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Simplify for Success - Conversation with Wendy McLain

Wendy McLain was on Simplify for Success, a podcast series presented by Meru Data and hosted by Priya Keshav. Wendy shared her experiences with developing and implementing enterprise-wide programs for managing data. She stressed the importance of putting people first and making sure change management is a major focus in such efforts.  She discussed how people matter the most for the success of these programs.

Listen to the full podcast below:

*Views and opinions expressed by guests do not necessarily reflect the view of Meru Data.*


Priya Keshav

Hello everyone, welcome to our podcast around simplifying for success. Simplification requires discipline and clarity of thought. This is not often easy in today's rapid-paced work environment. We have invited a few colleagues in data and information governance space to share their strategies and approaches for simplification.

Today, we will be talking with Wendy McClain. Wendy McLain is a veteran RIM, IG professional experienced in government, healthcare, engineering, and energy sectors. Wendy believes experienced professionals have a duty to give back through volunteerism and mentoring and enjoys lively discussions with colleagues even when it must be done remotely.

She served in the ICRM ward from 2012 to 2018 and was elected to the ARMA board in 2019.

Hi Wendy.

Wendy McLain

Hi Priya.

Priya Keshav

Thank you for joining us.

Wendy McLain

I'm really glad to be here. It is really nice to be able to sit down and take a minute just to connect with someone and chat about one of my favorite topics, records and information governance.

Priya Keshav

You've had many years of experience in developing and implementing enterprise-wide IG program in the energy industry.

How do you build a business case for IG? Any tips that you can share?

Wendy McLain

Well, you know, I would really like to approach it from the positives and the benefits, but what I have found in my experience is, sometimes a negative approach is more successful by highlighting a failure or showing how IG could have maybe helped prevent or lessen the impact of an event, that's actually worked better for me.

Let me see if I can give you an example. Early in my career, I worked for Exxon, this was before they merged into Exxon Mobil and at that time, I think it was around 1989 there was an oil spill everyone would probably remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill. And I think we can all agree it was a horrible event with lasting impact both to the industry as well as to the environment.

But for me, the personal side of that was that it had a major impact on my awareness of records management. Before that I had come up through library and information science as my background and I didn't really understand what records management was all about. So, it was my first introduction to the concept of legal hold, a retention schedule, and the company took extraordinary efforts to preserve records and to also refocus on ensuring that they had a solid records management program in place. So, obviously, nobody wants to have an event of that magnitude to help get focus and attention on IG, but you should always have your eyes open looking for real examples that might happen in your day-to-day that could serve as your catalyst to focus that attention.

Priya Keshav

No great thoughts here, one of the things that I always talk about is my own experience. I have always had come from the consulting side and every time, I had a client focus on IG, it's most likely after a major reactive event. You can push it till you realize that it's too late and then, once you've had a reactive event, it just makes more sense to have better controls in place, so it never happens again, so great thoughts there.

How do you balance showing immediate results while also setting expectation that these programs are likely going to be multi-year programs?

Wendy McLain

You know, that's tough. I like things to happen quickly and it's difficult for me to be patient. So, I like to look for quick wins. I want to show how an immediate action can make a difference right now, but also it can have an impact maybe in the future. So, a real easy example from more of a traditional records management world is as one in right sizing a shred program or ensuring that disposition is occurring regularly.

So, there was a company that I worked for in the past that had a nationwide footprint and I worked with our shred vendor to analyze our usage in our frequency across the US and then we retrofitted locations with the appropriate sized containers to accommodate fewer service calls and that saved thousands of dollars for the company. So that was the quick win and then there was kind of on top of that, another time that same company, we worked to consolidate some offsite storage providers into a single provider and to bring our master service agreement into alignment and the costs into alignment and that resulted in saving more than $100,000 right away. But more importantly into the future, we were paying less fees, more affordable, and it was having an impact year over year.

So, you know these kinds of situations where things get out of hand and uncontrolled, they sort of build up over time, and I like to use them as a lesson to explain how if we have a solid RIM IG program, we could have prevented this problem from ever happening, but you know, we can also take quick action, get a quick win that will carry us into the future.

