The Four Lies Destroying Records Management – Lie #1: Information vs Data

Given that effective records management – executed in good faith – is the sole means of holding our most powerful institutions accountable for their behavior, these same institutions have been waging a brutal war on the records management profession for nearly two decades.

And sadly, they are winning, as evidenced by the swirling information chaos that grips every private and public organization across the globe. The tragic consequences of this rampant information chaos – the political upheaval, the financial ruin, the loss of innocent lives – is the kind of evil that has been traditionally limited to the most repressive and tyrannical regimes in history but has now infected some of the most advanced societies in the world.

All evil behavior is built on a foundation of lies, and the war on records management is no exception. The powerful forces determined to destroy our ancient and noble profession need you to believe four key lies so they can prevent the accountability, transparency, and information security that records management provides.

This post is the first in a series of articles explaining those four lies and their devastating effect on effective records management.

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Lie #1: ‘Data’ and ‘information’ are the same thing.

Data is a collection of values. It is a giant bucket full of letters, numbers, and symbols. Data, by itself, is useless.   

The folks at Paycom seem to understand this. Here’s a screenshot from a great commercial they’ve been running recently:

These poor people are literally up to their waists in ‘data’ – just a bunch of meaningless, uncontrolled values, slowing down their jobs and making their lives miserable.

Any organization can create an enormous amount of useless data. But if you put that data into context it becomes ‘information’ – and that gives it value.

This is what Paycom wants you to pay them to do: pour your useless data into their solution so you can use it to create information:

So clearly ‘data’ and ‘information’ are two related, but different things. But if that’s true, why does an organization as powerful as the US Federal government not seem to understand that? And why does the National Archives and Records Administration say this in their Cognitive Technologies White Paper released in October of last year:

“Records management governance for data is codified in 44 U.S.C. Chapter 33, Section 3301, which states that federal records include “all recorded information” regardless of form or characteristics. The term “data”, as defined by 44 U.S.C Chapter 35, Section 3502, means recorded information, regardless of form.”

Think conflating ‘data’ and ‘information’ doesn’t cause problems? Consider this. All US Federal government agencies have an Agency Records Manager. He or she is in charge of the program that manages the lifecycle of agency records. By definition, ‘records’ include “all recorded information”, so an agency’s records management program is responsible for managing the agency’s information.

But now, thanks to the OPEN Government Data Act, each agency is assigned a Chief Data Officer, who is charged with leading a massive new internal bureaucracy “responsible for lifecycle data management”.

If ‘data’ is defined by the Federal government as “recorded information”, how does the Chief Data Officer’s responsibility for managing the lifecycle of data not directly overlap the Agency Records Manager’s responsibility for managing the lifecycle of agency records?

The truth is, thanks to conflation of the words ‘data’ and ‘information’, the responsibilities of the Agency Records Manager and the Chief Data Officer are exactly the same and each agency in the Federal government now has two bureaucracies charged with managing the lifecycle of government information. This overlap results in conflicts with agency information management responsibilities that have made progress in managing the lifecycle of any agency information virtually impossible.

It also significantly undermines the effectiveness and reputation of the agency’s records management program…which may have always been the point in the first place.

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Next up, The Four Lies Destroying Records Management – Lie #2: Preservation vs Storage  


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