How can Records Managers get out of the basement – Part 1: You cannot change the business by wielding a big stick

This article is part of a series I’m putting together that covers a current challenge for records managers in the modern business and how they elevate their recognition in the business. #recordsmanagement #edrms #rimpa #informationmanagement #chromeconsulting

You cannot change the business by wielding a big stick; you change the business by delivering real value on their terms, not yours…

In 1999, a new piece of software appeared on the market called Napster. It allowed users to download music and movies illegally before disappearing in 2002 after being shut down. Later, more decentralised projects followed Napster’s P2P file-sharing example, such as Gnutella, Freenet, FastTrack, and Soulseek. Some services and software, like AudioGalaxy, LimeWire, Scour, Kazaa / Grokster, Madster, and eDonkey2000, were also brought down or changed due to copyright issues.

The problem was that as fast as the music industry took one down, five more appeared. They took individuals to court, sued companies for millions, and tried to get ISPs and governments to stop allowing people to download music.
It didn’t work.

So what eventually killed Napster and illegal music downloads? Not the police, not the ISPs, not the government: it was iTunes and online music sales.

What the music industry failed to realise is that the problem wasn’t that users weren’t prepared to pay for music. The problem was that people couldn’t get music in the way they wanted it. I.e. singles and instant gratification.

The music industry was concerned about giving them access to downloads because they thought they would lose control. The problem was that they had already lost control because the users wanted something different.

In 2002, iTunes was released. In 2004 they started selling online music. iTunes set its target of a million songs for the first year. They sold a million in their first week, fifty million in their first year and 150 million in their second year. By 2010, they had sold a total of 10 billion songs.

The solution wasn’t the stick. It was listening to what the market wanted. That’s where records managers currently have a problem. If the music industry, with all their money, power, police intervention, government changes, forced ISP legislation etc, cannot change the market with a big stick, what makes you think you will change it with a budget that is a fraction of it?

There is no better way to see this than in the federal government, where the common term is “our records management system of choice is <insert name>”. You’re trying to sell the business a system they don’t want and didn’t ask for, which isn’t working. It’s like trying to sell people on paying more tax.

What records managers aren’t doing is listening to the business. If they listened, they would understand that the business doesn’t want a records management system. They want a business system that delivers real business value and makes their life easier, and records management doesn’t deliver business value; it delivers compliance. That doesn’t mean you can’t do records management; you can’t sell or deliver it as a records management system.

The real change that has to occur is understanding the value you can deliver to the business, and you do that by ignoring records management and understanding business processes and the value information management can bring to business processes. The retention and disposal are the last 5% of a process. Why would you focus all your attention on the last 5% instead of the first 95%, where the most value can be gained? What we should be delivering is information management with records management occurring behind the scenes. It’s not to say you can’t deliver records management, but delivering information management should be the primary focus because that’s where the business benefit exists.

In a recent strategy we did for a government customer as part of a major transformation, we were one of two positive business cases in their program. We did that by focussing on the business benefits the business wanted. The second positive business case was Asset Management which also has a compliance requirement (ISO55001). It wasn’t sold as a compliance outcome, it was sold as a positive business case, and compliance was a benefit.

In summary, my advice is to start understanding your business. Understand the processes. Understand what the business does, and then look at how you can help make their life easier. When you’ve done that, you may well find you get compliance as an outcome.