise I have long had doubts about the sustainability of this approach. Not only will we always struggle to keep pace with the functionality and user experience offered by external providers but also, it seems to me, it risks cutting the technology adrift from most of the underlying movements which make it attractive in the first place (taking advantage of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’, ubiquity of access and reuse, the ability for a user to record the ‘totality of their life, free from the rapidly disappearing borders between their work, domestic and professional lives). All themes explored in further detail in my book…

Fourthly, many people still seem to be tying themselves in knots trying to square the circle of which pieces of information represents records and which do not and, as a consequence, some organisations see MOSS as an acceptable vehicle for managing their corporate records (such as DEFRA) where as others do not (such as KPMG). This again touches on issues discussed in my book where I argue that as even the most basic and unofficial piece of information has the power to hurt or help an organisation just as much as the most formal of records –why worry about the distinction?

Lastly, to something that was conspicuous by its absence from any of the presentations – email. There was some talk about the collaborative elements of MOSS reducing reliance on email, but nothing to quantify this – nor to explain how those emails which inevitable must remain are managed within a MOSS environment. I’ve no doubt it is possible, it would just be good to hear how.

So plenty of food for thought and more questions than answers, but, then again, isn’t that always the way??

Monday, March 31, 2008

Managing the Web2.0 'crowd'

It seems that the Government are beginning to sit up and take note of the potential offered by Web2.0 – and not just from the technical perspective, but in recognition of the social, political and economic change that it promises as well. This is certainly the message which comes through from a recent speech given by Tom Watson MP, Minister for Transformational Government, on Monday 10th March 2008, where he said:

‘So let me tell you where I stand.
I believe in the power of mass collaboration.
I believe that as James Surowiecki says the many are smarter than the few.
I believe that the old hierarchies in which government policy is made and crucially for you in this room the way in which it is delivered – are going to change for ever.
People tell me that we are entering a post-bureaucratic age. I don't accept that. It's just old thinking – laissez faire ideas with a new badge.
The future of government is to provide tools for empowerment, not to sit back and hope that laissez-faire adhocracy will suffice. ‘


The April 2008 edition of Government Computing also devotes its front cover and lead story to Web2.0 and the need for government to "seize the day". In particular this piece points to the need for government to take a step back when it comes to implementing Web2.0 services and rather than going away and "spending a lot of civil service time and money trying to come up with web2.0 applications for themselves, it would be much better to allow more information to become public and allow groups like mySociety… to develop the applications". The piece also points to examples such as Patient Opinion of where sites set up independently from government have proved extremely useful in improving public services.

Interestingly, this piece does not mention any of the issues associated with the management of Web2.0 information. Of course management issues are never the most interesting and attention grabbing elements of a project and so often get consigned to the background, and this might be the case here. It may also be because the whole notion of imposing any form of management control appears out of kilter with the ethos of Web2.0 where, it is often assumed, anything goes – the equivalent of the parents spoiling the kid’s party.

But as our institutions and services increasingly begin to look towards a Web2.0-based future they are going to have to bite the bullet and tackle information management issues to ensure that such services are robust and reliable, as well as novel and democratic.

As I’ve mentioned in passing in previous posts, I have tried to develop this side of the debate by writing a book and I’m pleased (and relieved!) to say that the first draft is now with the publisher and due for release in June. The book is called 'Managing the crowd: Rethinking Records Management for the Web2.0 world' and is published by Facet Publishing. Probably the best way to provide a summary of the central argument of the book is to reproduce the content of the advertising flyer:

Imagine a records management (RM) future where the user community collectively describes the value and properties of a record using the wisdom of the crowd; where records retention, description and purpose are determined by their users, within general boundaries defined by the records manager. It may sound far-fetched, but could represent a way forward for managing records.

It has never been more apparent that RM as traditionally practised will soon no longer be fit for purpose. With the increasing plurality of information sources and systems within an organization, as the deluge of content increases, so the percentage of the organization’s holdings that can be formally classed as records declines.

