Last month, we talked about how to get on the same page as your Legal colleagues. The euphemism was to make an attorney your “new best friend.” I hope you have been successful, with both of you now singing Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”.
For most of us RIMmers, or Info Governors, it is at least as important to be allies with IT. Managing electronic records is arguably more difficult than managing paper. That’s because, while physical records may be completely in our control (or, at least, jurisdiction), we are often dependent upon technologists to help in managing electronic records. That applies to policies and procedures, as well as storage, retrieval, and disposal.
Just as there is often a gap between RIMmers and Legal, there may be an even bigger gulf between RIM and IT. This near-abyss comes from differences: vocabulary, performance goals, priorities, pain points, risk tolerance, training, and personality types.
And just like when dealing with the Legal Dept., RIMmers cannot expect the technologists to reach out with songs of peace and harmony. Only a relatively few technologists realize that their departmental success depends upon records management. Without RIM, IT incurs risks, wasted resources, and the drag of lots of dead weight. But IT doesn’t know that, generally. They don’t know what they don’t know, so it is up to RIM to launch a plan for synergy.
But wait, I get ahead of myself. Before an organization can enjoy the benefits of cooperation, an individual needs to cross over the aforementioned abyss. A progressive records manager needs to make an IT leader their “new best friend.”
That’s easier said than done, and it might be more intellectually challenging that getting cooperation from Legal. That’s because the RIMmer reaching out needs to get an orientation toward, and general understanding of the way IT works. That’s not easy, and I don’t know any shortcuts. It’s generally not part of our training, so it takes effort, and it take us out of our comfort zone.
For starters, the RIMmer needs to understand structured data, that is, relational databases, how they work, and the challenges of managing the records they contain. Most records people are uncomfortable with the fluidity of structured data, as it is a whole different breed from paper. There are challenges of storage, access, records declaration, administration of legacy systems, and archiving.
Then consider the daunting – for both Records and IT — proliferation of platforms where records reside. We’re talking Clouds, backups, social media, mobile apps, the Internet of Things, and more. Multiply that by the ballooning volume of the data each platform can generate and hold. To manage this deluge, it takes both Records and IT, working together, to create data maps that locate the burgeoning number of records.
These challenges can be overwhelming, so let’s start small. What can a records leader do to find acceptance and cooperation from IT? Here are some suggested steps:
- Learn the lingo. RIM and IT may have different meanings for the same thing. IT has words that are meaningless, at first blush, for records people. But the first rule of communication is: speak the language of your audience. So learn a bit of “techno-babble”. Subscribe to one or two trade journals. Then read the front page and a couple articles inside each issue. You’ll start to pick up the jargon.
- Develop empathy for the ITer’s pain points. Ask questions. Understand the ever-present tension between quality coding and limited time. Find out how pressures from management effect work style.
As you come to understand managing structured data, learn about current and legacy systems. How does your organization do backup and data archiving? You don’t have to become a programmer to understand the challenges and stumbling blocks. You can do this through “Dummy” books, trade journals, conferences like MER, and asking questions
Seek ways that Records can make IT more successful. Here are a few examples/possibilities:
Records can often show IT how the burden of backup can be eased. Not everything needs to be kept forever, but some things must be kept a long time. Records has the expertise to know and act on the differences.
Teach IT that important information needs preservation as records regardless of its original medium (subject to policy). That includes email, voice mail, social media posts, mobile apps, and drawings/notes on cocktail napkins.
Harmonize IT policies with Records policies. It’s more efficient and more defensible in legal depositions.
- Try to understand and be sensitive to techsters’ common personality traits. For example, there’s meeting etiquette: IT people tend to be on time for meetings, and they expect to be done at the established time. IT folks expect a meeting leader to stay on agenda. Many are reticent to speak assertively, so their opinion must be requested and drawn out.
- Seek ways that Records can make IT more successful. Here are a few examples/possibilities:
While every situation is different, these points are representative of the challenges to allying with IT. It’s not always easy, but the rewards are great. IT gets to reduce storage needs, retire old systems, and let databases run more quickly. The Records Dept. is more successful because more records are captured, made accessible, and appropriately disposed. Both gain because legal risk is reduced. The whole organization gains from better practices, smaller budgets, better morale, and an improved legal standing.
So have a “new best friend” in IT, and invite him or her to MER. It’s a great way to cement an alliance. You and your ITer will appreciate each other more after sessions on social media, “the Internet of Things”, email, backup media, Cloud computing, and more. The rewards are manifold.
And for more perspective and depth on this subject, join me at MER2017 in Chicago, May 8-10. Rub shoulders with insightful people from IT, Legal, Records and more. It’s high-quality time.