KM & RIM: oil & water? Knowledge management (KM) and records and information management (RIM) have their differences, but there is also a lot of common ground. Why hasn't anyone noticed?
* compares and contrasts KM and RIM
* examines KM and RIM functions within an organization
* discusses roles for RIM professionals to play in KM initiatives
In the late 1990s, interest in knowledge management (KM) seemed to blossom in the records and information management (RIM) community, as evidenced by the publication of many articles and books, as well as an abundance of seminar and meeting presentations on the topic.
However, that interest seems to have since waned. An informal 2001 survey of 1,342 subscribers of the primary records management list serv (email@example.com) identified only one RIM professional as being in any way "engaged in knowledge management'
There is also little evidence of interest in RIM by the KM community. Examining the indexes of 20 KM books as an informal gauge revealed that "records management" was listed only once.
The KM-RIM connection, then, is fragile at best. Nevertheless, KM continues to be a hot topic at management and information technology conferences and in business journals. Searches for KM as a subject in the principal bibliographic database for business and management, ABI Inform (now "Business Source Premier") indicate a steady increase in KM hits each year.
A recent assessment of KM's position suggests that while ardor in the management community may have cooled slightly, KM continues to be a very active topic in the business literature. As a topic, however, KM has virtually dropped out of the RIM literature in the past two years.
Many organizations have experimented with KM, so it seems unlikely that RIM professionals in those firms have been wholly unaware of it. Given the positive achievements that senior managers have identified with KM (e.g., productivity gains, innovation, improved revenue, and greater competitive edge), it would be ill-advised for RIM professionals not to at least look for a role in their organization's KM projects.
Why have RIM and KM essentially failed to find one another? Is there a misunderstanding about where KM and RIM intersect? What is there about KM that may have turned away RIM professionals? Or is it possible that when it comes to KM, RIM practitioners "just don't get it?" Differences between RIM and KM do exist, but there are also commonalities that could encourage RIM practitioners to consider their potential roles in broader, higher-order, management-endorsed information and knowledge services.
Purposes: KM and RIM
According to a 1998 Gartner report, KM "promotes a collaborative and integrative approach to the creation, capture, organization, and use of an enterprise's information assets [and] includes databases, documents and, most importantly, the uncaptured, tacit experience of individual workers." Such a definition--particularly "creation, capture, organization, and use"--includes RIM interests and skills. On the other hand, concepts such as the "uncaptured, tacit experience of individual workers" seem rather distant from the traditional functions and value systems of RIM.
KM's purpose is generally agreed to be that of leveraging or converting information assets into knowledge of a strategic quality, which, in turn, generates innovation that enables improved revenue and a better strategic and competitive position in the organization's market. The traditional purposes of records management are rather different: Records management is the tactical, systematic application of management principles--particularly control--to the recorded information needed and used--created or received--in the normal and predictable course of an organization's business.
Records, then, are definitely "information assets," yet are records per se--what some would see as mere data--a necessary precursor of the knowledge that induces innovation and greater productivity?
Records documenting transactions that make up the organization's "normal course of business" are central to the smooth running of any managed enterprise. For more than 2,000 years, records have chronicled functions such as requesting, notifying, certifying, authorizing, paying, and routing. They are evidence, or documentation, of daily ongoing business processes taking place, mostly within the organization. The focus of records-as-records then has always been--past tense--transactional in nature and thus represents a type of rear-view-mirror model. In comparison, knowledge has transformational value in that it carries with it the instrumentality to look ahead, to act, and to change something significant in the organization (e.g., new products and services)--a windshield model of what is ahead. Records, then, represent tactical feed-back (what happened in the past); knowledge represents strategic feed-forward (innovative and future courses for the organization).
World View Differences
RIM's primary, traditional interest has been in managing physical records (e.g., cubic feet, linear inches, reels of microfilm, and magnetic tapes) and records series within organizations. In contrast, KM's interest is in content, even to the level of an individual document. Physical media and records series are of little importance in a KM universe because useful information assets are not confined to records or records series. Usable knowledge can come from anywhere and ultimately resides not in documents but in the minds of employees.
