This is a part of a series of recaps from the 2014 ARMA Houston conference.
At the ARMA Houston 2014 conference, Steve Goodfellow, CRM, CDIA, gave a presentation called “Don’t be a Deer in the Headlights! Inventorying as a first step in managing e-Records.” He provided a wonderfully thorough step-by-step road map for a task that can feel overwhelming at best and impossible at worst. It’s already hard enough to do an inventory of your paper records, but at least you can actually see and touch those. How are you supposed to inventory little bits and bytes on computers?
Careful planning and communication are key. Here at TSLAC, we strongly recommend planning an inventory before actually conducting it, and so I was pleased to hear Goodfellow recommend the same thing. He laid out five steps to planning an inventory:
1) Know the challenges
This step was broken down into a few different components, such as:
One of the biggest challenges for any project, in any field, is getting support for it. So it’s important to go beyond your own reasons for the inventory. Think of ways that the inventory will benefit others – maybe you’ll find new projects to do, or you’ll find information to support current projects. Try to put together an “elevator pitch” that talks about the effect of not managing your files. Or, consider using a non-intrusive file analysis tool to find out how long ago files on your shared drive were last accessed, and what percentage of your files are duplicates. The numbers may surprise you.
Knowing what to inventory
This seems like a no-brainer – inventory the records, obviously! Actually, Goodfellow advised that you inventory applications that create records. These would be things like your payroll and financial systems, or an ECMS. But you won’t have to inventory all the applications on your computer, because not all applications create records – Adobe Reader and iTunes are a couple of examples of applications that do not create records. Once you identify the applications that do create records, then you should locate the storage containers for each application – this is where the data from the application is stored. However, the storage container may be kept in a separate location from the application, so there’s a good chance that you’ll want to get IT involved. You will also need to inventory both your structured and unstructured data, which each have their own challenges.
2) Determine goals & scope
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Goodfellow used this as a metaphor for doing your inventory. It’s easier to do your inventory “one bite at a time” – one unit or department at a time – instead of trying to inventory all your records at once. Also, figure out why exactly you are doing your inventory. Is it so you can develop a retention schedule? Is it to find out what records you can get rid of? Is it because you’re implementing a new content management application? Performing an inventory with a particular purpose or goal in mind ensures that you gather all the information you need during the inventory. And keep in mind, inventories should be performed on a regular basis. So, perhaps the inventory this year will be to ensure compliance, while the next inventory can focus on finding records that are eligible for disposition.
3) Develop a strategy
How will you actually perform the inventory? Perform a physical inventory yourself, or interview employees? Send out a questionnaire? Some combination of methods? Whatever you decide, just make sure you decide it before you do the inventory. Additionally, try to think of strategies for how to approach your organization’s upper management, your IT team, and all the different departments. How you approach your purchasing department might be completely different than how you approach your HR department.
4) Identify who will be involved
Goodfellow recommends putting together several different teams for an inventory. With just one team, people might disagree, or someone might not show up (literally or figuratively). With multiple teams, there’s more accountability. Goodfellow proposes three teams: a planning team, an inventory team, and a support team. Also, he recommends not having IT personnel on the interview team – otherwise, employees might take the interview as a chance to ask IT about why they can’t print something, or when upgrades are going to happen. Finally, you may want to consider outside help. An outsider’s fresh eyes and past experiences might prove useful for you.
5) Know your environment.
There are two kinds of environments you need to familiarize yourself with: the work environment and the technological environment. You might think you know your work environment, especially if you’ve worked somewhere for a long time. However, that might not be case. For example, your Accounts Payable department might have three different working groups. To learn more about your technological environment, you can ask IT for a list of applications that your organization uses. It probably won’t be complete, but it gives you something to start with.
Once you have completed those steps, now you can actually conduct the inventory.
1) Prepare inventory tools
You have three tools at your disposal.
- Inventory forms – You can have different versions for IT and for your departments; just make sure that they cover both structured and unstructured data.
- Interview notes – The responses you get from an interview can give you good material for making your ROI (return on investment) case regarding the inventory.
- Retention schedule – This will get staff thinking about what records they have.
2) Communicate & schedule
Schedule face-to-face interviews within departments, with one functional department at a time. Don’t let interviews run longer than one hour. Before the interview, let the departments know why you’re conducting the interview, what they should expect, and make sure to communicate about any potential time restraints.
3) Gather inventory data
Once you’re actually conducting the interview, ask employees what kind of work they do – and how they would improve information access and management. Find out how work is divided in the departments, and try to focus on records rather than works-in-process.
4) Follow up & refine collected data
After the interviews, send answers back to the people you interviewed. This will give respondents a chance to reflect on that information and to change their answers if necessary. This is also when you can meet with people who were unavailable during the main interview period.
After you’ve conducted the inventory, you can put all that valuable information to good use:
1) Analyze results
First, identify any gaps in knowledge – do you need to revisit certain departments or employees, or learn more about how some data is managed? Also, try to find out whether there are any updates being planned for any of systems or applications that create or use records.
2) Identify needs
Goodfellow recommends taking a department-centric approach to this. Are there are any departments that had particular issues? Were those issues present in more than one department? And were there any departments that were notably well organized? If so, go ahead and recognize them for their work – but don’t let that take your focus away from getting other departments organized too.
3) Develop your e-records management plan
The findings from your inventory will help you determine where to start in an e-records management plan – would you rather focus on serious issues first, or get the ball rolling by starting with more easily solved problems? You can also use the findings from your inventory to garner support for the plan. But even though you’ve inventoried most, if not all, of your e-records, make sure you set realistic goals for your e-records management plan.
4) Maintain inventory data
Finally, remember that the inventory is a living, breathing document – it needs to be updated as your records landscape changes. You might want to put the inventory into a database or spreadsheet form, so that it can be easily updated as you conduct future inventories. Annually is a good way to go. Once you’ve done the initial inventory, you can review those findings a year later with departments before you start the next inventory. And that 2nd inventory should be a lot easier, since you’ve laid the framework with the first inventory!
As has hopefully been made clear from this blog post, communication is a very important component of an inventory project (or any records management program, really). It will make all the difference in how smoothly your inventory will go, and how successful it will be. Additionally, since you are inventorying electronic records, it should be clear that RM and IT have a lot to offer to each other. Try to find ways that you can help IT achieve their goals. Finally, be realistic about your inventory goals – don’t try to be perfect, and don’t try to inventory all areas all at once. Remember the elephant!