When I say from the basement, I mean from the basement. As a newly degreed Records and Information Management (RIM) professional, fresh out of college and ready to apply the knowledge I had gained in countless courses (and while working on myriad of projects), I jumped at the chance for a paid RIM internship in a highly regulated industry. Well-known in the market, I thought of the organization I was joining as the perfect opportunity to conquer all that lay ahead. I was passionate about records management and certain everyone shared my enthusiasm and appreciation for its importance.
My first day of work arrived.
I was not going to be working at the corporate headquarters in the heart of the downtown metro area, but instead in an office located about 45 miles away. Undeterred, I arrived dressed professionally in my very first business suit ready to apply all that I had learned and introduce this location and its staff to the exciting world of Records Management! When led to my new “office” all I could think was “Oh, my, this isn’t what they said it would be like.”
Situated down a flight of stairs, I found a set of saw horses with a piece of plywood over the top. This windowless room, filled with unlabeled and unorganized boxes of various sizes and in various states of condition, was to be my office; the saw horses and plywood, my desk. I was truly in the basement. The light at the end of the tunnel was the gentleman helping get my office “set up.” Gruff and a bit grumpy, I was not sure what to make of him until he was about to leave and muttered “Good to have you here. Someone’s gotta do something about all this stuff. Seems to me they want to keep everything and can’t find anything.” How bad could it be? Even this guy got it!
Perhaps I was a bit optimistic, perhaps a bit naïve. Either way it was a glimmer of hope.
Technolgoy (and ENRON) moved us forward
In those days there weren’t FACTA, SOX or HIPPA regulations. ISO 15489 didn’t exist. When asked what you did for a living, the reply to “I’m in Records Management” was generally, “Oh, so you’re in the music industry?” Management of information was generally thought of as dealing primarily with paper; microfilm or microfiche if there were archival or long-term preservation issues. Then came ENRON/Arthur Anderson and technology.
It’s hard to remember a time when we didn’t have e-mail, instant messaging or texts. The Internet was nonexistent as a business tool. With technology came regulations and the challenges of privacy and compliance. No longer was RIM relegated to the basement, it had moved to the board room. It wasn’t just the guy setting up my first office who understood that there were risks involved in unmanaged information. Whether it was saving too much, getting rid of information too soon, not being able to produce what you had or demonstrate why you didn’t, without policies and procedures in place there were threats of lawsuits, fines and penalties.
Where Records Management had once been considered a cost center, it was now being seen as an opportunity for cost avoidance. Cross-functional work teams were established to combine the knowledge of technology that not only created the information, but could manage the information through its life cycle. Coming from differing perspectives, teams could analyze the converging needs and provide an opportunity to meet them all.
Has it been only positive? No. There have been hurdles.
While awareness for the need to manage information has increased, degree programs in Information Management have been eliminated. Online courses and seminars have filled the void, but professionals continue to find themselves “inheriting” the responsibilities and learning on the job. Lack of communication and understanding of the role RIM plays in managing information continues to result in key players joining project teams after system decisions have already been made. While there is still room for improvement, for a better understanding how various functions can work together to manage information rather than working in silos that create disconnection, it’s important to keep in mind how far things have come. Two of the last three projects I worked on were initiated by C-level management. RIM professionals now find themselves reporting to compliance officers and CIOs. Is there more progress to me made? Absolutely! But the fact is, Records Management has moved from the basement to the board room.