Look, I really don’t want to be the bad guy here. I really, really don’t. Some of my best friends and closest colleagues are long-time ARMA supporters. As are some of my biggest customers. Most of these folks have expressed their support to me either publicly or privately and for that I am extremely grateful. But a few people are outright angry with me and I can’t begin to tell how upset that makes me feel. This is not a role I am in any way comfortable with – which is why I haven’t said anything publicly since I left ARMA six years ago.
But I am a records management professional above anything else in my career and enough is enough. On Friday I received an invitation to join the association’s new #ARMANextGen campaign. This campaign is so appalling, so embarrassing to professional records managers, I don’t know where to start. But I will try anyway…
First of all, #ARMANextGen sounds an awful lot like the Next Generation Records Management movement several colleagues and I started a few years ago. I’m not offended by that, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all, but I am offended by any distortion of its original meaning. At the time we formed NextGenRM, we still recognized the critical importance of traditional information lifecycle management, but we all agreed that most of the methods records managers had been using for the last twenty or so years had failed and new, innovative solutions were needed to manage the explosive growth of information every industry was experiencing.
One of our biggest concerns was the effectiveness of the default, industry-wide records management functional standard, the US DoD 5015.2. We felt the Standard was a disastrous attempt to impose paper-based records management methodologies on electronically stored information and the primary cause of the majority of the failed records management solution implementations that have plagued organizations for almost two decades.
ARMA has supported the DoD Standard, in one way or another, since it was released in 1996. But as far as I know, the association that (once and sorta-might-still) represent records management professionals never actually vetted the DoD Standard. ARMA never analyzed the Standard’s functional requirements and determined if they were the most effective practices for managing the lifecycle of electronically stored information.
Until ARMA systematically analyzes the DoD 5015.2 and publicly states why it supports the Standard or openly refutes it as the failure most forward thinking records management professionals believe it to be, any claim of being ‘next generation’ anything is completely irrelevant and bordering on deception.
And here’s the problem: this is not a game. We are not trying to see who can get the most ‘likes’ on Facebook. The problems that records managers are trying to solve are some of the most important in the world. The data breach at the US Office of Personnel Management exposed highly classified information from security clearance applications from 21 million people – including myself, my wife, and all my friends and colleagues who I had used as references. Many of these applications went back several years and I’m told that the majority of them were applications that were never even granted.
How much of this information had met its relevant retention requirements and could have been defensibly destroyed? How much of it was considered inactive and could have been transferred to near-line or off-line storage where it could be managed much more securely (and inexpensively, as well)? This was a records management failure. Could effective records management have prevented this breach? No, but it certainly could have mitigated the damages, possibly reducing the number of victims from 21 million to as low as few hundred thousand.
And how much of the highly classified information that Edward Snowden leaked had met its required retention and could have been defensibly destroyed or securely transferred? We will never know for sure, but I can guarantee some of it could have been. Snowden’s treachery is just another disaster that could have been mitigated – or even averted – by effective records management. And don’t kid yourself, the lives thousands of people were ruined by what he did. And some of them were tortured and killed.
I would fight this battle for free because it is a cause worth defending and it gives my work meaning. But I have a wife and kids and a mortgage like everyone else and I am not without self-interest. Records managers are solving some of our customers’ most costly problems and the money a good records manager can save their organizations can be staggering. I’ve long compared the records management profession with the accounting profession. The similarities between the two fields can be remarkable. But here’s the primary difference between accountants and records managers: good accounts can save their customers thousands, but good records managers can save their customers millions.
This is an indisputable fact that has been proven over and over again. Yet records managers’ average salaries are some of the lowest of any professional category. How has this happened? Where is ARMA – the one-time and maybe-sorta-still-but-we’re-not-sure association of records management professionals – on this matter? How will developing catchy hashtags and offering $50 gift cards change any of this?
ARMA leadership has to make some critical, bold decisions very quickly if they want to avoid the collapse of ARMA and the further erosion of the records management profession that it would bring. They can start by publicly responding to my March 28th open letter to the association.