“We will be digitising our Records” is a popular headline around the Caribbean in recent days. No doubt this is marvellous news. It is always thrilling to hear initiatives that will incorporate modern technology in the workflow of organisations.
From handwriting to typing to ‘word processing’, technology has changed the way we go about doing making transactions. Using technology, particularly information technology systems, is often promoted as the solution to otherwise troublesome and tedious matters. Yet, records, i.e. the materials that are created as part of the processing or transactional activities of the organisation, still need to be used and kept in an organised manner in order to remain accessible and authentic. Technology has the wherewithal to allow for these record keeping functions. However, a poorly managed analogue or manual records system, which is converted to digital formats, is still a poorly managed records system.
The unfortunate reality is records are not treated as essential components to the business process, whether it is for a government office, the medical clinic, the church, school or that business place. No amount of technological advancement can replace the time and money spent in organising your records. Failing to do this will always result in lost files, misplaced information, and inefficiency. This scenario is commonplace: Records are stashed away in some back room, filled with floor to roof stacks of paper files, often disorganised, dark, hot, and usually pest-infested. In fact, paper files are not alone in this treatment. Photographs, tape recordings, maps, artefacts like plaques and awards, are also handled in this way. The usual crisis occurs when a particular record is urgently needed and cannot be found. Moreover, the usual solution is to simply ‘digitise’ everything, ‘place it all on a computer’ and magically the physical madness becomes virtually organised and efficient. However, after much time, effort and money is spent on investing in a ‘system’, the virtual paradise crashes because no one considered the need to structurally manage the organisation’s records.
Digitisation, according to the Pearce-Moses’ Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology is “The process of transforming analogue material into binary electronic (digital) form, especially for storage and use in a computer.” It usually involves some forms of scanning, photo imaging, and data entry using some software system that promises to capture and maintain your now digital materials, with the hope that it improves job efficiency and productivity. What digitisation does not, in itself, do is arranged your files and records according to subject, chronology, theme or activity. A computer could be as disorganised as a paper file cabinet. A server packed with digital assets could very well mirror that dark back room stashed with files. A company’s poor records management system is symptomatic of an organisation that is not fully in control of its services, staff, and output. Additionally, this company is sure to have problems articulating its vision and mission simply because the records that speak to the organisation’s enduring values have neither been identified nor safeguarded. This entity, with its poor system for managing its records, is simply a disaster waiting to happen.
Digitisation is no magic wand for resolving troublesome and tedious concerns such as managing records. It is essential to consider the role records play in the workflow of your organisation before seeking a solution that will improve the process and not recreate the problem. It is useless trying to digitise your company’s records if you are not willing to convert your business processes accordingly. A company’s records and information are the genetic codes that details, shares and retains its fundamental and distinctive characteristics and should be treated as such.
So consider the way you or your organisation creates, uses and manages its records. Whether you are still basically using paper files or digital software, managing your information is paramount, digitising your information. Should you need any advice on how to manage your records efficiently, please feel free to contact the UWI Archives at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1876.935.8614/1876.977.6704. We would love to assist you!!
-Dr. Stanley H. Griffin is the Assistant Archivist/Officer-in-Charge at the UWI Archives, Mona.