In the Web 2.0 world new technology is continually changing the way users create and use information. RM must change its approach fundamentally if it is to have a role to play in this new world. This provocative new book challenges records managers to find time amidst the daily operational pressures to debate the larger issues thrown up by the new technological paradigm we are now entering, and the threat it poses to established theory and practice.

A range of stimulating ideas are put up for discussion: why not, for instance, embrace folksonomies rather than classification schemes and metadata schemas as the main means of resource discovery for unstructured data? Adopt a ranking system that encourages users to rate how useful they found content as part of the appraisal process? Let the content creator decide whether there should be any access restrictions on the content they have created?
This is a thought-provoking book which questions received wisdom and suggests radical new solutions to the very real issues RM faces. Every records manager needs to read this challenging book, and those that do may never think about their profession in quite the same way again.


I’ll post a few more details of the books central arguments over the next few weeks, but am happy to answer any specific individual questions directly.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Taxonomies: may be it is all a myth?

Jim Connelly has published an article in this month’s RMS Bulletin, entitled ‘Functional taxonomies: myth or magic?’ Aside from the opening assumption that the birth of functional classification dates back to 2001 (odd, as I remember having lectures about it when studying for my Records Management Masters in 1997, and of course the first function-based JISC Study of the Records Lifecycle came out in 1999!), it’s an admirably succinct overview of the pros and cons of adopting either a functional, subject or organisation based approach to developing a corporate-wide schema.

The interesting thing from my perspective is that although the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of these different flavours of corporate-wide classification schemes is debated, there is no consideration given as to whether the notion of the classification scheme (of whatever hue) really is fit for purpose. I would argue that rather than just assuming the validity of corporate-wide classification schemes, we should, perhaps, be questioning whether they really meet the needs of our organisations now, and into the future.

For example, do we, in fact, kid ourselves that our classification schemes meet the needs of our users, who actually require a level of granularity far below that achieved by most classification schemes? Despite our best efforts, do records managers really understand the complex business processes which define our organisations (I speak as someone who started their career in the pharmaceutical industry and certainly never understood the intricacies of the drug development process)? Are classification schemes really comprehensive enough – especially function-based schemes - which may struggle to incorporate information which was not created as the result of one clearly defined process (e.g. photographs or even blogs). And, perhaps most significantly of all, how will we, on a practical level, be able to apply our corporate classification scheme to information and records being created and housed in a myriad of disparate, unconnected and externally hosted systems as we move further into a Web2.0 world.

The article suggests that it is ‘time to look at functional systems or schema objectively’. I would argue that it is time to cast the net even wider than that and, instead, to look at some of the fundamental assumptions on which all classification schemes are currently based.

New kids on the blog

The state of records management blogging in the UK continues to go from strength to strength.

Not only do we have the welcome news that the RMS will be providing free WiFi access at their conference in Edinburgh and encouraging live event blogging; but also the arrival of a new blogger, in the form of Alan Bell's One man typing blog.

It's good to see so much thought and debate being shared during these exiting and demanding times for the records management profession.

Happy blogging!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

How to keep those servers cool!

There’s an interesting article in the latest edition of Government Computing magazine (unfortunately there is no e-version of the article to link to). The article in question is entitled ‘Greening the data centre’ and refers to the problems that organisations are encountering in terms of rising energy costs resulting from the ‘hot and hungry’ new blade servers that organisations are cramming into their data centres. According to the piece it is predicted that between 2000 and 2010 we will have "installed six times the amount of servers in our data centres and 69 times the amount of storage".

The problem is apparently that our data centre buildings are not designed to cope with the power required and heat generated by such machines, plus of course energy-consumption is now a political and ethical hot potato.

Now the interesting thing is the range of possible solutions outlined in the article. These vary from ‘better power management in data centres’, through to ‘taking your servers… and virtualising them’ or simply replacing old technology with new.

Nowhere does the rather obvious suggestion of ‘keeping less information’ get a look in. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the content of these steaming servers is actually still useful and still required? Of course the volume of information organisations create and need to retain is always increasing – but I bet there is still a huge percentage that could safely be destroyed if only anyone knew what it was, and whether it was still actually required…

But given that the main contributor to the piece is a Vice President at IBM perhaps its not that that surprising that the suggestion is to buy more kit, rather than to make better use of what exists already…

Monday, January 28, 2008

Blogging - whats it all about??

