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Recordkeeping Software is Hard to Learn

So you’ve acquired a brand-new state-of-the-art electronic recordkeeping system. I’ll refer to such a system as the RMS (Records Management System). Everyone expects you to deploy it, and the sooner the better! Your first task is to learn how the RMS works. Any RIM professional needs to have complete mastery of the RMS, as there is no one else to share the load of recordkeeping compliance. You have to know that software, and know it well.

I’m here to tell you that learning this type of software to the point of complete proficiency is challenging. Very challenging. Some of us make the assumption that all we have to do is take the vendor’s training and we’re good to go. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have taken a good deal of vendor training on a number of modern electronic recordkeeping software systems. I’ve also studied their documentation closely. I had to learn the software so I could write about it, and advise clients on it. It wasn’t easy. Following are the main reasons why any RIM professional will find it very challenging to learn the software:

  1. It is very technical. By necessity, the software is laced with deeply technical concepts and dependencies on various content sources, most notably modern content management systems. Remember that any modern RMS is really a blend of content management and recordkeeping. Learning one is not enough-you have to learn both.

  2. Poor documentation. Only the larger vendors such as IBM and OpenText have what I considered to be “real” documentation, a single document that outlines the concepts, terminology, and operating procedures and considerations of the software from A-Z. Most RMS venders these days don’t have the resources to produce such documentation. Instead they place snippets of instruction on their websites that clients can access by searching and/or browsing through all these snippets. I find this to be minimally useful, if at all. Too often, these snippets tell me the obvious, i.e. press this button and then choose from these three options to do this. We don’t need anyone to tell us this. Instead, we need documentation to tell us why we’re doing this, and what are the appropriate choices. To my extreme exasperation I find myself frequently complaining to software vendors about poor documentation. Poor documentation puts you, the RIM professional, at an immediate learning disadvantage.

  3. Poor instruction. Not all software vendors are good at training. I’m referring here to two aspects of training. The first is content, and the second is delivery. I’ve seen good content with poor delivery, good delivery with poor content, and poor content and poor delivery. I rarely see good content with good delivery. There’s also the issue of duration. I find myself frequently complaining to vendors that the time allocated to training simply is not long enough to learn what we need to learn. On one very memorable occasion, I recall the vendor claiming that only 4 hours of training would be plenty to train the RIM professional. By my calculations, some 30+ hours would be necessary.

  4. Lack of hands-on. Watching several hours of PowerPoint slides presented by a knowledgeable “instructor” will never teach you the software. Ideally the instructor should be able to see what you’re doing on the screen as you operate the actual software.

  5. Two technologies to learn. Obviously you have to learn the RMS capabilities, but also you have to know a great deal about the underlying content sources, primarily modern content management. This involves things such as libraries, permissions, and more importantly, metadata. Any modern RMS leverages metadata in order to apply retention rules. You’ll need to understand how metadata is created, metadata characteristics, and usually you’ll even have to create the metadata in the source system itself. Now you have to learn a whole new technology in addition to the RMS.

Know the challenges before you dive in. This is what I recommend to make sure that you achieve the proficiency you’ll need with the RMS software:

  1. Insist on hands-on training. Have the instructor guide you remotely while you operate the software yourself. Do not let any instructor simply do things on the screen while you watch. You’ll never learn this way.

  2. Ask for more time. Insist that the vendor put more time into training. Make a list of all the topics you need, and asked him that tell you how much time they need to fully teach you on each topic.

  3. Allocate self learning time. I recommend for every hour of formal vendor training, assume 3 to 4 hours of self learning time in addition.

  4. Build a document. Copy all the snippets (of “documentation”) from the vendor’s website, and build yourself a document of all these snippets. Organize them by topic, and add a table of contents, print it out in a binder, study it, and use it as a permanent reference. I’ve done this myself several times, only to be astonished at how little material exists for each topic. But it’s better than having to go online and scrounge for information every time you have a question.

  5. Learn Content Management. Take some courses. Watch YouTube videos. Practice self-learning. Do what you have to do in order to learn the fundamentals of modern content management.

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