Email Management – A Continuing Challenge

I have heard a great deal about future technologies that are now beginning to challenge Records and Information Management professionals.  Numerous new tools have been developed that make the application of traditional records classification schemes and retention schedules quite difficult.  However, those new tools and challenges pale in comparison with the issues faced with the management of email.  Email management solutions are being implemented by many organizations today.  Other organizations are opting to either (1) ignore the problem or to (2) establish retention and disposition timeframes that are entirely arbitrary in nature.

One organization that is currently grappling with the email management issues is my home county – Travis County, Texas.  Two of the county’s public servants – Steve Broberg, Director of the County’s Records Management and Communications Resource Department, and Shawn Malone, the Records Services Supervisor for that Department are actively seeking external input as they approach their decisions on how to manage the ongoing deluge of record and non-record information that appears in the County’s email system. 

As those of you who are so inclined to review their situation, their white paper and direction at this site , you can feel free to provide some of your input.  Remember, as a County government, Steve and Shawn work in an environment that differs substantially from that found in the private sector.  They must find a solution that works for elected officials, whose mandate is often at the level of the state constitution, for a number of disparate and independent departments, while serving the needs of : transparency, public access and accountability for taxpayer provided funding. 

I find the approach to seeking additional input to be refreshing, and some of you who see the video and who read through the documentation may recognize some of the challenges that you face as well.

How to Access ARMA Information and Updates

One of the long-time and highly honored members of ARMA International posted a note on the Records Management Listserv a few weeks ago that he had concerns that many ARMA members may not be “in the loop” on what ARMA is doing with regard to recent Board of Directors movement toward a Two-Committee Structure and in dealing with potential governance changes that relate to that potential changes in governance (how the Association’s Board is organized to facilitate that new “two-committee structure”.  I thought it might be appropriate to remind those who are ARMA members about how they can keep up with what is happening within ARMA…and how they can ensure that they are able to receive email messages that include that updated information.

There’s one very good way for ARMA members to do that.  That would be through an opt-in request for such emails.  Members can opt-in for a variety of e-mail newsletter subscriptions – including: a RIM Marketing reminder, the Washington, Canadian and European Policy Briefs, the Information Management Newswire and the General Email Alert.  In order to access those options (those which may be most valuable to you, you can log in to the ARMA website with your email address and password, open up your account preferences and then to opt-in for those notifications that you’d like to receive.

Once on that page, you can note those newsletter subscriptions that you’d like to receive, can request the format for emails (html or text), can opt for an online election ballot, and can note other preferences as well – especially how you might not wish to be contacted.  Finally, you can ask not to have your email address released to vendors, or can request that your email address not be displayed in the ARMA member directory.

 If you review that site – something that I check on a periodic basis, don’t forget to click on the “submit changes” to ensure that those changes are applied to your membership.

The goals here are to ensure that members receive that information that they find most valuable, and that they are not “assaulted” by unwanted email.  However, remember….. if you don’t opt-in for some of that information, you won’t get it, and are then likely to not know of what is happening in those different areas. 

 

The somewhat belated response to Bill Benedon’s email note is that ARMA members can receive up-to-date information, including those items that relate to potential governance changes.  However, it is up to each member to determine whether they wish to see that information.

Some News

Here’s some publicity that I really wasn’t counting on.  I bring it to you here before you see this story in the press:

What Is The Visible Future of Records and Information Management?

I hope that those reading this posting feel quite open and ready to comment on the visible future of the Records and Information Management Profession.  Comments about the future of the profession, and comments relating to the future of ARMA International are most welcome here. 

Now, just as some “food for thought”.  Does the professional future for Records and Information Management include:

(1) The merger of ECM (Enterprise Content Management) and BPM (Business Process Management) technology suites?

(2) Does our foreseeable future include new advances in those technologies, where the software firms involved incorporate aspects of instant messaging, wiki, “forum”, and social networking capabilities? 

(3) Can we foresee some real challenges and problems with the inclusion of new technologies as we seek to ensure that our organizations comply with statutes and regulations – within our home nations and beyond?

(4) Do we foresee the need for significantly enhanced skill sets among Records and Information Management professionals, and what might those be?

(5) Would anyone reading this like to take on the task of the challenge that the Enterprise/Web 2.0 tools may pose to organizations, as they seek to comply with regulatory requirements, with e-discovery needs, and with efforts to manage information more effectively?