Priya Keshav

So, you brought up some really good examples where you either simplified or sort of consolidated. Our theme for the podcast is around simplifying for success. Essentially, there are two ways to simplify: breaking down the parts to reduce complexity or identifying a new and innovative way to execute the same task.

Would you choose one over the other, and if so, why?

Wendy McLain

Well, I think it would be hard to choose one over the other because I think both are needed and to me, they seem somewhat interrelated. I would absolutely agree that breaking down parts is necessary because you've got to do that to really do a root cause analysis and identify the problems. And to understand what is being done and why a thing is being done but then you may also doing that, identify a new way to do that task or you might decide to eliminate it, either partially or completely. So, for me, I don't think I could choose I think that I sort of have a little bit of a blended approach.

Priya Keshav

So, can you share some examples of how you have simplified to succeed?

Wendy McLain

Yeah, so, you know, I talked a little bit from a traditional records management point of view, but as my career progressed, the technology has progressed exponentially. And I've been really lucky to find ways to use technology to help simplify and streamline processes. So, there was a company that when I joined, I learned that they had a retention schedule in place, but they did not have an effective disposition process and so in having that lack of an effective disposition process, they were over retaining thousands of boxes in offsite storage. But not just that, they also had an electronic document management system and it had disposition capabilities built-in as is most of these technologies do, but they never processed a disposition in that system. And it was really because they were following this very traditional, very granular box-by-box review and approval process and there was just simply no way that that was going to work in an electronic environment.

So, you know, once we recognized why we hadn't made any forward progress, one of the things that my team did was to educate our steering committee. We were lucky to have a steering committee and we had to educate them on the process that operated at a higher level. So instead of approvals, instead of focusing on what is inside of this container, we focused on ensuring that legal holds were in place, we focused on ensuring that the retention schedule was defensible and then we decided to allow that expired content to proceed unless there was a significant exception.

So, in the electronic environment, then we agreed to certain low-value high-volume content that could follow automated disposition rules without manual intervention and this was huge because it was a complete mind shift or thought shift in that, you know, we have a policy, we have procedures, let's follow them and let this technology work the way that it was intended, with business rules, and so with this new approved process, the company was confident, they were able to dispose expired content and be defensible at the same time.

Priya Keshav

So, you mentioned that, you know, you talked a little bit about technology. What role does technology play while building IG program and how have you leveraged technology to solve these problems?

Wendy McLain

Well, I like to think that technology plays a supporting role, and sometimes it seems like it takes center stage and after all I report up through Information Services as my organization has arranged. But remember people are still important. It's the people who have to understand the situation, they have to understand the issues and they've got to make the decisions to use technology in a responsible manner. And so, one of the things that my mentor taught me years ago was keep your focus on the people, the process, and the technology, but especially the people.

And one of the biggest areas where I've seen technology support IG is in this area of defensible disposition. As I mentioned before, once you have an approved policy and an approved process, the technology can run in the background to identify expired content and delete it as long as it's not on hold, and so it does that all while maintaining appropriate logging of actions, so it's definitely supporting the people and the process that you've set in place.

Priya Keshav

What are some of the biggest challenges with IG? Any tips that you can share on how you have overcome some of these challenges in the past?

Wendy McLain

So, you know, I answered that, I think, people is really an important part of this equation and so the reason I think I struggle is change and that really comes back to people. People struggle to change. I think there are maybe a few people who thrive on change. There are a few people who like to help with change management, but it is very difficult for people to change. And so, I believe that's one of the biggest challenges, and as far as overcoming that as a challenge, I think it's first having an awareness of it, having an understanding that change is hard for people and then it really boils down to, for me, developing strong relationships and building trust, and that's always going to help smoothing the way for change.

Priya Keshav

Thanks a lot for taking the time.

Some great tips that you have shared with us today.

Thanks again, Wendy.

Wendy McLain

It's been my pleasure.

Thank you so much for inviting me.


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