MER 2014 Recap: A New Breed of eRIM Professionals

MERLogoThis is a part of a series of recaps from the 2014 National Conference on Managing Electronic Records, otherwise known as the MER Conference.

In this panel discussion, Jim Coulson of CCIM Consulting, LLC asked three RIM professionals about the nature of RIM programs. The panelists were Ross Brown, the Director of RIM at Accenture, Steve Jorgenson, who was the Director of RIM at Travelers Insurance (before moving to Cohasset), and Tom Stauffer, VP of RIM at The Walt Disney Company. While these RIM professionals work for very large companies, they had many valuable insights as they addressed the questions that Mr. Coulson posed to them. The subtitle to this session, “Insights into Practical Strategies, Priorities and Tactics that Move Electronic Records and Information Management Programs Forward” was just about the most accurate subtitle I have ever seen for a conference session!

Coulson started the session by pointing out that initially, the MER conference was all about governance – developing policies, retention schedules, and eDiscovery – so it attracted a large population of lawyers. Eventually, that gave way to a large population of IT people before becoming split evenly between IT, legal, and RM people. Now, it’s much more populated by records managers. All along, the missing element has been somebody who knows everything about legal, IT, and RM, who can also deal with senior executives. So the new breed of eRIM professional was defined as someone who has skills in all the requisite areas and who also knows how to make the case for RIM programs to executive leadership. If that sounds too good to be true, read on to learn more about how to become part of the “new breed of eRIM professionals.”


What are the differences between RIM governance, implementation, and compliance?

Brown answered that governance is the foundation that will drive the other two. Governance is about asking, “Where does accountability lie? What is each department accountable for?” He also cautioned that it is difficult to get each program to accept new accountability after you’ve already begun implementing a program and started tracking compliance. So, if possible, it’s important to put the governance piece in place before implementation and compliance.

Stauffer replied that governance is only shelfware until it’s implemented. He helped set up the governance program at Disney. His background in IT was helpful in conducting enterprise-wide projects, but he learned that ultimately, you have to change people’s day-to-day behavior in order to adopt change.


What are some trade-offs that eRIM professionals have to consider? Particularly when dealing with high risk records – could focusing on those records compromise the value of the entire RIM program?

Jorgenson remarked that at Travelers, employees were told to think about the value of information so that they wouldn’t get so hung up on the definition of a record. Lower value information doesn’t need to be kept as long, but a process is necessary for getting rid of ROT (Redundant, outdated, and trivial) information. Any rules should focus on higher value records.

In his response, Brown focused on the cost of compliance. The stricter the compliance rules, the more it costs to be in compliance. For example, the nature of an increasingly mobile workforce demands strict compliance rules, but it costs a lot to try to capture information from mobile devices. Right now, Accenture relies on a lot of people in the field to identify a record and not only know what to do with it, but to have the willingness to do it. They (and everyone else in the RM field!) are trying to move away from RM being an unnatural act, where you finish with a document and move it to the repository.

Stauffer agreed that RM needs to be a natural act, but that it’s very challenging to get to that point. RIM can’t just be layered on top of employees’ other activities. There was also a discussion about how integrating a RM program should be more like wading into water instead of diving in – first, get people to understand a record is, instead of undergoing a massive classification of the records. Even just getting to that level has value, especially when you consider that autocategorization tools do not yet differentiate between record vs. nonrecord copies.

 What should the role of IT be?

Circuit BoardAll three agreed that it is essential for IT and RM to work together to help each other and the organization at large. Jorgenson observed that the goal of IT is to help the business. So if your RIM program can help the business, it can also help IT – and RM should be asking businesses what they need. Ross elaborated that RM should align with the business’s vision and IT’s vision. IT is the most important stakeholder in an organization for improving RM because they control the money and the resources that can be used to help improve RM programs, Which makes it even more imperative that RM communicate with IT regularly. Ross learned this the hard way – he spent 6 months building a records model on a particular platform. Then IT told him that they weren’t encouraging that platform any more. Earlier communication with IT would have saved him from working for several months on a product that would never be used.

So how do you get IT to listen? Aside from making sure that you can help them, finding a way to cut costs is great. Saying you can get rid of 80% of stuff on your organization’s servers sounds pretty good, but even that isn’t all that exciting if it’s not related to cutting costs. It’s also good to remember that even if you prove that you can help save money, your IT department might have other problems that are bigger than your RIM program – so it’s important to be patient. If you can work together to implement a system that would make a process take 150,000 hours instead of 200,000, hence saving x million of dollars – then that’s a success story that they can use. In the end though, you may have to sit IT down for a “you have to do this” conversation. It’s a difficult conversation, especially because the need for improved RM is usually not an immediate or particularly visible one.

