Friday, February 03, 2006

How to find a file - thoughts from Atlanta

Well a different night (this time Atlanta) and a different audience, and equally glamorous (venue Joel in Deerpark). Quote of the night for me came when somebody explained the need to move to electronic retrieval of records, due to the speed vs manually pulling records from filing cabinets. I bit my tongue and was polite (unusual for me), gosh if only it were that simple! For those of us steeped in RM, its this kind of thinking that makes our blood boil!

Of course logically the line of thoughts is right. It is much quicker to retrieve something electronically than it is manually, seconds rather than minutes or hours. But this line of thinking needs to be considered in context (RM joke there). For typically in any business process analysis it is the exceptions that we look for and study the most. The regular activity 80-98% of stuff can be automated, but its the 2% that can floor us.

In a well run office with paper filing cabinets things are never lost. They are retrieved with machine precision every time. For they are filed with extreme precision every time. Things occasionally get misplaced (one or two file folders back etc) but short of somebody doing something outragous such as deliberately pulling files out and destroying them, they are always found. I prided myself on my projects in Oil & Gas that I always could find the documents when needed (occasionaly took me a while - but always found them).

However electronic data is a whole different issue - firstly electronic data is seldom filed with extreme precision. Often it is not only filed incorrectly but also physically in the wrong area of a repository (electronic filing cabinet), sometimes in the wrong repository entirely. When something is lost electronically it can be difficult if not near impossible to find. I remember a terrible row on a particular oil platform project when an Electrical lead engineer accused me of losing a document he was supposed to have worked on. After hours of looking for it and unable to find it, I figured out where it was - on HIS desk where it had been put two weeks earlier. When on later projects we more fully utilised EDM systems, we on occasion moved things into virtual black holes and never found them again.

Hopefully the reader can see where I am going with this, and as such am just using it to blow off some steam and will not labour the point further. Other than to say that information management technology is awesome, but without proper procedures, skill sets and structures it is of very limited value. The exceptions in electronic RM are often far more profound, difficult to manage and potentially damaging than those related to manual records.


apoorv said...

I think that's a major reason for technology projects failing. People spend big dollars and assume that implementing a tech soloution will cure them of all their problems without actually bothering to think of softer issues related to people, processes and organization.

alan pelz-sharpe said...

Exactly, so many will spend millions on software and hardware, and will throw a fit at spending thousands externally or even internally on looking at the people, process and organizational impacts. Then wonder why their projects fail...