War stories from RM trenches

War stories from RM trenches

Records managers trade wisdom from their mortal combat with IT geeks over budgets.

By Paul Montgomery

Records managers have to stick together in these harsh economic times, with competition for scarce budgetary resources with IT managers even more fierce. The Records Management Association of Australia (RMAA) mailing list, for instance, sometimes reads like a tale of woe told by records management professionals who are trying to educate the executives with fingers on the purse strings about the necessity of spending on RM projects.

Glenn Sanders, a freelance consultant who is currently document manager at Energy Australia, frequents the RMAA list and he said he had a "bee in the bonnet" about records managers' inadequacies at succeeding in the boardroom.

"Too many records managers make the big mistake of talking about statutory obligations and evidentiary value, and rules and regulations stuff," he said. "What they should be doing is wording their pitch in terms that senior management understands: business needs, strategic alignment and risk assessment."

One of those recently on the list was Maureen Cooper, Information Coordinator at the Office of the Auditor General (OAG) for Western Australia. Ms Cooper told Image & Data Manager that the OAG is "progressing" its electronic document system.

"It has taken a while but we're into the stage now where our early ground work is bearing fruit. The importance of the task has been recognised at the highest level with the Deputy Auditor-General at the forefront of the implementation," said Ms Cooper. "Everyone says to get a champion. He's been very supportive, and it's just now that everything is coming together."


Mr Sanders agreed to an extent, warning that some record managers still fell into the trap of being seen as a cost centre, and had to continually justify their existence despite sympathetic bosses.

"Everyone needs a champion, all the textbooks talk about management buy-in. That's true, but it is separate from the issue of who does the business case, and whether it is worded to catch management's attention," he said.

The OAG is a user of the TRIM records management application from Tower Software. Ms Cooper said that the real impetus for effective use of records management was when staff started to use the system in their day-to-day tasks.

"A pilot group has started to use the TRIM product," she said. "The more they use the product, the more they come to grips with the issues. It is when staff take ownership of the process that you make real progress. That's when you stop telling people what to do, and they start doing it themselves," she said.

Mr Sanders said a large proportion of records managers were stuck in a mindset defined by their job title - a problem that was exacerbated by modern RM university courses, which he said were dominated by archivists.

"Most records managers have come up through the RM ranks and haven't had a background in management talk and how to build a business case. Some of us are good at it, some are still in the learning curve, and some don't even realise that you have got to do it," he said.dm progression

Ms Cooper said, "Our executive committee has now endorsed that we will progress with an electronic document system supported by the paper system rather than a paper system supported by the electronic system." This progression will come over time as Western Australia is still to enact the Electronic Transaction Bill. However, the electronic document system will enable staff to have access to documents on file at their desktops.

Ms Cooper said that once you have a champion, the interaction between management and the records department becomes very positive.

"Through their own efforts staff realise what RM is all about," she said.Assistance from colleagues in the RMAA has gone both ways. Ms Cooper spoke about the help she had received from IP Australia and many others. She in turn had passed on this information to a shire council in Queensland and a federal government agency."That's the best thing about the RMAA list. You can share your experiences," she said.

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