EDRMS implementations – outputs, or outcomes?

Too many organisations, in executing a plan to improve information management by way of an EDRMS implementation, focus on outputs rather than outcomes.

When we conducted research with our partners Linked Training into what makes records and information management implementations successful, we asked respondents two different types of questions about the success of their projects.

First, we asked them simply whether they considered their project to have been a success. Then, we asked them whether the project was delivered on-time, on-budget, and whether it delivered the outcomes it was supposed to.

We did this deliberately so we could understand what people considered to be the parameters of success. We weren’t surprised to discover that many respondents considered their projects successful, even if they ran over budget, or were delivered late, or failed to achieve their expected outcomes.

The records and information management ‘industry’ is replete with stories of failed projects. My favourite is the state government organisation that spent more than $5 million over five years to implement their system. The outcome they achieved was to have no more than eight people actively using an Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS), out of a population that should be using the EDRMS of more than 30,000 people.

We all have stories like that to laugh and then cry about because of the ineptitude implied, followed by the dawning realisation of the sheer waste of money and effort that could have been out into something much more productive for society. However, the lack of success in records and information projects goes deeper than aspects of time, budget, and expectations. When we look at the detail and compare outputs versus outcomes we reveal not only a long list of misdirected effort but also the potential root cause of broader failures.

Output or outcome?

An output can be defined as the material produced, manufactured, yielded, etc.

An outcome, on the other hand, can be defined as an end result; a consequence.

For example, in an EDRMS implementation project, an output may be the business classification scheme. An outcome, however, is people knowing where to file and find records without difficulty. Another outcome may be digital and electronic files attracting appropriate retention schedules when the file is appropriately stored in the correct folder.

Too often business classification schemes are built without sufficient consideration being given to the desired outcome – that people are able to readily use the scheme to determine where to store files, so those files have an appropriate attention schedule applied. Any business classification schemes that have thirty or forty functional classifications fail the outcome test. A business classification scheme has been created, but it almost certainly won’t be usable by the majority of users.

Check the non-exhaustive list below. The categories and outputs in the following table are taken from the South Australian Government’s Records Management Improvement Matrix and Evidence Toolkit, as examples of the kind of material often produced as part of an EDRMS implementation. The outcomes are examples to show how changing your mindset might give you an opportunity to leverage the true benefits of an EDRMS. Are you outcome- or output-focussed?

Category Output Created Outcome Sought
Record Creation A register of official records required by the agency is developed and maintained. 95% of official records are kept and have appropriate sentencing and security applied.
Record Capture The business classification scheme has been implemented for the capture of records. 98% of all critical records are appropriately classified.85% of all records are appropriately classified.
Disposal of Records A disposal program has been developed. 95% of all critical records due for disposal are disposed of within three months of their disposal date.70% of non-critical records are disposed of within 6 months of their disposal date.
Access to Records Commercial confidentiality agreements are identified and documented. The minimum classification PROTECTED is used on 99% of all commercially sensitive documents, the unauthorised release of which could result in short-term material damage to national finances or economic interests to an estimated total of $100 million to $10 billion.The minimum classification of CONFIDENTIAL Is used on 100% of all commercially sensitive documents, the unauthorised release of which could result in long-term damage to the Australian economy to an estimated total of $10 to $20 billion.
Locatability of Records Procedures are in place to manage the storage, transfer and disposal of records. 85% of users can explain the procedures.Users can locate records easily >95% of the time.
Reliability of records A process exists requiring senior managers to authorise remedial action following unauthorised alterations. 95% of remedial actions following unauthorised alterations are completed within the time agreed after the unauthorised alteration is reported.
Planning Plans are in place for an EDRMS that meets compliance requirements. Milestones for the plan for an EDRMS that meets compliance requirements and delivers on productivity gains and risk reduction as outlined in the business case are met within a 60 day window unless express permission to vary the milestone is given by the steering committee.
Training Staff receive training in records management, EDRMS functionality, and BCS and Thesaurus use. 85% of staff are assessed as having the knowledge, skills, and attitude required to execute their role.
Reporting Reporting requirements are defined and documented. 90% of benchmarks for operational effectiveness are acted upon within 60 days of associated variables moving out of the acceptable range.
Policies and Procedures Policies and procedures are distributed to all staff. 100% of critical procedures are understood by all staff and followed by 95% of all staff.
Resourcing Mentoring and succession plans and programs for records and information practitioners have been developed. All positions defined as having a key operational or leadership role in the management of records and information are succession planned.All positions have a succession plan with a realistic pathway for three or more people to assume the position within three years.


Benefits of outcome focus

Whilst it is true that we cannot be as specific as I have been in the above examples in determining what outcome we want, the more we can be specific about the outcome rather than the output, the better we will design the output and the better we will engage leaders in understanding what is really necessary to manage information.

Think about it like this: the way we design a Business Classification Scheme – and the supporting documentation and activities to teach people about how to use it – is going to be different if our goal is to ensure that 98% of critical records are appropriately classified, rather than a simple goal to complete it by a certain date.

Focusing on outcomes rather than outputs is powerful precisely because it requires you to imagine your preferred future, and work backwards to determine how you’re going to get there. Try it the next time you’re undertaking an EDRMS implementation, or making improvements to the implementation of an existing one.

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