Google Glass, CCTV and the future of recordkeeping

In a capital city near you, in the near distant future ...

Pierre, Frieda and Walter are in AcmeCo's meeting room for an important contractual discussion. The red light of a CCTV blinks unobtrusively in the corner of the room, capturing every word and actions in 1080p HD video, with secondary lenses running OCR transcripts of every piece of text on every document displayed in the room. Walter, from BondCo, is wearing his Google Glass Neo fashion range, blue record light serenely notifying that he is streaming the conversation back to BondCo's cloud-based record bank.

The conversation is friendly, but occasionally a watcher from the present would be jarred by an odd turn of phrase. These special phrases are those which legal precedent has deemed to demonstrate that obligations of good faith are incurred or avoided.

Similar scenes are taking place in coffee shops and pubs all across the city between colleagues, friends, and family. For the most part, small talk becomes more measured; people know that anything might be recorded and reflected back on them at some point in the future. Others see the constantly recorded environment making pretence pointless, and embrace complete authenticity – as if daring people to ridicule their human foibles.

Welcome to the always-on recordkeeping world.

How would it change your recordkeeping practices if everything was routinely captured? Would you throw away your thesaurus and classification practices? Would it eliminate the need for recordkeeping altogether? Unlikely. The greater the amount of information captured, the greater the effort required to locate and retrieve it. So there's still a need to prioritise and formally record information for certain processes. Social conversations are unlikely to supplant the need for formal records of decisions and agreements.

However, it would change the need for records as evidence. What's more, we don't have to wait for the future to arrive for this to happen. To a large extent, this is a problem we have to deal with today.

Email, for all the hand-wringing by recordkeepers, is already much like CCTV. These days, if an interaction happened between two entities (ie person or organisation), it is almost certain to be documented in email somewhere. The exception is if people have taken deliberate steps to avoid using it – again like CCTV.

In other words, if the stakes are high enough then the relevant email records will be found, regardless of whether a formal recordkeeping system was involved. On the other hand, the inefficiency and cost of these searches can be staggering. General purpose search of these archives of business conversations is clearly not an option for routine business operations.

So the question has to be asked: What is the benefit of formally capturing 95% of email, Twitter, and Facebook interactions; the equivalent of CCTV-recorded conversations at the pub? They are only likely to be critical in the case of legal action, in which case the discovery process can retrieve them anyway. The only time they are likely to be relevant for ongoing reference is if a decision got made through that channel.

The answer is: Because people are worried about the 5% – the critical decisions that get made on these channels. But cataloging the equivalent of all of these CCTV recordings is overkill and unwarranted. We need to look at the unmet business need rather than blaming the communications channel being used.

Organisations are comfortable with the concept of "cases" – a defined set of interactions to resolve an issues between two or more parties. It is understood that for cases, you need to capture a sufficient portion of the interactions and outcomes – in whatever format they occur – to provide a quick reference as required in the future.

But outside of committees, the vast bulk of decisions made within an organisation tends to have no corresponding decision repository.

So why not define a scalable practice for decision-making that everyone can follow? We're seeing some tools emerge in this space. For example, Hexigo is an intriguing, albeit comparatively new option. By providing a standardised decision-making "mode", it ensures that decisions are managed as first-class citizens of recordkeeping alongside the more traditional case management. I believe this is something we will see more of in the future.

I'd like to hear people's thoughts on this. Am I wrong – is the "social grease" that makes up the bulk of collaborative emails, posts, and tweets worthy of recordkeeping? Or is it just supporting the decision-making process that we need to focus on from a recordkeeping perspective?

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