e-Records Conference 2014: Intentional Design

erecordsslogo-300x261This is the second post of a multi-part recap of the 2014 e-Records Conference. Presentation materials from the e-Records Conference are coming soon to the e-Records 2014 website.

By Bonnie Zuber, Government Information Analyst

If you could design a system for your office that seamlessly connects users to information with an efficient workflow that results in increased value to your stakeholders, how would it look and feel?

In John Rhoades’ presentation, “Intentional Design: Embedding Records Management into Technology”, we are able to zoom out from the retention schedules and spreadsheets and look at the larger scope of system design in an effort to improve our overall productivity. We’re not even just looking at managing records here, but content, and we are concerned with how to best manage the entire lifecycle of that content.

Despite our good intentions when implementing a new system, many users continue to have some of the same critical concerns:

  • “It takes forever to find what I need.”
  • “Where do I store this record?”
  • “Why can’t we have a Google-like search?”

There are also some common root causes of the speed bumps that users encounter on the information highway. Shared drives tend to grow organically rather than carefully mapped out before implementation. Delegating records management responsibilities to various departments can sometimes cause a mess. Most offices have resource constraints, and have to operate like the participants on an episode of Top Chef using only the facilities and tools available to them.

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Intentional Design Process (click to enlarge)

Intentional design aims to fulfill the requirements of content lifecycle management, user experience, and technology into a coherent system that delivers business value. Rhoades described to us process of intentional design.

As with any mission or goal, it’s important to define the context. Succinctly describe value of your organization, describe the role you are performing, give the elevator speech. In a style that is reminiscent of the maturity model of The Principles, decide if your agency is just wanting to improve risk management, which demands the least amount of time but delivers the least value, or if your organization wants to strive for operational excellence, which is highly valuable and time consuming.

When diving into a system design project, Rhoades advises to be an “information ninja”: know as much as possible about a department and their current workflow before approaching them. Talk to stakeholders and ask “Who touches this process and what functions are involved?” “What are information types that are exchanged?” This can have a side-effect of teaching people about their own business.

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Design classification schema (click to enlarge)

A design classification schema involves developing a faceted classification – which is like the left-side menus on retail websites that allow you to narrow a search by price, brand, or size – as well as developing tags and values to flesh out taxonomy used to search all the content.

An out-of-the-box or turnkey system is ideal, but it is possible to customize a product based on different business needs. There’s a need to share information across departments, but how well does that information flow? Think about security, which is rooted in cultural behaviors, so how far can access be open in your organization? People navigate through content differently, so be sure to accommodate the finders and the searchers.

Avoid debuting a system by setting a date for one big release because deadline focus can compromise functionality. Instead, break the work down into reasonable chunks and get feedback from designated user groups to continuously monitor functionality.

Throughout the process will be the important responsibility of managing organizational change. We all know that change isn’t easy, especially in a business environment. But the blow can be softened by strengthening communication, awareness, and engaging users during the entire process. Training users with the new system should be done throughout development in lieu of an end-result event, and they should never wonder why they are there.

Rhoades concluded by reminding us to think about the process of intentional design when it comes to migrating content from one system to another. We should continuously strive to integrate and embed records management requirements into technology design, and embrace elements of design that successfully improve our workflow.