Interesting to see a new records management blog appearing, with the launch of the new Records Management Society (RMS) blog. Seeing this, combined with recent experience from my own blog has prompted some thoughts about what blogs are for, what they do best and what perhaps they are less good at.

Take my previous post on this blog, for example, within which I attempted to summarise a very interesting and lively debate which had been occurring for several days on the records management JISCmail list, and to encourage the debate to continue. As one of the main protagonists of the debate I began to feel as though the email list was not the best forum for continuing the discussion, not least because we risked imposing a good number of messages on the entire membership of the list on what was a fairly niche subject. Transferring the debate to a blog seemed the obvious answer: the debate could continue, the comments would be displayed in a structured sequential order and only those interested would be affected.

The result? The debate was killed stone dead; not a single comment was received and this was after I even posted the first comment to keep the ball rolling and advertised its presence on the blog via the same list on which it had previously featured. Now of course it could just be that the discussion had come to a natural conclusion and interest had faded away, but this appears not to be the case. Firstly, a number of further emails were exchanged via the JISCmail list which kept the discussion very much alive for a few days afterwards, and secondly according to Google Analytics the blog posting in question received a fair number of hits (65) – its just that none of these led to further contributions.

I find this interesting, not because of this particular example but because of what it may imply regarding both the role of blogs in general and also user preferences when it comes to vehicles for debate.

It appears that despite a general despair about the quantity of emails sent and received it still seems the default mode of e-communication and perhaps will do so for far longer than we had envisaged. For whatever reason maybe reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated and despite a plethora of seemingly more sophisticated and interactive technologies its place is assured for some time to come. Perhaps its one of those rare examples of a piece of technology that hits a particular nerve and becomes so ingrained in the human psyche that people will continue to use it even when numerous and ‘better’ alternatives exist (the wrist watch being another example)

This also prompted me to consider why it is that I maintain this blog. Yes, user comments are a very welcome and important part of it, likewise the whole notion of encouraging and promoting debate within the profession. But if I am honest the reason for starting it and for continuing to maintain it is as an outlet for my own thoughts and views. I don’t claim them to be any more accurate or important than anyone else’s - I just wanted the means to be able to record them and to share them with whoever may find them of interest in a quicker and more responsive way than publishing journal articles or conference papers. If readers are sufficiently interested or otherwise stirred to comment on what I have said so much the better, but I shall continue to write whether the comments come in a flood, trickle or drought. Looking at the comment-to-posting ratio of other blogs I read I suspect that other bloggers feel much the same.

There is nothing particularly startling about the above, after all it reflects the origins of the blog as a Web-log. I suppose I could create and maintain my own full website and use that for the same purposes of online publishing but a blog enables me to leverage all the advantages but without the hassle and cost of hosting, designing & maintaining a full website; this leaves me free to just focus on writing what I want to say. It is, however, interesting that even organisations which already have existing sophisticated and informative vehicles for online dissemination via their websites still see the merit of maintaining a separate blog. It will be interesting to see over time which the average user prefers and whether it is actually the website rather than the email which is most affected by the rise of the blog…

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

An interesting debate on RM in the Web2.0 world...

Readers of this blog might be interested in an impromptu debate which occurred yesterday on the Records-Management-UK email list. The discussion was kicked off by a seemingly innocuous email pointing out the availability of peripherals for laptops which enable broadband-speed wireless connection, even where there is no WiFi service available.

This soon led to an interesting cut and thrust regarding the relative merits of web2.0 and the role of records management in this regard (before moving onto a debate about how best to continue the debate!).

I thought it worth bringing the main trust of this discussion to the attention of those not on this particular list, whilst also providing one means for anyone interested to continue the debate without monopolising the list in question.

What follows may miss out one or two of the side-shoots of this discussion but hopefully captures the essence. It reads from top to bottom and I’ve kept the first names of the author of each message at the foot of the relevant message to enable the reader to keep track of the ‘to-ing and fro-ing’.