The same cannot be said of records. By definition, the category "records" requires documents to be created or received and then maintained for definite purposes and periods of time in the normal course of business. Records must meet certain tests, such as authenticity and reliability, that are not necessarily required of other forms of information-bearing documents.
While legal issues surround the creation, maintenance, and disposal of records, they play little or no role in KM. Too much of the important knowledge generated from KM initiatives is unstructured while effective recordkeeping systems are necessarily structured. The difference is this: RIM is policy-, process-, and procedure oriented (e.g., scheduling records, moving inactive records to the records center, scanning records, and destroying records according to policy) while KM is more unformulated and freeform, with creativity and innovation as desired outcomes. From a managerial point of view, knowledge is a higher-order commodity than records, which, while important, cannot themselves foster significant innovation or offer high value for strategic decision-making.
Domain: Inside and Out
The domains of records and knowledge are significantly different. Strategic thinking and planning are exercises in looking outward and forward rather than inward and backward, which is RIM's point of view. Because it limits its own frame of reference (i.e., internal to the organization) records management is, by definition, unable to supply information from unstructured and external sources. Knowledge, however, knows no bounds; it is not limited to documents giving evidence of past actions but is primarily people-centered and speaks to the essence of organizational rejuvenation, learning, creativity, human imagination, and knowledge sharing. The information needed at the strategic level is mostly external in origin and may include lunch conversations, telephone calls, and even exchanges on a golf course--none of which are typically recorded. While records often support tactical decisions, they rarely make the difference in strategic-level decision-making. Other information disciplines (e.g., library science, competitive intelligence, and environmental scanning) are better able to focus on external information useful to strategic decisions and directions.
RIM's traditional goals and objectives differ from those of KM. RIM, for example, concerns itself with efficiency while KM focuses on effectiveness in meeting the organization's objectives. RIM strives to conserve records-processing resources related to space, time, staff, equipment, and supplies while KM maximizes application of all available information resources to generate new ideas, new strategies, innovation, and success. RIM's goal is to help the overall organization and its various departmental units through policies, procedures, and compliance audits; KM serves individuals' and teams' needs for collective knowledge through organizational learning, collaboration, and exposure to transformation-latent information (e.g., decision leads to action). While KM necessarily focuses on the central "business of the business," RIM is seen by some as being too removed from core business concerns and from the needs of individuals for many forms of information, not merely records. Thus, records management services appear to some managers as something all-too-easily outsourced while KM is perceived as vitally improving the value of staff (intellectual assets), which is central to the organization's purpose.
People vs. Policy
In one sense, KM is messy while RIM is methodical. RIM concerns itself with well-defined policy and auditable procedures while KM works to marginalize organizational habits standing in the way of uninhibited, organization-wide creativity and knowledge exchange. KM involves efforts to change corporate culture and instill a desire to share knowledge rather than hoard it. RIM, however, perpetuates the silo model and its own custodial image through policies and practices that, for example, may explicitly prevent staff from one unit looking at the records of another trait without permission. While RIM hopes that RIM principles and policies will be faithfully followed by all personnel within the organization, KM seeks to encourage rich and wide-ranging--almost epidemic--communication, collaboration, and a knowledge-sharing culture that extends to customers, suppliers, other stakeholders, and sometimes competitors.
Services: Reactive or Proactive?
RIM and KM have differing service models. RIM programs, like libraries and archives, pursue a passive service orientation. In this paradigm, personnel-as-users first identify their need for specific items, then come to RIM (via phone, e-mail, fax, or company network) and request a specific file, document, folder, box, or microfilm reel. A more proactive model is one in which knowledge workers have role-appropriate information ecologies in which information in many forms abounds, and they continuously receive (e.g., via "push" technology) information of particular and critical interest to them.
RIM's services are centralized while a variety of KM efforts may be taking place in any or all units of the organization--even at the desk level. RIM is virtually invisible to individuals because its focus is on organizational units, not people. RIM professionals' information resources tend to be static, detailing transactions already concluded two or more years in the past, rather than dynamic or live, to the moment, and action- and future-oriented. RIM assumes that what users need is what RIM makes available; it often fails to consider, or even ask, what it is that customers need or want on their own terms.