(6) Are we faced with a future that includes increased levels of governmental regulation?

(7) Are Records and Information Managers going to be called on to manage or to work with stakeholders including IT, and Legal to manage “non-record” electronic information as well?

The above are just a few examples of what each of us might consider in first evaluating our visible future, and in mapping out our plans to prepare for that future.  Again, the comments of all are welcomed here!

If you are a member of ARMA International….and wish to comment further, please register on the Forum site incorporated in this blog site.  Simply register with a name that I can track to an ARMA membership account, and you’ll be welcomed to provide input on additional topics, including the specific ARMA International Vision/Mission/Goals and Values Statements, etc.  Your involvement and comment can only help ARMA International in developing programs, products and services that will help your career prospects!

Should Records and Information Managers Be Involved In Medical Records Discussions?

I am taking the opportunity to post two key questions to those engaged in the Records and Information Management profession.  Should all of us be involved in the discussion as it relates to what’s happening in the arena of medical records?  Should ARMA take a stand as it relates to protecting medical records from inadvertent disclosure or malicious “medical indentity theft”?  My position as one who is heavily involved with ARMA and who has been a “victim” of financial identity theft is a definite yes!

 My reasons focus on the potential disaster that can befall a victim of medical identity theft.  We have witnessed a deluge of recent disclosures relating to paper-based and electronic medical records losses and thefts.  What some of us may not realize is what that can mean for us as individuals, and what it means for others whose medical records are used inappropriately or illegally by others.  Members of the American Medical Records Association are involved, why not ARMA members and ARMA as an Association as well?

What are the potential results?  The results can affect us and others by compromising our financial identity – where medical identity thieves essentially hijack our information to obtain controlled substances – drugs, and can even lead to the inclusion of innacurate information within our own medical profiles.  Let’s say, for example, that someone with a different blood type hijacks your medical record.  What happens when a hospital relies on that incorrect information to provide you with a blood transfusion? What happens when that incorrect information leads medical professionals to treat you with a medication to which you are allergic?  Disaster can certainly ensue, and the risks include the potential for death as the result of treatments based on that false information.

As Amy Buttrell noted on the bankrate.com web site, “Financial identity theft can wound your wallet, but medical identity theft can kill you.” 

 Beyond the impact on each of us, medical records theft often allows the thieves to bilk our insurers, our government sponsored health care plans like Medicare out of millions and potentially billions of dollars.  Fraud in the health care area only serves to increase our costs and to increase our taxes as insurers and government agencies pay for services and for prescriptions that are not needed or used.

 What are your thoughts about the stake that Records and Information Management professionals have in protecting our medical records identities?  I look forward to your comments!

Invitation for ARMA Members – What Can ARMA Do For You?

This posting is designed to invite those who read this blog to participate in determining ARMA International’s future direction.  As some may be aware, ARMA has a Strategic Plan.  That plan provides the foundation of activities and programs that are designed to serve both the profession of Records and Information Management and the members of the Association.  Thus, it directly affects what ARMA is doing for you – as an ARMA member.

 Your participation is important.  It provides the Strategic Planning Committee with your thoughts helps us determine what we want to see for our profession (our vision), what we are all about - or what we do (our mission), our goals, and the issues that we address.  I won’t go into detail about the entire planning process, but the Committee will meet between August 1 and 3 in Kansas City.  At that meeting, we’ll review our existing strategy, determine where we want to go from here, and what we’ll be doing in the future – beginning next July (yes – July, 2009).

 For those interested in seeing and learning what the planning process is all about and what our plan provides for today, please check this link, and log into the ARMA International Members site.  That provide you with what the Strategic Planning Committee has established as our plan, as of today.    Let us know what you think by linking to the survey located at the bottom of that link in so far as the key issues are concerned.  The text at the bottom of that page reads as follows:  “Tell us what you think.”

You can tell us more, however than just those issues on which we should focus time, attention and monetary resources.  You can participate in a full discussion regarding all aspects of the plan, and can help determine what ARMA will do for you and for other members of the profession in future years.  In order to go beyond the survey responses, I invite you to click on the link for this blog site, entitled “Forums” on the top right corner of this page.  If you’d like to register and to provide us with your comments, questions, etc., just register – provide just a bit of information (ensuring that you’re over the age of 13), your email address, and I’ll ensure that your registration is approved.  The only limitation that I’ll point to here is that we’re seeking input from members of ARMA International, thus in order to have your registration approved, you must be an ARMA member.

