Records management should create ‘data environment to facilitate collaboration’

Compliance should be the result of proper records management, not the end game. At least, that’s what Mark Patrick, chief of the Information Management Division of the Joint Staff, thinks.

“What I’m getting at here is that records management, if this is done well with the mission in mind, compliance is going to come along for the ride,” he said during a Dec. 6 Digital Government Institute webinar.

He said proper records management should be focused on informing senior leadership and empowering them to make data-driven decisions quickly. In order to handle that mission as efficiently as possible, a manager needs to focus on two primary things.

“There are two strategic imperatives to get to a strategic end-state with our data: first, we need to make all of our data knowable. … We need to know what we have. Second, all of our structured and unstructured data, whether it’s paper or electronic, needs to be lifecycle managed,” Patrick said.

Because data management and records management are essentially the same thing, he said.  Records are preserved due to the usefulness of the data they contain, and managed in order to make them searchable.

“Basically, we’re talking about managing the data from the beginning to the end. Primary focus is paramount here: that we’re optimizing the data environment for staff exploitation in support of senior leader decision-making, and that I have a standard of performance in my organization. I need that information to be managed such that decisions can be made and situational awareness can be achieved as rapidly as possible, supported by a foundation of academic rigor and historical consistency appropriate for the senior military adviser to the secretary of defense and the President of the United States,” Patrick said.

But implementation of such a system is not easy.

A system like this is designed to facilitate information transfer from a knowledge worker to senior leadership. The system has to support the knowledge worker in finding the necessary data, and provide the tools to present that knowledge to leadership. Patrick refers to such a system as “optimizing the data environment for exploitation.”

There are two main steps to doing this, he said.

“You need to know what you have. You need a data map of all the repositories in your organization.”

Patrick said most organizations aren’t aware of just how many places data can live.

“Then you need to clean that data up,” he said.

Most organizations keep a lot of “garbage information,” Patrick said.

This is unnecessary data that slows down search engines, confuses knowledge workers, can lead to costs for storage and management, and the potential for liability or litigation.

“This is records management, but there’s a subtle shift of focus here,” Patrick said. “We want to create that data environment to facilitate collaboration, capture data context and facilitate that knowledge transfer. And within that complete environment we’re creating, you want to be able to consider the human knowledge, not just the paper or the electrons, because if you’re a business leader, you just don’t care about paper and electrons, you’re going to be interacting with the person that’s briefing you.”

So the people handling the content are just as important as the content itself.

“I want to categorize and tag the humans in the organization so that folks can just as easily find an expert as they can find a document that is meaningful to the question or problem set around which they’re trying to do research,” Patrick said.

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