«What, If Anything, Is Records Management?»

In a 2004-article I just finished reading, «What, If Anything, Is Records Management?» (available here), Chris Hurley makes some interesting observations that I thought I’d share, mostly because they’re amusing, but also because it’s interesting to notice that little seems to have changed in 10 years..

Hurley discusses how the way business is conducted has developed, and the implications this development has had on records management. He describes a scenario from his time at the State Electricity Commission (SEC) in the 1980s:

    «All the mail was received and opened before other officers of the SEC really got going in the morning. Mail was opened and classified by registry staff. This ensured that dealings in a transaction occurred not just on a file, but on the correct file. The classification was linked to disposal rules, so that the retention period of the documents was known throughout the transaction. Business was conducted on the file, with incoming correspondence, copies of outgoing letters, memoranda, minutes, and file notes all dutifully attached. [..] in a good registry they made sure that papers were properly attached to file by taking control of the stamps. No one was empowered to buy stamps except the registry. Only they could post a letter out. And this they would not do until the outgoing letter was presented with the file and a carbon file copy attached.»

(Empowered to post a letter out – wow!)

He continues:

    «The arrival of the PC altered everything. […] The PC enabled workers to be networked. The paper chains that glued an enterprise together could be replaced by linking workers electronically to each other into a virtual workplace. This has been done very badly.»

And finally:

    «The ‘user’ is an IT term for the worker at a PC in a network. They used to be called ’employees’ and they were bound, in numerous ways, to carry out corporate requirements for the management of business and compelled to conform to corporate requirements for the management of the associated documentation. When employees became users, their individual ability to carry out work in ways which suited them individually, unconstrained by any limits save the technical limits of the systems the corporation provided them with became boundless. IT professionals gloried in making systems as user friendly as possible – pushing onto ‘users’ more and more functionality to do corporate work in the ways that best suited them instead of the corporation.»

This is undoubtedly a valid point – still, 10 years later – however unnuanced it may be presented..


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