If you do that, your comments, questions and issues will be raised directly with those responsible for determining ARMA’s future.  We’ll be better able to determine what is most important to you and what we can do for you.

 Thank you in advance for considering participating in the Forum on ARMA Strategic Planning – I look forward to your contribution!

  

Tools for Our Paper Based Heritage

 This is my first posting in a while, as best as I can calculate it has been more than four weeks since my last posting.  It appears that the weddings of children, ARMA activities and work can sometimes take priority.  Fortunately, it has given me time to think a bit about a number of topics. One of those relates to our paper-based heritage in Records and Information Management and the absolute need for practitioners to be aware of the best approaches to (1) paper based filing for active files, (2) records storage that may be onsite or offsite, in-house or outsourced for inactive records and (3) the disposition of records for those records ready to be disposed of.I do see a number of postings on the Records Management Listserv that relate to questions arising in all areas, and I am well aware of some excellent sources that people may overlook in their quest to manage our paper heritage.  Hopefully, I can provide at least a few here – focusing primarily on standards and guides, some ANSI based, some industry based to help those who wish to follow best practices.

The management of paper-based active filing systems has been the subject of numerous books, articles and recommendations over a period of a number of decades.  One starting point to which I would refer those seeking to establish such filing systems would be the ISO Standard entitled “Establishing Alphabetic, Numeric and Subject Filing Systems.  What better place is there to begin than through the use of a standard recognized by ANSI? Link to ARMA Standard on FilingLink to ARMA Standard on Filing Here is a link to that publication within the ARMA International Bookstore for convenience purposes.

In managing inactive records storage facilities, there are a number of excellent sources.  Those sources can provide guidance for Records and Information Managers seeking to evaluate their storage options and those seeking to operate such facilities, based on ISO standards.  First, I would point to another association, the Professional Records & Information Services Management Association (PRISM).  Members typically include those storage organizations that provide outsourced storage of inactive records, vault storage for electronic records, and sometimes offer services including secured destruction management.  PRISM’s “Facility Evaluation Checklist” is readily available on the PRISM web site at the location contained within this link .  Additional resources are available through the ARMA International web site, including the Records Center Operations – A Guideline and the Guideline for Evaluating Offsite Records Storage Facilities .

Finally, we do know that the destruction of records has become a hotter topic, as statutes that are designed to protect individuals from identity theft have come to the fore and as private sector firms place increased emphasis on the protection of their intellectual property.  Fortunately, there is a group to which many organizations belong that focuses its attention on ensuring that its members adhere to some commonly approved practices to ensure that the destruction of records is properly secured.  The National Association for Information Destruction, Inc. (NAID®) has information readily available to those who are Records and Information Managers about those firms that are “certified members” and information regarding the NAID® Certification Program.

Hopefully the above sources will prove helpful to those who stumble across or who check this blog!

Government and Business Process Transformation Projects – What’s Wrong with Current Efforts?

 I have seen substantial investments of tax dollars made as State and Local Agencies focus on improving existing business processes, and as they seek to ensure that key governmental services applications are improved to render better services to constituent groups.  However, many of these efforts fail to achieve the high impact, long-lasting results that agencies set as their ambitious goals.What are the reasons for the frequent failures to achieve success?  There are several, but one that I believe is often overlooked is that agencies view process improvement or process transformation as a “one time effort”.  They often fail to appreciate the need for the continuous improvement of their processes.  Thus, agencies are prone to taking actions that allow them to:

  • Document current business processes
  • Identify weaknesses, gaps and areas requiring improvement, and subsequently
  • Launch new processes based on newly developed system applications

Where’s the weakness? The weakness rests in the thought that a single iteration of a new or “to be” process is sufficient.  Thus, rather than acquiring advanced Business Process Management (BPM) suites…and then building applications around those tools, agencies tend to rely on contractors who build one-time, one-off solutions that embed some process management capabilities, but that do not allow agencies to:

  • Model and simulate alternative processes
  • Actively Manage existing processes to shorten process cycle times and to appropriately monitor process goals and business activities
  • Apply advanced process analytics to see where bottlenecks are developing, and then to apply additional modeling and simulation to eliminate such bottlenecks.

There are outstanding suites available for use, some of which would allow government organizations to operate with as much or with greater efficiency than any private sector firm.  However, until these agencies demand that contractors incorporate such suites into their proposed solutions, it is unlikely that we will see government agencies achieve the results that the desire.  Contractors, for their part are apt to build solutions that “encourage” or require agencies to continue to return to them for future services, as business requirements or statutory requirements create the need for additional changes in process.

