Editor's note: It's been 8 years since I ran this as an article in AIIM E-DOC Magazine. It's still one of my favorite articles explaining why retention planning and records destruction is a GOOD thing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I always have. Bryant
This article was written by Steve Minnick.
She was a very pleasant woman - nice smile, helpful and encouraging, a records manager for one of our clients. I was a seasoned, if not wise, veteran of systems installations and I had just realized that behind her smile lurked evil incarnate.
"You do what!?!" I gasped, clutching my chest.
"We destroy them." She said sweetly.
"You dest…? You d…? You can't just destroy data."
"Well, we do. And they're records, not data. Of course it's all subject to a retention schedule."
"A-ha," A glimmer of hope in the madness. "What's a retention schedule?"
The next day sitting in the boss's office…
"Gee, you really scared the poor woman."
"Did I mention that she's out there destroying things? Huh?"
"Well, as I understand it, that's her job."
"Her job! Then what are we doing here?"
"I don't follow."
"Boss, I have backup tapes loaded with COBOL 68 apps that are hermetically sealed and guaranteed to last for a thousand years. In my lower left hand drawer you will find the notes of our 1983 budget meeting, specifically detailing the terms of my last pay raise. I know for a fact that Jim, has copies of every database schema he's ever designed, much less implemented. We are IT, we do not destroy data. As near as I can tell, records are data. She's destroying them. I recommend minimum jail time and a hefty fine."
"She's asked for a different analyst."
"Says you scare her."
I jumped up on his desk and grabbed him by the tie. "She scared me Boss, she scared me first."
A couple of years have passed. I'm no longer an "IT guy"; new company, new boss. I've grown and now understand that records management and the attendant retention schedules are a good thing, with a respected place and purpose in the cosmos. A week ago I came face-to-face with the great mystery, The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same. I haven't had a good night's sleep since.
"We need someone to look at developing a system for the records manager," new boss says with a grin. "Take Jimmy with you."
Jimmy is an up-and-coming analyst. Formerly a killer code-cutter, C with two pluses and a bullet, Java beans in his bloodstream, a recognized Web developer extraordinaire. I plucked him from an intense game of interactive Doom and we made our way to the office of Arnold, the records manager - a nice guy, good smile, helpful and encouraging. I'd made the introductions and let Jimmy begin the interview - he did well for the first 30 seconds.
"You want what?" Jimmy's voice actually completed most of its hormonal change during this meeting.
"I'd like you to design a program to help manage my retention schedule." Arnold said, smiling gently.
"So you can destroy content?" Up an octave - C above high-C.
"So I can destroy records." Arnold nodded at Jimmy sagely.
I grabbed Jimmy's hands in mid-clench and ushered him out, thanking our host as I went.
"Been great talking with you Arnold, we'll get right back to you with some suggestions."
Back in the office, Jimmy wasted no time leaping onto my desk.
"He's nuts Boss." I like it that he calls me boss.
"No Jimmy, he's not nuts." I pried his fingers from my tie. "He's a records manager, it's what they do. In the world of records, it's not always desirable to keep every record forever. Sometimes you need to destroy records, after an appropriate amount of time has passed of course. It's a good thing Jimmy."
"Not! He's destroying content, those records are content - we gotta stop him."
"Jimmy," I pasted on a fatherly smile, "Are you married?"
"Do you still have the phone numbers of the girlfriends you had before you were married?"
It's difficult to describe the look he gave me; think of sheep, think of lamb stew.
"What happened to them?"
"Ah, well. Angela, that's my wife, she made me burn them."
"Yes, Jimmy. Now, at the moment of burning you might have revered those numbers as content, valuable content, but I'm willing to bet if we asked Angela she would agree that they were records Jimmy - seriously outdated, worthless, even incriminating - records. Ya think?"
And right about here is where Jimmy's light went on.
Jimmy and I will be meeting with Arnold tomorrow. Now that Jimmy understands the niceties of re-purposing content I'm hoping I can get some sleep.
--Steve Minnick (email@example.com) is a document systems project manager for the City of Salt Lake.