I’ve also responded to Peter’s last message through the blog’s comment facility…

Happy reading and my thanks to all those who contributed!

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Hello all,
I’ve just had the following gizmo brought to my attention by a Business Information Systems colleague. Despite its irredeemably tacky name, it looks incredibly useful – essentially, a USB stick that gives full broadband access from your laptop wherever you are (once you have mobile phone network coverage).
http://www.carphonewarehouse.com/commerce/servlet/gben-server-PageServer?article=MAIN.UK.INTERNET.STATIC.USBMODEM

Two RM implications struck me at once:
(1) There is now absolutely no excuse for people working remotely to store data on hard drives or portable media devices, with all the data security and version control problems that attended those practices. Instead, organizational networks can be accessed directly through the broadband connection. No more ‘MI5 loses laptop with country’s entire defence network details in railway station café’ headlines!


(2) The possibilities opened up for managing electronic records in developing countries or remote regions with little or no reliable IT or land-based communication infrastructure. Ubiquitous mobile broadband access could now be coupled with web-hosted applications and storage to facilitate robust systems for managing electronic business records with minimal resources.

On the face of it, this is that rare thing in mobile communications technology over and beyond the basic ability to phone or text people – a truly useful development rather than a gimmick. But perhaps there are drawbacks I don’t know about. Has anyone out there actually used this device?

Regards,
Rachel.

This may well be a convenient way of delivering wireless access (in addition to all the existing ways) but it would not, for me, replace having files available to me locally. The speed of wireless, never mind unreliability and unavailability in many parts of the country does not provide the service I am looking for.

Regards
Jim

There may be truth in what you say for now, but I wonder how long this will remain the case? I suspect within the next 5 years or so the current limitations that you rightly point out will have disappeared and the advantages of online access to centrally held master copies will be seen to far outweigh the disadvantages. I always believe we should look at where the technology is likely to lead us in the near future, rather than feeling constrained by its current limitations. (its abit like a century ago saying ‘I’m sticking with my horse and cart, those automobile things are always breaking down and running out of fuel!!)

Andy is also right to point out that concentrating on wireless dongles and cards is probably bit of a technological cul-de-sac. I think Andy is right and it will be the gradual but relentless spread of ‘commercial’ wifi services to public spaces that makes the real difference. As I mention in my SoA paper, the role of wireless cards will probably be restricted to those more remote ‘rural’ locations where commercial factors don’t make a wifi service viable – so they in effect fill a temporary and ever-reducing gap in coverage.

Steve

Happy to play the luddite on this one. Don't share the general enthusiasm in respect of Web.2 and file storage heaven.

"Tough luck it's inevitable"? Yes, probably and certainly there's a need to address it - but I want to see 'rules' and that seems to fly in the face of what Web.2 offers - and its main attraction. (ie - unrestricted freedom)

No doubt rules will emerge retrospectively after something goes wrong. (they usually do) Don't ask me to speculate on what might go wrong (luddites don't have to) but once the imagination is given over to the ideas of Web.2 and Google storage, I find images from 'The Matrix' coming to mind!!!

Gerry

The problem is, it probably won’t make two hoots of difference whether we as records managers share the enthusiasm for web2.0 or not, the simple fact is that users do and we bury our heads in the sand at our peril. If records managers ruled the world (God, what a thought!) it might be different, but we have to acknowledge that when it comes to shaphng the IT trends which are redefining our culture, society and economics (as well as our organisations) our opinions tend to count for virtually nothing. Saying we don’t approve and don’t endorse the technology might be one approach for us to take within our organisations, but pretty soon it is likely to be one that is soundly ignored by all and sundry.

Organisations do not come more traditional than the Royal Household and the Church of England and if both of those saw fit to use YouTube last year for their respective Christmas broadcasts I think we can be fairy certain that these technologies are now well and truly beyond the ‘techno-geek’ phase and here to stay…

List users interested in this subject might be interested to know that I have a book coming out in the summer: ‘Managing the crowd: rethinking records management for the Web2.0 world’ which explores these issues and the challenges it poses for records management in much more detail!

