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In June 2018 I joined AvePoint, a company that had been on my radar for quite some time because of its innovative work around Migration, Governance, and Backup. In my capacity as a Senior Systems Engineer, it was important for me to get across all AvePoint’s technologies in order to provide the best solutions to customers. So I spent a couple of weeks doing just that….and then I came across Records Management.
It was one of those dark arts that had been bandied about at past workplaces and spoken about in hushed whispers. I didn’t know much until that point, but I knew it was something to be feared. Deploying a Records Management solution was not just a technology engagement; it actually required some learning and consulting with information and records specialists.
Wielding terminology axes like “BCS,” “Retention,” “Disposal Class,” and “Classification,” these specialists were relentless in their pursuit of Records Management perfection. Now at AvePoint, it was my time to face the music. So I donned my armour, grabbed the only weapon I had–my laptop–and entered the jungle that is Records Management with great trepidation. Here are just a few of the things I learned.
1. Learn to speak the language.
After working in IT for such a long time, I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what the definition of files and folders were…but not so much in the Records landscape. In IT, a “file” is loosely defined as a collection of data stored as a unit with a single name (or filename) like a Word document. A “file” in records management terms is a container (e.g. a folder). As you can imagine, it’s very easy for an IT person and Records Manager to use the term “File” when collaborating and completely misinterpret each other.
There’s plenty of terminology that crosses over between the two fields of IT and Records Management, but it’s essential to learn the nuances that exist. In my experience, the problem is that there doesn’t appear to be a “Records Management Dictionary” that every Records Manager abides by. They usually work off terminology that is based on the legacy systems or organisational processes they’ve been working with for many years. To resolve this in my engagements, I find it’s best to explain what I mean when I use particular terms at the start, so everyone has a clear understanding of what the other is talking about.
2. Be gentle; new technology is hard for some to grasp.
From my experience, Records Managers are by and large very inquisitive and interested in differing views and opinions about Records Management as a whole. When it comes to their Records Management solution, however, they can be a little apprehensive. During my time spent helping organisations realise the benefits of Office 365, I’ve been regularly challenged by Records Managers who are trying to replicate their processes from legacy systems into a collaboration platform that just doesn’t work in those same ways.
Quite simply, your legacy (or soon to be legacy) Records Management solution is most likely very well designed for its time, but it just doesn’t cater to today’s modern workplace. With the recent COVID-19 pandemic, more people require the ability to work from anywhere on almost any device–including Records and Information Managers. Software-as-a-Service solutions (like Microsoft 365) are the ones that have been the easiest to manage and maintain during these times, as the experience in the home is consistent with the experience in the workplace for both users and administrators.
“But what about all that work I did setting the system up over the last couple of years?” is also a common thing I hear. Well, there’s good and bad news. The good news is that Records Management as a practice hasn’t really changed; there’s still the foundation and all the groundwork that you’ve put into understanding your organisation and how it works from a Records Management standpoint.
The bad news is that you’re probably going to have to go through a little bit of pain first. You need to figure out how to use that good work you’ve already done and apply it to the modern workplace and all the challenges that come with it. Luckily, most of you will already have someone that can help you with that: your friendly IT personnel.
Records managers who are looking at Office 365 solutions are usually doing so because there’s been a directive in the organisation to utilise Office 365. I can assure you, your IT personnel are dreading the change as much as you. Though IT personnel are usually seen as “the enemy” or “the people who are taking away my system,” the best Records Management implementations have been those where the IT personnel and Records Managers work together to achieve a common goal.
Thus, it’s important to work with your IT personnel to ensure they understand where your concerns lie so they can find ways to alleviate them. Remember that this isn’t just a new system; it’s a whole new working platform, and the more knowledge you have about how it functions, the better equipped you will be to design your Records Management program around it.
3. Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence AI are the best thing since filing cabinets…or something to be avoided at all costs.
To use advanced technology or to not use advanced technology; that is the question. As it relates to Records Management, machine learning can help identify documents based on patterns and keywords and automatically classify them appropriately.
Personally, I’m quite excited by how this technology can be applied in various circumstances (and it’s already active in things like tagging Facebook photos). That said, keep in mind that this won’t be a “silver bullet” that will classify everything correctly.
What is not widely understood is the amount of setup work required to get the right results out of these technologies. All models need to be set up, trained, and regularly checked for false positive items to ensure that the solution is meeting your requirements. The technology will be much more reliable as your sample sizes of records grow over time, but there will be a lot of work in the early stages to ensure you’re getting the results you desire.
In summary, as a Records Manager, you need to assess what you can and cannot utilise these technologies for, and work with your IT personnel to address how you will deal with records that may not necessarily suit your needs.
4. In-place Records Management is the preferred approach for end users.
Some of the Records Managers I speak to love the concept of users registering or classifying a record in a solution because that’s the way it’s been done across a variety of legacy solutions. However, for as much as I respect the method, it doesn’t always make the most sense to people who need to use it. As an end user-facing structural system (particularly in collaboration platforms), this “functional filing” can be a bit confusing to the average user.
Thankfully, there are ways of having your cake and eating it too. With AvePoint’s Records Management solution, your end users can create items wherever they please on the in Office 365 and AvePoint Cloud Records will manage it from the point of creation by applying a classification from your BCS to it. End users will love it because they can work in a way that makes sense to them, and Records Managers will love it because records get managed immediately upon creation! You can even do Records Management by stealth and hide the classification field from your end users so they never know it’s being managed.
5. We’re different, but still the same in a lot of ways.
Although I’ve likened Records Managers to wonderful and mysterious creatures in the past, I find that most aren’t unlike us techies.
You have your groups that tend to be a little stubborn and stuck in their ways. Other groups who are trying to find a balance between the traditional teachings and newer ideas being brought to them by the new guard on the scene. And finally, those in the new guard who are trying their best to bring a new perspective to older ways to help everyone work in a modern workplace.
What is consistent is that every records manager I’ve meet cares about making life easier for everyone within their organisation, something I know we all have in common.
I think sometimes we forget that it was only 13 years ago that the first iPhone was released. With the average age of the global workforce being around 39 years old, most workers would have been 26 at the date of release. If we look at how quickly technology has progressed since then, it’s amazing to think what the next advancements could be.
The acceleration in technology is at a rate unlike ever before, and therefore there is a pressure on all organisations and personnel (especially techies and Records Managers) to keep up. Even in my short time at AvePoint, I’ve already seen remarkable innovation in our product set. As techies, however, we cannot continue to innovate and improve if we aren’t guided by experts in their field, and that’s why it’s imperative that in order to get out of the jungle unscathed, techies and Records Managers need to work together in order to help each other progress in the modern workplace.