Today I changed the configuration of our electronic document & records management system (edrms). Ever since the edrms was piloted here, before my time back in 2005, if you want to edit a document held in the edrms you have had to remember to “check it in” when finished. This is because – understandably – the edrms reserves (checks out) a document to a user. Checking it in confirms that you have finished making changes to it, and makes those changes available to everyone. It also creates a new version of the document (the edrms lets you look back at previous versions).
The difficulty has been that you are required to do this via your web browser, or the “front door” way into the edrms. For a lot of people this is scary and means that the edrms has been a different/special system that they have had to learn (in the early days following 6 hours of training!!) and to nerve themselves up to use occasionally, when they were feeling strong enough.
Recently the usage of the edrms has expanded hugely. A good number of academic staff are actively using it – at the beginning of the project there was a feeling among some administrative staff that academics couldn’t/shouldn’t use it. Increasingly users are using the view of the edrms via “my network places” – as if it is just another network drive. Having to remember to check documents in (unlike a normal network drive) was difficult and confusing for people.
We also discovered, during the major system upgrade over the summer, that we could now set the edrms to check documents in automatically when they are closed in the editing application (eg. MS Word). Most of the users were very open to this, provided that you could still deliberately check something out to work on for a period of time (you can). Resistance came from the technical team – chiefly the unknown implications on the database size from multiple versions with minor edits (eg. punctuation changes), and the implications for user support by phone and in training.
Both are valid concerns, but in the end usability and user acceptance won, which I think is the right decision! The days of expecting all users to attend even a 1 hour training session – which is what we’ve now cut it down to – are well and truly gone. We’ll have to keep an eye on the database size, of course, and recommend when/if people declare documents as records they choose the option to “keep only major versions” rather than to “keep all versions”. But the ability to check documents out & in is effectively an optional bonus now.
I think the only thing I’ll miss about it is no longer channelling Supermarket Sweep** during training sessions…
** One of Dale’s catchphrases on The Sweep was “Check it out” – with a bizarre intonation but an apparently straight face