Building the Relationship Between RM and IT

Whether it’s creating and securing electronic records or establishing a process to capture records from social media sites, records managers often find themselves working closely with their Information Technology (IT) Departments. The initial meeting to discuss such issues can be uncomfortable for some, so we’ve solicited the help of three Records Management Officers (RMO) who’ve already crossed that bridge; Interim RMO with the Employee Retirement System of Texas, Martha Whitted, Texas State Library and Archives Commission RMO,  Gloria Meraz, and with the Office of the Governor RMO, Angela Ossar all graciously agreed to share their experiences with us.

Who approached who first, was it because of an issue or was the approach voluntary?

MW: “Working with IT has been a mixed-bag.  Initially, our IT would buy the products then force them upon the agency staff. As the result of a Survey of Employee Engagement (SEE), records management is more involved in the migration and rollout of records management related initiatives and tool deployments.

GM: “We’ve had instances of both types of approaches. On one early occasion in my tenure as RMO, I was reviewing policies regarding social media content development, posting, and retention. I asked one of our IT leaders to walk me through some technical issues surrounding access and retention options. We sat down with our social media team and webmaster. The meeting was instructive, not only because of the technical help IT afforded, but also because it truly revealed a whole set of concerns and consideration IT faced that had an impact on RM decisions. I was impressed with the depth of responsibility IT felt for security, and their desire to be a part of broad policy-making.

More recently, I was so glad that our IT manager approached me about joining an inventory process we were developing. Not only did it help us overall and provide a better and more productive process for staff; it showed all planning participants the benefit of really hashing out issues across agency departments.

AO: “Before I joined the OOG in April 2015, Computer Services had been responsible for training the agency on using Archie, our records retention and classification tool. Archie (short for “The Archivist”) was developed toward the end of Governor Perry’s term of office to enable staff to classify digital files according to the retention schedule. Training staff on Archie meant that IT was often asked “How should I classify….” questions – a responsibility that they were more than happy to hand off to a records manager. So they approached me first.

How did the first meeting go (were there snacks or tacos?), what was discussed?

MW: “There were no  snacks. In the beginning, there was a hurdle with each team speaking the same language.  One example was, archives to records management are records of enduring value. IT view archives as the location where information is housed. When we would meet to discuss lifecycle management, the language barrier was frustrating on both sides.

RM staff started to attend more technology conferences to gain a better perspective from an IT point of view. We would also invite them to RM conferences. This helped both teams to better communicate. We were able to share information we thought would be useful in future endeavors when working together.

GM: “Ha! I have learned over the years to always have snacks available. People in the agency know that I have a snack basket in my office, so meeting there ensures access to chocolate, chips, and oat bars. I’ll just say I like stacking the deck! Seriously though, the meeting went well and led to further discussion on social media.

AO: “I do remember bringing in tacos once, actually! (I think I had reached a critical mass of Asking IT For Things and wanted to show my appreciation.) Our first conversations centered around Archie, but then began to broaden into other areas.

Was there a connection from the start or did it blossom the more meetings were held and people understood each other’s goals better?

MW: “Absolutely no connection in the beginning. IT viewed RM as a nuisance (possibly still does). But with the SEE results and our persistence, these factors helped us to get a seat at the table to discuss the agency’s overall goals.”

GM: “The meetings are getting better and better. We are understanding each other more, and we are building trust.”

AO: “Yes, there definitely was a connection from the start. It was never an adversarial relationship. They respected my knowledge of government RIM and treated me as an asset instead of a burden. Plus, we made each other laugh, so that made things a lot easier.

Did you schedule regular meetings, and does this continue?

MW: “Currently, we have regular meetings in conjunction with the SharePoint 2016 migration.  Also, we have been able to get the teams to sit in on vendor demos to explore various SharePoint options. This was not the case a few years ago.”

AO: “I did set up a standing monthly meeting with our IT Director, early on, to go over any intersections between our two programs. But over time, that formality became unnecessary. IT staff stop my office frequently to touch base, and I managed to score an invite to their weekly lunch outing. Lunch is a much more exciting way to stay in the loop than a meeting, and it’s also a weekly reminder to them that I exist. :-)”

How long have you had a successful relationship?

