Four Skills Every Modern Records Manager Must Have Right Now
It's become trite to note the speed at which technology changes, and that the speed of those changes continues to increase. But just because it's trite doesn't mean it's not true. This means that, for records managers to continue to remain relevant, we need to ensure that we are on top of new developments in records and information management that will significantly impact our organizations.
I wrote about individual professional development plans in another post. In that post I make the case that information professionals need to develop and maintain knowledge and skills in three areas: information management foundations, their industry domain, and professional or “soft” skills. I should probably add a fourth – information management technology and how it applies to a particular role or function. For the remainder of this post, I’m going to identify what I believe to be the most important skills records managers need to have in that domain, and then some brief additional suggestions.
1. Information Management Skills
These are the skills required to manage information as your most important asset. The specific skills required will definitely vary depending on your role within the organization; but regardless of your role, I believe that information professionals need to have a broader understanding of information management issues and perspectives beyond the narrow scope of their function and role.
Privacy and Data Protection: If you don’t add anything else to your repertoire this year, add privacy and data protection. This is a critical component of information governance that organizations simply have to get right. There are already many regulations in place and more seem to be announced every day. There are technology pieces to this, and specific regulations in specific jurisdictions, but the foundations are generally applicable to most organizations. Privacy by Design is a really good place to start.
Additional Suggestions: process automation, metadata management, information governance, social media governance, information management-related standards.
2. Domain Skills
As with IM skills, these will vary depending on your organization and your role therein. And again, if you’re in oil & gas, we’re not suggesting that you need the in-depth knowledge of a petrochemical engineer. But different sectors use different technologies, have different processes, and operate in different regulatory environments.
Learn about your Industry: If your organization doesn’t have something like an “Our Industry 101” presentation or course, find a good book, training class, or other resource that will help you understand the broader industry and how it works. A great starting point here is to look for associations in your particular sector – even if they are in a different jurisdiction, how a particular industry works is often pretty similar regardless of location.
Additional Suggestions: Identify organizations that provide regulatory oversight and review their guidance – that will at least tell you what *they* find important. Also look for relevant industry groups and publications – if you don’t know who these are and can’t find someone in your organization who does, do a web search for “[your industry] association”.
3. Professional Skills
These skills are generally applicable regardless of your role or job title. They can contribute significantly to your success in that role – and their absence will generally make you less effective.
Making a Business Case: In order for your records management program to be effective, you can't be an introvert hiding in the records center. You need to get out there and make the business case for improving how your organization manages all of its information, not just its records. That means that you need to understand the elements of a business case and basic financial analysis. Much more importantly, it means you need to think about the financial and non-financial benefits better information management brings to your organization. And you need to identify those benefits with great specificity - "employees will find information faster" is pretty thin gruel, while "We will decrease the time to bring a new product to market by 15%" will get your management's attention.
This also means being able to articulate and communicate the business case to your stakeholders, in language they can understand, at the right level of detail, and with confidence.
There are literally thousands of resources available online for how to develop a business case; I recommend you talk to people inside your organization who write, review, or approve them to make sure you’re aligned to how they do it, using their terminology & templates, etc.
Additional Suggestions: how to document an existing process, project management, change management.
4. Information Management Technology Skills
This is tough because of the aforementioned rate of change. But records managers can't afford to sit back and let the business and IT drive technology projects without some input - and it's hard to provide meaningful input if you don't have at least a basic understanding of the technology in question. Again, I don't expect records managers to be implementing ERM solutions - though I know many who have - but to at least understand the information management implications of, say, blockchain.
Blockchain: Blockchain is getting a lot of attention these days, some due to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, some due to its use by governments, and lots of other reasons. You should have a basic understanding of how blockchain and its foundation, distributed ledger technology, work, use cases where blockchain might be better - or worse - and what the potential challenges are in terms of security, performance, and longevity. Don and Alex Tapscott’s book Blockchain Revolution is a good starting point.
Additional Suggestions: cloud, machine learning/artificial intelligence, information archiving.
If you already have all of these in your toolkit, congratulations – you’re well-prepared to help your organization manage its information effectively and as the business asset it is. Take a look around at other information management-related functions and issues in your organization and start looking for resources on them. Talk to your IT staff and your business managers to understand their information-management related plans. And share all of that knowledge with your colleagues!