Making technology work for record management

Technology and records managers typically don't understand one another. Historically, a tension exists between the two camps, but as the disciplines evolve, they are becoming more intricately linked, and increasing the need for understanding on both sides, analysts said.

"The problem is [that] records managers and [information technology] people don't talk to each other, and if they get together they don't know what to say to each other," said Kenneth Thibodeau, director of the National Archives and Records Administration's Electronic Records Archives program. "That's still a problem today, and I can't think of a time since 1975 when it wasn't a problem."

The conflict seems to revolve around the nature of records, which have previously been in paper form. Records managers tend to understand and favor concepts that are good solutions for paper records, but haven't caught up to electronic records, Thibodeau said.

Records management consultant Rick Barry agreed. "Records were and are seen as the paper evidence of the organization's work and thus of little concern to the IT manager," he said. "This is no longer true" now that many records are born digital.

One analyst argued that records managers tend to be historically oriented rather than technology oriented. Also, there tends to be a battle over resources and attention. Many agencies put the records management duties in the chief information officer's shop when it should be a separate organization to allow for checks and balances between the two, said William Hooton, the FBI's assistant director for records management.

"It should be its own discipline," he said. "They support each other and work closely together. You have to have the discipline of the organization to be able to mandate people. Let's face it: It's boring. It's a pain in the neck to do. It won't be successful unless you have a way to reinforce the policies."

Eventually, records managers and IT workers need to be well-versed in both areas, Thibodeau said.

"As long as records management still functions like this, the IT people don't have a lot of motivation to learn it," he said. "I'd like to think the training of newer records managers is better equipping them, but I am not seeing that."

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