Is it a record? Who cares?
Is anyone else getting tired of artificial boundaries in IT terminology, or is it just me? In the quest to simplify and categorise software products, the market, requirements and (to a certain extent) ourselves, we keep trying to fit everything in neatly labelled boxes. And it doesn’t work! Just like a flu-virus that keeps re-inventing itself, as soon as we’ve fully understood what a box label means, the contents of the box have changed shape. What has this got do with Records?
Well, to identify if a document is a “record” you need to look at what information it contains, right? In the old paper world, the paradigm was simple. One or more pieces of paper bound together were a document, and if the information in that document had to be kept for any length of time it, then it was a record. Simple! But in the electronic world, the boundaries have shifted… A document file is no longer the only “container” of information. A blog, a website, an instant message, an email – all could carry information that make them a business record. And an instant message or an email or even a blog, can contain an attachment that is a record.
And, just to add to the confusion, a record is not only defined by what information it contains but also where that information has been used. An email that wasn’t a record, becomes one, as soon as you send it to an auditor. An opinion document or a blog entry, becomes a record when it is used in a process to support a decision. So the context becomes just as relevant as the content.
OK, so the box is square but the content we’re trying to squeeze in it is an amorphous blob. Should we make a bigger“A record is…” box so all types fit in? Do we design a box that can change shape according to the record you are storing in it? Should we get better at making the amorphous “record” blobs neatly square, so that they fit in the same box? Perhaps we should just dispense with the box and the label altogether? Is a formal fileplan really necessary, when you can have metadata and tags and search engines? Is every scrap of information potentially a record, with a disposition that ranges from zero days to forever? And what happens when the customer walks in and asks “I want to buy a box to put my records in, please”?
I will leave this question open-ended… I believe that in the next couple of years we will see some radical changes in this space so anything you would like to contribute to the research, let me know your thoughts!