“A bad workman will never find a good tool” (French proverb, late 13th C.)*.

For seven centuries we’ve recounted this proverb, passing it down from generation to generation. The delightful 17th century English version is “A bungler cannot find (or fit himselfe with) good tooles”**, and today we tell our children (and often our partners!) “A poor workman blames his tools”.

It’s something that you say when someone blames the objects they are using for their own mistakes, such as “This oven burns everything” or “This hammer slides off the nail head”.

I’m going to say it right now, clearly and loudly, about EDRMS’s. If your EDRMS does not work for your organisation, then look firstly to the workman, not the tool, for fault.

How can I be so sure? Because at least one person in almost every one of the organisations I have worked with over the past five years has said their EDRMS doesn’t work, and cannot do what they want. And in every case when we’ve examined what they need, and educated them on how their system provides that, their end users wants have been satisfied. Certainly the bulk of my experience is in HP TRIM, but my experience is equally applicable to other systems.

The initial installation and implementation of TRIM or any other EDRMS is a huge undertaking, both financially and time wise, and an emotional strain on the organisation. Changing from one system to another is almost as much upheaval; possibly even more so for the records team with the migration and management of existing records. So why are people so quick to blame the tool when they know changing the tool will be painful?

Because in most cases people truly do believe the tool is at fault. Their personal experience is having spent 5, 10 or more years trying to deliver a system that staff will use. If, despite your best endeavours you’ve got less than 20% of people using it, it will feel like the system is at fault. But often people’s “best endeavours” are not actually very good.

Just because you try hard, doesn’t make you skilled, knowledgeable or talented. Going back to our proverb; you could give me Roger Federer’s tennis racquet, and I could practice for 10 hours a day, and I still won’t be very good. I also won’t have learnt how to hit the ball better. However if you also gave me a good coach I will learn to how to hit, and I could certainly understand my personal limitations and the strategies to employ to overcome these. My strategy might be to get myself a doubles partner with the skill to support my weaknesses. I’d stick with the same racquet, but improve a diverse range of my skills.

In my experience organisations blaming the system are deficient in two or more of the following:

  1. Technical implementation skill, both internal staff and external vendors. The IT support the organisation receives does not provide effective integration with existing software.
  2. System administration skill and knowledge, generally internal. The records team is not cognisant of best practice in configuring records objects (BCS, security, record types, etc.).
  3. Strategic thinking. How can the records team conduct a campaign within the existing culture that will drive adoption of the system? What is the correct step by step approach?
  4. Education of the records team and staff, including change management. How to empower staff so they drive their own system learning and get benefit from the system.
  5. Leadership. Management who don’t ask the right questions when the EDRMS is not providing the desired outcome. Typically managers and sponsors ask “Does our system do …?” The question needs to be “How can our system do ….?”

Notice that these are people centred deficiencies. Skilled operators don’t blame the system first. They review their continuous improvement from the perspective of people first, system second.


* http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/18/messages/587.html
** R. Congrave, _French-English Dictionary_, 1611