A Matter of Record

In May, I had the chance to visit the IRMS (Information and Records Management Society) conference in Newport in my capacity as Editor of Document Manager magazine: it was my first time at this event and my decision to attend was driven by the growing number of ‘document-management’ related firms on the exhibitor/speaker list. In the past I’d have considered the Records Management specialists at such an event to be a little peripheral for the interests of our readers – my (entirely uninformed!) view was that these people were for the most part librarians, archivists, and metadata obsessives, whose emphasis on records was slightly at odds with the way that most of us in the DM industry look at things.

But I was surprised to find that this wasn’t a conference full of bearded professor types in tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, avidly discussing the relative merits of different taxonomies and filing methodologies. The conference was spread across three floors of a huge conference venue, and the main hall was full to overflowing with people from public and private sector organisations who were facing some very familiar issues: the need to reduce costs while remaining competitive; the drive to optimise CAPEX (capital expenditure) vs OPEX (operational expenditure); the overwhelming requirement to deliver financial returns from their processes. This wasn’t a dry or dusty topic – it was in fact a very close relative to the document management sector that I cover every day.

The first clue should have been in the name, of course – I don’t know exactly when the Records Management Society evolved into the Information and Records Management Society, but the extra ‘I’ makes a big difference to the scope of the group. Similarly to the gradual shift in the document management arena, RMS has recognised that the world is moving away from ‘just’ archiving a record (or indeed a document) for retention/compliance and potential future retrieval, and towards a model where the information within that record (or document!) is being digitised for re-purposing and re-use elsewhere.

An illuminating example was given in one of the keynotes at the conference, from the HM Courts and Tribunals Service, who have been involved in a project to put the contents of over 40 million wills online, some dating back to 1848. The initial tranche of the work focused on the ‘pocketbook wills’ of WW1 soldiers, and the project, timed to coincide with the centenary of that conflict, has since featured on national news broadcasts and in many newspapers. But again, this is not a dry and dusty exercise in archiving: the purpose of the project is not just to modernise the systems in place to preserve these historic documents, but also to monetise them. Members of the public can now search for family wills and buy a download – a service that has proved incredibly popular.

What really struck me when hearing this success story was that in the Q&A session afterwards, the vast majority of the questions were around the scanning and imaging aspect of the process: what allowance did the scan operators have to make for the fragility of the originals, etc. In the exhibition area of the conference I met with a number of ‘familiar faces’ from similar DM events: scanning and capture companies, process and workflow experts. The worlds of record and document management are overlapping more than ever now, and I expect to see both sides benefitting from an increased level of discussion between two very different sets of experts.

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