Tuesday, 21 July 2009

40 years since Apollo, Records Management and Organizational Memory - updated

Yep, that's quite a title for a post....

I am an unabashed space geek, always have been, always will be. However successful I am in work I will probably never reach the enjoyment factor of working for ESA on the Mars Express program as part of the Beagle 2 Mars Lander project. Which, incidentally was my introduction to Information Management, when I took on the role of the Science Data Archiving Manager, to build a NASA Planetary Data System (PDS) compliant archiving system.

So I have been thoroughly enjoying the all the stuff on the web about the 40th Anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing.

Including the stories pertaining to NASA's failure to hold onto the original film / video tapes, and all the Records Management and archiving issues that this leads us to. There have been lots of blog postings and tweets about this, but if you have not seem them I will just reference this one posting at Green Chameleon: "Not my job to preserve history"

When I was at the Open University (where I worked on the Beagle 2) I was part of the Digital Preservation Working Group examining long term digital archiving issues (the OU social charter requires extremely long retention of its materials, 100 year plus), and now I am working in Knowledge Management for a very large retail company - so were do the two collide ?

Well, as noted in the Green Chameleon article, the inability to hold onto the original Apollo tapes was a failure of organizational memory - this is a KM issue. However its a very complex KM issue, as we need to link operational Records Management, to long term digital preservation, to org. memory, to information search and retrieval............... etc.

In other words, this is a messy problem area that needs the full on holistic treatment, you need to take the 100,000 feet 'edge of space' view, so that you can tie your enterprise content management, records management (compliance and legal) strategies into your tactical deployments of content management and search systems.

For me, at the moment this means desiging metadata schemas, taxonomies and strategies for enabling them in SharePoint (MOSS07) via 'Content Types' to enable good document management at the purely tactical level, but linking this to the development of long term repositories and a KM portal in the medium term, to provide a 'knowledge enabled' organization in the longer, strategic term.

Of course the other discussions this week have seen Neil Armstrong heaping the praise on all that was achieved by Apollo, and Buzz Aldrin taking NASA to task for not being on Mars yet.

And as a member of the Mars Society, and a big fan of Robert Zubrin you really dont want to get me going on that subject.......

I often wonder why, if I could watch Neil step down from the Lunar Lander at Tranquility Base as a 3 year old perched on my fathers knee watching a tiny black and white tv, after they navigated themselves to the moon using a navigation computer that had a 1mhz CPU and 200K of memory, programmed using punch cards, over 40 years ago, why indeed are we not on Mars yet considering our current levels of technology ??

In an enterprise context, you might ask why do we keep repeating the same mistakes when we have powerful collaboration technology, the theories behind metadata, taxonomies and information management in general are well known and understood, various levels of legislation have produced reams of records management guidelines etc. Is it a vicisous cirle ? Because we don't have good KM inlcuding organizational memory, we 'forget' on an institutional level how to do these things well and succesfully ?

I will leave you to mull that one over - but President Obama, if your reading, scrap NASA, its not fit for purpose, how about reverting to an aeronautics research agency and a seperate U.S. Space Agency ? !!!

UPDATE - Patrick Lambe at Green Chameleon has responded to my questions with some comments in a new posting on his blog here.

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