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ARMA 2013: Despite tech advances, human element still key to data management

As technology such as the cloud and mobility complicate data governance, many organizations turn to cutting edge records management tools to organize information. With all this technological focus, however, it's easy to forget the human element's importance to records management, said Lori Ashley, principal consultant at Wisconsin-based Tournesol Consulting.

In this SearchCompliance video Q&A from the ARMA 2013 International Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, Ashley discusses the records management challenges brought on by modern technology, and how these challenges only enhance individuals' roles in corporate information governance.

How have technologies such as mobility and cloud computing made records management more critical for modern organizations?

Lori Ashley: Well, these technologies are hugely disruptive. I think that it makes records management and the lifecycle of assets more important than ever. I think it also creates the need to coordinate more than ever. We can't wait until the end of the lifecycle to invoke records management. We've got to jump up to the front of the boat and try to make records management more important, more viable, more alive in an organization. These are challenging, but really exciting times.

Have these technologies and trends made record management more complex as well?

Ashley:  I think so. It's moving so quickly that it's difficult to keep up with making rules for all of the places where content is now created. I think people are busy, and it's hard to make a compelling case to say, 'Stop, let's talk about what the value of this information is over time and how we're going to manage it.' I think lifecycle control in a really fast-paced environment is pretty difficult.

What is the most common mistake companies make with records management?

Ashley: In my opinion, I think most organizations under-resource records management. It's not surprising to find maybe one or two folks who are corporate records managers at a major multinational corporation. I think if records management folks facilitate conversations, help to establish rules in their organization, there's often never enough of them to go around and keep up with the business. In my opinion, we don't have enough folks who are trying to tell the story of records management and trying to engage practitioners and business leaders on what the advantages [are] of establishing rules and establishing techniques and strategies for managing content over time.

What are some of the tactics that companies can use to address those challenges?

Ashley: If we're under-resourced, we have to partner. Information governance is really dependent on bringing together a number of different information management domains or disciplines. Ultimately, records management is about serving the needs of the business.

I think we have to leverage strategic initiatives. If an organization says, 'This is important to us and we're going to put money and resources behind it,' then record management needs to go and be at the table and make a compelling case for what to do with the information in light of something that the company or the organization has already embraced. I think we have to find folks who, in their normal jobs, can help identify requirements and lifecycle controls.

In this case, it would be infusing some sort of checklist into the procurement process or into the contract management process. In essence, you're spreading the responsibility for capturing requirements and embedding them into the way the business does what it does -- how it hires people, how it educates people, how it spends its money, what systems it buys, what business processes it puts in place. I think we have to find other folks who can help us carry those requirements out into the organization in the course of their job.

What about technology? Is that only part of the answer to the problem of cohesive records management, and how do business processes or other factors play into the equation?

Ashley:  Like I said before, records are really about business. Why do we have to keep information? It's to serve the purpose and mission of the organization, whatever that is. Private sector, public, not for profit -- it really doesn't matter.

More from ARMA 2013

New, emerging technology brings big records management challenges

Organizations must adapt information governance strategy to business needs

I think technology is just a tool, and the tools get better and better, but I think that the most critical factor in records management are the people. I've been really surprised when I see some of my old friends to hear how many of them are contemplating retirement, leaving the organization. They're scared about what's going to happen when they leave, or if they've lost a champion because a project that they've been working on for multiple years is now at risk because the new person that comes in may no longer see the business value of the records management application or the program.

I really think records management begins with humans who understand that it's about doing business. Then we can build business processes that help us to come together, to identify requirements, and to find a way to link them into what users are normally doing because records management shouldn't be done outside the context of getting the business of the organization done. Technology is just a tool. Luckily, the tools just keep getting better. But without the passion and the intellect of humans to identify the requirements and identify the rules, and then integrate them into the way that work gets done, it's impossible to get records management right. Technology is great, but ultimately it's about the people.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, site editor. For more regulatory compliance news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ITCompliance.

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