 Making the Business Responsible and Accountable

All the panelists agreed that IT’s job is to serve the business – which means that IT is automatically engaged with the business. So how should records managers engage with the business, when their service to the business isn’t as obvious? Ross responded, “Cutting costs and efforts,” particularly by integrating RM into processes that the business does in the natural course of work. His goal at Accenture has been to understand the way the business works, in order to identify the points at which they can comply with RM.

At Travelers, Jorgenson said he focused on building relationships with people outside RM. Then, he layered on the compliance piece and the negative reinforcement (“If you don’t do x, bad thing y will happen”), followed by sampling in which he asked to see documentation of records disposition. After that, he added the positive reinforcement of awards and recognizing the right behavior, which is more fun. He gave gold records to people who had done well, interviewed them, and then put that interview on their intranet. That kind of positive reinforcement created more buzz than negative reinforcement. And, he did all of this without a mandate for senior management – he said that that would have taken too long.

Stauffer focused more on the challenges he faced at Disney. Disney is an enormous company with all different kinds of businesses (movie studios, cruise ships, ESPN), each of which has a different culture and way of doing business. So local management and accountability is very important too, and changing the processes varies at each local level. That means showing everyone the value of RIM/IG, but finding different motivators for each department. While scalability and changing processes is difficult, using tools provided by IT helps, since those tools are used throughout the company.

Ross picked up on that and remarked that the common element in any business is that everyone deals with IT. So if we can make IT understand RIM, then they can spread the message of RM to others. They are a smaller group of people to train – and not only can they help spread that training, but they can also integrate RM into new system implementations. And everybody will use those new systems, which will mean (hopefully) that everyone will be doing a bit of RM simply by virtue of using the systems.

 Where should RIM report?

tablemeetingAccenture is a very distributed and global company. Legal owns the policies, and IT owns the system – but neither had global distribution and therefore could not support RM. Instead, RM reported to Operations, which is global. At Travelers, RM reported to Administrative Services, which is not the traditional place to report to. But it worked there, and they didn’t want to mess with something that was working. However, Jorgenson did acknowledge that it might work to report it anywhere. At Disney, Stauffer said that he reports to Disney’s legal arm which seems to work, but he said that there’s no perfect answer about where RIM should report.

 Where will RM be in five years?

Coulson asked, in five years, will RM be a completely assimilated IT function that doesn’t require the existence of RM?

Stauffer said that would not happen at Disney, because they have too far to go. And even if they could get to that goal, the pace of technology and business change means that new information challenges will creep up, and somebody still needs to be the expert in terms of retention management and compliance.

Ross responded that the cloud will probably be the biggest issue, while Jorgenson thinks that RM will be integrated into electronic systems. However, it won’t be just one program that governs all – instead, it will be built into different programs.

 Q & A Session

If a high school senior approached you and said they wanted to go into RIM, what would you say?

Ross advised that the RIM field is getting more and more technical, so technology skills are important to have. Jorgenson said that communication skills are essential. Stauffer agreed with both – you can come from any area and still be good at it if you have good communication skills and business savvy, but you will also need technology knowledge.

(I actually asked this question!) How do we gain that technology knowledge? Talk to IT people, take community college classes, read some books?

All of the above! Understanding how to take advantage of the tools that exist is important. If you understand one content management system, you won’t understand all of them – but you’ll understand the concepts of how they work. Ross advised focusing on a system that you have in your organization – learn what it is, how it was implemented, and what can we leverage that’s already there? That way, you’ll have some core foundational knowledge, and then you can start looking at all the shiny new technology that exists elsewhere.

(In response to a panelist who had said that RM shouldn’t report to IT) Why would reporting to IT be dangerous?

Jorgenson responded that in the two companies where he stayed the longest, the IT departments were regularly reorganizing and changing strategies. It was a very tumultuous environment, which felt like an unstable place to have a RM program, which takes time to implement. Accomplishing RM goals requires stability, which he did not see in those IT departments.


This session was a fantastic opportunity to learn what kind of skills and relationships will be necessary in RM in the coming years. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of how and why RM should work with IT – to serve the business and to make business processes easier for your users. It was also fun to hear these professionals speculate about the future of RM and technology. But by far, the most comfortable and perhaps valuable thing I learned  from this panel discussion was that even these seasoned veterans of the records management world face some of the same challenges that all records managers encounter. The RM grass may seem greener at a huge multinational company with deeper pockets, but the truth is, we are all in this struggle together! But by sharing our experiences like these panelists did, we can hopefully make the road a little less bumpy for all records managers.

2 thoughts on “MER 2014 Recap: A New Breed of eRIM Professionals

  1. Nice overview of the session – although I do not believe one should conflate RIM with IG (as they are distinct disciplines, and RIM is just one component of IG) as in this statement, “That means showing everyone the value of RIM/IG, but finding different motivators for each department.” The business rationale for IG is distinct but somewhat overlaps with that of RIM.

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