Study finds low e-records IQ

Paper, it seems, is a lot easier to manage than electronic records, according to a new study conducted by the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), an organization of records managers and vendors. More than 700 organizations, including 128 state and local government agencies, said they have a fairly high level of confidence in how well they manage information on paper. Electronic records are a different matter.

AIIM will release a report on the survey, “Compliance: It’s Real, It’s Relevant, and It’s More than Just Records,” Aug. 15. It will show that most state and local agencies believe they have good practices in place for retaining and filing paper records. But they are not as organized when it comes to obeying rules for preserving electronic records.

Part of the problem might be that government employees generally do not know which electronic information must be saved. Only 2 percent of the survey respondents strongly agreed that people in their organizations understand the difference between electronic records and electronic information. More than half disagreed.

David Carmicheal, director of the Georgia Archives and immediate past president of the Council of State Archivists, said one of the state’s biggest archival problems is that agencies do not construct their information technology systems to retain electronic records for long periods of time.

“It’s a mind-set that we work hard to change because it can create liability issues,” Carmicheal said. “If an agency creates a paper record and then later realizes that the record has a 50-year retention period, it’s not a big deal. If that happens with an electronic record, though, it can be very difficult to preserve that record for 50 years if the retention wasn’t planned for during the creation phase.”

Clark Kelso, California’s chief information officer, said the study’s findings are similar to his assessment of California’s e-records compliance. “We have very good practices and policies on managing paper,” he said. “When it comes to electronic, we don’t have across-the-board policies that we have systematically thought through.”

Like many AIIM survey participants, Georgia government employees are confused about what constitutes a critical electronic record, Carmicheal said. Birth records are a good example. A paper birth certificate typically includes the baby’s name, birth date and the parents’ names. The parents receive the certificate and the state files a copy.

When officials print a certificate from a database, they might never store it as an official record, Carmicheal said. The fact that the digital data is now an official record is not obvious, he added.

“The exact same data could be used to create a birth announcement, but no one would confuse a paper birth announcement with an official birth certificate,” Carmicheal said.

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