Cheers
Steve


Without being drawn into the wider Web 2.0 discussion (I’m not a luddite but perhaps in a long career I’ve experienced too many ‘next best things’ not to be a little skeptical about the extent to which ‘organisations are being re-shaped by it’), Steve’s final example hardly clinches the argument. They may appear traditional organisations, but both the Church of England and The Royal Household have very savvy media relations and publicity machines and would be looking to use all possible delivery mechanisms and outlets for their respective messages, including YouTube. I suspect there are just as many technogeeks in those organisations as in any other – though there are, inevitably, probably more in academia than in most other sectors. It would be more interesting to know that they kept the records relating to the planning, creation and production process in a Web 2.0 environment, or indeed their ‘record copy’ of the final broadcast.

Peter

Might be worth remembering that both email and the web owed their origins to the ‘technogeeks’ in academia too, but it didn’t seem to stop them spreading rather further than that…

Steve

True. But it’s also true that those particular tigers have created difficulties for corporate organisations which they have yet to solve (before moving on to the next best thing) and as PK suggested in his post they are now facing the cost. We need to distinguish between what works for individuals and what works for organisations. Where the individuals are employed by corporate bodies – we should stop calling them users and recognise that they are agents in this context – these two things may be incompatible. Individuals in the corporate context need information to do their job. The organisation needs records as evidence of what it has done, usually for a much longer period and long after the original ‘tagger’ has moved on. That requirement will not change. Technology on its own, no matter how clever and ubiquitous, is not going to meet this challenge and what we should be trying to do is to find ways of moderating the process – rules if you like to use Gerry’s word – so that we get the best of both worlds.

Peter

Someone at a conference I once spoke at made the very pertinent observation that "you don’t stop a bulldozer by standing in front of it, you stop it by getting behind the wheel"
On that basis, all I would say is that if we are going to continue to insist on taking a traditional rules-based ‘manual’ approach to the management of information we are (in the immortal words of Private Frasier) "Doomed, all doomed…"


Steve

They’re not manual world rules but rules that produce a desired outcome irrespective of the medium. You can’t get behind the wheel of the bulldozer unless you know how to drive it and then you need to know what it is that you’re going to flatten. Flattening everything because you can would hardly be the desired outcome.
A pedantic point – records and information are not inter-changeable terms.

Peter

At the risk of boring the rest of the RM world I think this had better be my last post on this particular topic…

But I just wanted to point out that my use of the term ‘information’ was quite deliberate in this context. Focusing on the (rapidly diminishing) percentage of an organisation’s information that fulfil our criteria as ‘records’ and ignoring the fate of the rest is not only career suicide, it is exposing our organisations to a considerable risk to their assets by ignoring the fact that a significant proportion of the information it holds may well be equally as important (and potentially as dangerous) as our records.

As a simple example you only have to consider the paradox of talking about ‘records management’ in the context of dealing with freedom of information to appreciate this point…. At the end of the day the recipient is usually only interested in the content, and that could equally appear in a piece of ‘information’ as in a record’. Likewise that content could be equally as incriminating for the organisation whether it be noted on a scrap of paper or within a formal record keeping system.

What is surely needed are ways of ‘scaling up’ the principles which lay behind records management to cope with the volume of information held by organisations, not reasons for ignoring the true scale of the problem

Over and out!

Steve

My last post too.

What is all this information that isn’t a record and where is it? Why does the organisation have it? Who created it? Is it supporting a business activity or is it just sitting there, waiting? Perhaps your definition of a record and records management is too narrow.

The FOI point conflates what the requester receives with its source. The fact remains that the public authority must turn first to its records to provide information about what it has done or plans to do. It may need to process the content to extract the information in a way that answers the question but that is a different issue. Similarly, those records still have to perform the continuing evidential task.

Steve, I look forward to your book where no doubt you will have the space to develop the proposed solutions as well as posing the questions. In the end the records still need to be identified and managed.

Peter