MW: “Still a work in progress. Some IT team members are eager to work together for the greater good, yet others are still trying to play an old game with new rules. In our RM group, we can envision the day when we are all in the game together with the same uniforms (language), rules (direction), and playing field (agency-wide).”

GM: “We’ve working well together for a year, since my tenure as RMO started. We are lucky to have a very team-minded IT department.

AO: “From the start, so, a little over three years. I was able to work with one of our programmers extensively to develop the Records Retention Schedule Development database to manage inventory, reference, and historical information for each record series. Our programmers invite me to meetings involving any new system with a data retention consideration. I’ve also worked with our systems administrators on policy development; I requested to be involved on updating their computer use policy so I could try to make sure that it complies with the new Bulletin 1 requirements. I am really grateful for the extent to which IT involves me.

What do you think are keys to maintaining an open line of communication between IT and RIM?

MW: “Reiterating that we are seeking the same goals and reminding them how records and information management is the key reducing storage space.  This in turns reduces cost. This has been one of the major drivers to our working relationship over the last year. It also helps with search result efficiency which is problematic in SharePoint.

GM: “The most important point is sharing information about what projects we are undertaking and welcoming feedback. The intersection between RM and IT are many and important. There must be an alignment between intellectual and technical control and security over records. It is critically important to respect the perspective, contribution, and directives driving each side. As I continue my work, I think it is also very helpful to talk about my long term goals. That open disclosure, so to speak, lets others think about what I’m doing and consider how it might impact them. Whether the conclusion is good or bad, an opportunity for collaboration or setting a needed boundary, the feedback is tremendously helpful and opens the potential to a better process all the way around.

AO: “Remember that you share the common goal of protecting the agency’s information assets and keeping operating costs down. Help champion IT and their policies to others in the agency, and they will likely champion RIM policies in return (or at least send people in need of RIM guidance your way). Most IT professionals do not have a background in RIM, but do have a vested interest in keeping the amount of data on agency servers at manageable levels.

Were there issues you’ve had to compromise on?  What issues did you join together to fight for?

MW: “Unfortunately, we are waiting on a data governance project to be completed before we can fully implement an information governance initiative.  We think, that could be considered a comprise. Although, we had requested the Information Governance Initiative for FY18. The good news is, we are currently working together with each division to clean up shared drives and SharePoint. One small step.”

GM: “We joined forces to benefit staff. As we are undertaking an agency-wide inventory review process, we have come together to gather necessary information for records management (and destruction of eligible records) and for records data classification, a state requirement to ensure the appropriate security for electronic records. We are working together to make it easier and more efficient for staff to understand these processes and to undertake the review in the most efficient way possible.

Any advice for someone out there needing a little help starting a conversation to begin to build a relationship between IT and RIM?

MW: “We began by asking how much information is being stored in the various electronic repositories and/or platforms?  What is the cost associated with it? These questions helped them to realize there was no priority in reducing space or cost, instead they would purchase more and more space as needed. Band-Aid after Band-Aid.

GM: “I would start out by saying, “I’d love to hear about IT’s goals for securing the agency’s electronic records.” I always learn more by listening first. And it doesn’t hurt to show honest interest in someone’s world.

AO: “Think about how you can help them, and avail yourself to them in any way you can. Look at your retention schedule—does it need a refresh that will make disposition easier? Has the “IT Records” section of the retention schedule been updated since mainframe days? Would IT like to team up with you for training, or guest star at a RIM meeting (National Cyber Security Awareness Month is coming up!), or collaborate on flyers/intranet content/other communications with employees? And when they go above and beyond to help you…it never hurts to bring tacos (but cookies are also perfectly fine). ”

All three records management officers shared some great insight to establishing and continuing the relationship between records management and IT. If you are just beginning talks with your IT department, hopefully the experience above can give you some ideas to continue those talks, or if you haven’t started those much needed conversations, it’s never a bad idea to bring donuts to the initial meeting!

Feel free to share your experiences in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.