Smashing the Cardboard Ceiling
Let it be clear: there are roles for RIM professionals to play in KM initiatives. Choosing to identify and claim those roles is up to each RIM practitioner, and stepping into a new paradigm may not be for everyone. Taking the first major step, moving from the "records business" into the "information business," which can easily include the records program, may be difficult, or even frowned on in some organizations.
First, there needs to he an understanding that a bridgeable gulf exists between information systems and recordkeeping systems. All records are documents in that they document some activity or transaction, but not all documents are records. That is, an information system or service may contain all sorts of documents, books, journal articles, pictures, sound or video recordings, conference presentations, and training sessions; none of them may be business records as such. Realization of this difference, however, represents a first step for many records managers into the broader realm of information management.
Despite the differences, there are important commonalities between RIM and KM. By assuming that RIM is part of a larger construct called "information management," we can begin to see that RIM, like other information professions (e.g., librarians, archivists, and information architects), is in fact involved in
* collecting, or capturing, information
* selecting, or filtering, what has been collected so that only that information needed is retained or allowed into the system
* indexing, or representing information semantically, for user access
* organizing, or classifying, information for access taxonomically
* information-appropriate storage methods
* retrieval in ways to meet users' needs as they define them (e.g., multiple sorts in database manipulations)
* providing access to authorized users
* disposition (destruction or preservation nearline, offline, archival repository)
This broader view of the information life cycle and services means that other ways of looking at records and information are required, such as:
* Accepting, first, that information is more than records, and that people need information as they or their group define it
* Realizing that knowledge workers need push (proactive) as well as pull (reactive) information
* Taking familiar processes, such as records inventories, and adapting those techniques to KM needs (e.g., knowledge inventories)
* Partnering with one or more other information units in the organization (e.g., archives, corporate libraries, management information systems).
Studies of the underlying fundamentals of information management, including J. Michael Pemberton and Christine Nugent's 1995 "Information Studies: Emergent Field, Convergent Curriculum," reveal that all information professionals are involved in creating access to information for their stakeholders. To provide access services, RIM professionals develop systems to create, capture, store, retrieve, and use information resources. How might RIM practitioners begin to extend their professional vision to include KM in their strategic plan? Bridging from the well-understood to the less well-understood might prove a valuable initial strategy.
A KM function familiar to RIM professionals in another guise is the "knowledge inventory" or "knowledge audit." For RIM practitioners, the records inventory is widely understood as an important early step in the development of a RIM program, and so it is with knowledge audits and for similar reasons. Rather than focus on physical documentation required in business processes, however, KM audits seek to achieve three objectives:
* Identify all sources of information assets in the organization, a notion familiar to RIM professionals.
* Locate all sources of knowledge (e.g., communities of practice/ interest, staff expertise, knowledge flow patterns, as well as what is available--and not available--on the organization's intranets).
* Establish the knowledge foundations of the organization's core competencies.
Through the audit, the organization begins to
* appreciate what its information needs are
* understand the information and knowledge already being created
* locate stocks and flows of information and knowledge
* see how implicit knowledge may be turned into more explicit knowledge
* create an expertise database
* map information flows and bottlenecks (e.g., information silos)
Like records inventories, knowledge inventories depend on various approaches: questionnaires, recorded interviews, and/or discussions with groups or teams. A knowledge audit's products include knowledge maps and intellectual asset locators. These tools are part of and lead into developing knowledge-based strategies. Without the knowledge inventory, addressing these strategies would likely be impossible. Because they provide services to every unit, RIM practitioners often know more about the "geography" of an organization than anyone else, and they are already experienced with inventories. For RIM professionals, the knowledge audit should represent simply a new direction for a familiar skill.
