How can Records Managers get out of the basement – Part 2: Business ownership is key

This article is the second in 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.
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Business ownership is key, and business ownership doesn’t come from records management…

20-plus years ago, businesses went through a massive transition with Y2K. It’s not dissimilar to the current issues we see in records management. In the case of Y2K, companies needed to implement new systems to solve the Y2K bug, and Information Technology (IT) was tasked with solving the problem.

It resulted in a mess that most organisations would like to forget. The problem, as most organisations later realised, is that IT wasn’t qualified to evaluate, purchase, and implement business systems on behalf of the business. In years gone by, IT was the ones that implemented systems by developing their databases or buying off-the-shelf packages, but the world has moved on and so had the complexity of business systems.

The purchase choices were 100% sound. They ticked the boxes IT had created on behalf of the business, but the business wasn’t happy. The new systems acquired didn’t meet the modern requirements of the business users. Initially, it may have sounded like IT were doing the business a favour by taking responsibility, but the opposite was true. Business users needed to own the acquisition and be a big part of the implementation of systems. This is why the term “business owner” is used for the implementation of an ERP system, referring to the business process owner.
It’s not dissimilar to what occurs in the records management industry regularly. It’s not uncommon to hear business users say, “don’t involve records management” when, if it was done right, it should be the first group they want to involve. It seems that sometimes records managers have become their own worst enemies.

I recall speaking to an engineering manager about a drawing management solution they looking at to manage complex 3D drawings. As part of their evaluation process, they were advised to speak to their records management team. The records management team immediately seized the opportunity to take ownership. I use the term seized, but in reality, the outcome was closer to “ceased” because the process ground to a halt.

The initiative ended up going nowhere. When records management took over, they ignored the business. I would guess they didn’t even ask the business their requirements. They pulled out the canned set of best practice records management requirements that you see in every tender and were off trying to acquire a records management solution.

The final tender released as an outcome of the initial requirement from the engineering team had one or two mentions of drawings. None of them met the complex requirements for managing their drawings and, thus, didn’t meet the requirements for the original business sponsor. It did meet every requirement for records management, but they were not the ones with the purse strings, and they weren’t the ones who owned the process. That business sponsor will no longer engage with records management for future purchases. I don’t know if the tender went ahead or if the budget was pulled. We do know the business owner wasn’t happy.

This leads me to the key point of this article:

Business ownership is key, and business ownership doesn’t come from records management…

What records managers fail to realise is that the records management team is not the business owner of documents in an organisation. I know many records management people will be horrified by this. You’ve all been taught that records management system (and thus the contents) is your system, but that’s part of the problem. You may be responsible for compliance and ensuring the relevant information is retained and disposed of, but you don’t own the documents. You don’t own the requirements, you don’t own the processes for those documents.
The business owns the process and by definition, the documents in that process. You are just a stakeholder in that process.

In summary, the key things to take away are:

  1. Involve the business and keep the business involved. If they don’t want to be involved, you’re wasting your time because you will never get a successful outcome without business ownership. It will be like trying to drag a bag of bricks uphill.
  2. Ensure the business understands they are responsible for the final solution; your responsibility is confined to the administration of the system only.
  3. Keep records management as a stakeholder. Define the rules for records management but keep them away from the business. Let records management happen in the background.