One agency that has broken the constraints of that particular mold is the Los Angeles County Information Systems Advisory Body.  As that group sought to build a solution to automate a key law enforcement application for the collection of DNA evidence, they sought to acquire a solution that they could implement, and that they could operate over time.   As a result of their work, the Los Angeles County Information Systems Advisory Body and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department now work with a solution that will serve them well beyond an initial deployment.

RIM Standards, Best Practices, Training and Litigation – How Soon Will This Become a Key Issue?

The title of this posting is a question that I’ve posed to some of those who conduct “mock trial” events for ARMA International, and for some of the better known ECM vendors.  My question arose again during some recent conversation with an Attorney General’s office in one of our larger states here in the U.S.  My belief is that best practices and standards are very soon to be made the subject of litigation, especially where States may be brining action for the violation of some of the more recent privacy protection legislation that has been enacted during the past four or five years.

 

The Attorney General’s office in question contacted me…and I imagine a few others to ask about Records Management practices in a particular vertical industry.  Among other things, they were interested in learning:

  • What are or what should be the requirements for a Corporate Records and Information Manager
  • What education and training such an individual should have, what kind of staffing levels should exist, based on the characteristics of this industry
  • What training would be or should be provided to company employees, and
  • What standards and best practices exist as it pertains to protecting “individual identifying information

The apparent reasons for the questions raised, were that the firm in question appeared to have a Corporate Records Manager, but one that did not happen to be a Certified Records Manager (CRM).  The organization also had specific policies in place that all employees were to follow.  However, it appears that in one particular instance, in the State in question, an employee of the firm disregarded those policies and failed to adequately protect that personal identifying information.  Since the State had a statute in place designed to discourage such failures, and an Attorney General who took privacy protection seriously, legal action was taken against that firm.

 

While I do not know the specifics of the case, or the specifics of the alleged violation of statute, the message that I got from the discussion was as quite telling.  That message is: that merely having a “Records Manager” is not apt to be enough to “inoculate” a firm against potential litigation, that a firm involved in such litigation is likely to have a serious probe of its Records Management program and policies become part of that litigation, that the qualifications of the Records Manager, the training of that Manager, and the support for that Manager will be considered to be fair game.  Additionally, those involved in litigation will compare quite closely the practices that firms undertake, given existing standards today.  It also demonstrated the potential damage and the potential issues that can arise, since so many employees actually handle such information today.

 

Is this a singular case that will not recur?  My opinion is that it will not.  States that take new Statutes regarding privacy seriously can be counted on to pursue those who disregard those statutes.  Firms that pay lip service to Records Management, without taking such efforts seriously will be challenged and may pay high price for failing to mitigate the risks involved with mishandling information that contains personal identifying information of employees and customers.

Ethics – Professional Responsibility and Career Success in Records and Information Management

One of my “google alerts” last week led me to an article on the topic of personal business ethics in the pursuit of professional growth.  I found the article to be rather insightful.  It was one that touched on issues that those of us on the ARMA International Board of Directors occasionally encounter, when fielding questions or issues raised by members.  For those of us who are vendors or who are consultants, the following passage grabbed my attention…

“If your career involves consulting, advising, or otherwise providing solutions to other people in any capacity, whether it is to consumers who seek your expertise, or peers within your own specialty who stand to gain something from the information you can impart upon them, your personal sense of ethics is a premier point by which others will judge you.”

During my 33+ years in the information management business, I’ve seen many of our compatriots heed this advisory, and those individuals have typically prospered over time and remain in the business.  Others who failed to recognize the role of ethical conduct in success have more often that not “evaporated”, and have often moved on to destinations unknown.

For those of us who are members of ARMA International, many of us are aware of ARMA’s Code of Professional Responsibility, although it would not be a bad idea for us to review that code from time to time.  There are provisions for the enforcement of that Code of Professional Responsibility, but I am happy to report that instances where complaints are filed, or where disciplinary action is deemed appropriate are quite rare. 

If you have time to review the article, and to review the Code of Professional Responsibility, I would recommend highly recommend it.  Not because I see most of us as lacking in any way, but to ensure that we appreciate the link between ethical conduct and long-term career success.

As always, I would like to hear any comment that any readers of this blog might have!

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