Implementing a Corporate Records Management Program in Colombia, South America

Article excerpt

Imagine ordering your file folders from a company that makes each folder by hand: a company that has an elevator made of ropes, a tire, and two by four planks! Imagine opening a folder of information valued at $10,000 to find the contents have been turned into a pile of dust by microscopic insects. These and other challenging experiences are every day occurrences for records managers in so-called "third world" countries.

This article serves two purposes. The first part provides a case study of an international records management project. The second part examines unique challenges associated with the project and explores how project management tools and records management principles can be modified to be practical in nontraditional settings.

The case study involved a six-month pilot records management project in the legal department of a major oil company in Colombia, South America. As a classic records management implementation project, it included an inventory, retention schedule and file structure design, vital records identification and active/inactive file management. The project also required extensive training of the client's records management staff, so that they could complete the initial implementation and continue with other departments.

After the case study you will find a section devoted to some of the unique challenges and experiences involved in completing the project. You should note that one six-month project cannot possibly provide an in-depth understanding of records management issues for any one country, let alone a continent. However, my firsthand experiences, coupled with experiences of others who have also conducted business in foreign countries, provide me with the necessary insights to give some basic guidance to others who may be venturing into the international arena.

THE CASE STUDY

This is a classic records management start-up project, using standard project methodology. It is presented here for those of you who may be looking for a basic project model. You will also find it useful to understand the mechanics of the project before you delve into the unique problems and situations we encountered. There are eight sections to this study. First, country and client profiles are offered to give you perspective. Next, the project outline reflects the six basic components of traditional project methodology: scope, resources, work plan and schedules, communication, quality, and cost.

Country Profile

Colombia is located in the Northwest corner of South America. It is two hours by plane from Miami, Florida. It is crossed by the equator and is the only country in South America bordered by both the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean. The Magdalena River flows northward 1,000 miles from the country's interior and empties into the Caribbean Sea. While only about the size of Texas and California combined, it is a land rich in geographical contrasts. The country is divided by three ranges of the Andes Mountains. This accounts for the extreme contrasts of snowcapped peaks, equatorial jungles and great stretches of plains. The client has offices in three geographical regions. Headquarters are located in the 450-year-old seaport of Cartagena (pop. 550,000). The average daily temperature in this tropical coastal area hovers around 85-90 degrees F. with 90% humidity. The second office is located in Neiva (pop. 200,000). Situated on the plains, the daily temperatures are still hot, but the land is less humid. A third office is located in Bogota (pop. 4 million). At 8,600 feet above sea level, Bogota is one of the world's highest capital cities. With an average temperature of 55 degrees F., winter clothing is worn year round.

Colombia has a total population of 35 million. Unlike many developing countries, it has over 23 cities with populations exceeding 100,000 inhabitants. The people are predominantly of Spanish, Indian, and African descent. It is a land rich in cultural heritage. …