For decades, RIM professionals have pursued the goal of providing the right information to the right person at the right time. Knowledge brokering is one right step in that direction. According to authors Andrew Hargadon and Robert Sutton, knowledge brokering is the "process through which knowledge is transferred between two distant groups, taking the ideas and experiences gained from one area and adapting them to areas where that knowledge is considered novel." Knowledge brokering leads to innovation by making the right knowledge available to the right people at the right time. There are several activities in knowledge brokering, including:
* Keeping ideas alive--embedding ideas from "knowledge bases" for easy retrieval by diverse groups
* Capturing organizational memories--"harvesting" in KM language through exit interviews and recording personal narratives for later retrieval by multiple users
* Capturing good ideas--constantly testing and experimenting to find new ways to use old knowledge or to market new knowledge to knowledge users
* Imagining new uses for old ideas--creating open sharing of ideas, fostering brainstorming, seeking old and new knowledge to solve problems
Maintaining an internal directory on an intranet is a valued and manageable KM endeavor. A directory provides information on the human expertise within the organization and makes it available to anyone who needs it. By assessing user needs and strategies (researching the ways people search for information), the creators of these systems develop repositories to provide access to organizational expertise. There are various types of directories but, ultimately, they all serve the same purpose. RIM professionals who already create inventories, finding aids, and databases for access to inactive records can easily create tools such as organizational directories.
A goal of KM is finding ways to add new value to information resources at hand, including the recycling of information. For RIM practitioners, this means that records used to document certain transactions might be re-used for other purposes. For example, an international sales company's trip reports may wind up in boxes in the records center--or on a company server. Having met one need, these reports might be analytically evaluated and reused to identify and develop new knowledge about, say, cultural issues in other countries that must be taken into account by the company's visitors to those countries.
E-mail Knowledge Bases
Because of its legal implications and records-retention challenges, RIM professionals sometimes view e-mail as a headache. Yet e-mail can provide important information resources usable for KM purposes. To achieve this desirable goal, RIM professionals can apply auto-classification software able to take thousands of seemingly unrelated messages, which after all are business records, and 1) create knowledge bases about a variety of topics of interest to those in the organization and 2) organize pointers to experts in the organization who can be consulted about such knowledge.
KM and Cost Reduction
Cost reduction and productivity are themes certainly familiar to RIM practitioners--and they are KM goals as well. Founded in 1896, the British Postal Service was privatized in 1981. Today, British Telecom (BT) has 137,000 employees and offices worldwide and projects in many countries. BT's digital clipping service results in increased availability of information across the organization regardless of location. It now divides 2,000-3,000 incoming daily news stories into 100 "topic channels," providing local and distant users with flesh intelligence and resources for research as well. The service improves employee productivity by reducing the time needed to track down relevant information.
This service increases overall profitability for BT through
* decreased costs of producing information
* increased worker retention
* increased access to communication and information
* promotion of a global corporate culture
Many RIM practitioners already have the technical expertise to provide such services to their organizations.
There are KM roles for RIM professionals, but to pursue them, interested RIM professionals may need to extend their vision of man aging information resources beyond their current activities. It may also be necessary for RIM practitioners to move as many as two planes above their current comfort level: from records management to information management and then, for some, from information management to knowledge manage merit.
Many KM initiatives, however, should prove a comfortable fit for anyone at the "information manager" level. Many of these endeavors would involve partnerships with other information and information technology professionals--so much the better in the collaborative context of KM. From such collaborations may come a higher and better understanding of and synergies with other information disciplines. With an energizing alliance of the various types of information managers, there are very few information--or knowledge--needs that cannot be successfully handled because information is a necessary precursor of organizational knowledge. And we are, first of all, most definitely in the information business.
KM Hits by Year at ABI Inform Year KM Hits Returned 1999 399 2000 485 2001 709 2002 735
Dearstyne, Bruce Records Management of the Future: Anticipate, Adapt, and Succeed." The Information Management Journal 33 (October 1999).
Hargadon, Andrew and Robert I. Sutton. "Building an Innovation Factory." Harvard Business Review (May/June 2000).
Pemberton, J. Michael and Christine Nugent. "Information Studies: Emergent Field, Convergent Curriculum." Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 36 (Spring 1995).
Phillips, John. "Is the 'Record Series' Concept Dead?" Records Management Quarterly 32 (April 1998).
Swartz, Nikki. "The 'Wonder Years' of Knowledge Management." The Information Management Journal 37 (May/June 2003).
J. Michael Pemberton, CRM, FAI is the Executive Editor of The Information Management Journal. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||Knowledge Management, Records and Information Management|
|Author:||Pemberton, J. Michael|
|Publication:||Information Management Journal|
|Date:||May 1, 2004|
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