Records Management

4 keys to digitizing federal records

Shutterstock image: digital record management.

As government records grow in both volume and type, agencies are challenged with managing that information in a manner that combines physical and digital environments. Moreover, by 2019, agencies will be required to manage their permanent electronic records in a format that meets the guidelines of the presidential directive on managing government records.

The directive's goals are to minimize costs and promote greater openness, accessibility and accountability between government and citizens in alignment with President Barack Obama's Open Government Initiative, which was launched in 2009.

As agencies work to improve their digitization strategies, they must recognize the value and efficiency of close collaboration between records management (RM) and IT professionals. Although each group brings its own expertise to the digitization process, together -- and in compliance with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) procedures -- they can form a winning partnership to propel agencies forward during their move to digital records.

Working collaboratively, RM and IT professionals need to find the most effective ways to use technology to identify, classify, retain and dispose of every record made or received by an agency, regardless of format.

To accomplish those objectives, there are four issues on which RM and IT professionals should focus together:

  • A common language. Communication challenges often stall the records management progress due to varying definitions of terms between RM and IT professionals. To better manage records, those professionals must determine a common language for frequently used industry terms related to information management and should incorporate input from all stakeholders, including legal, program management and department leaders.
  • Space constraints. As the amount of information to be stored continues to grow, NARA and other agencies have been running out of space, sparking an initiative to Freeze the Footprint and restrict the growth of agency office space, storage and inventory. RM and IT should find ways to keep up with increasing demands for space and ensure that all records are fully protected, available and stored for the proper retention period.
  • Tools and services. RM and IT leaders must work together to make records management sustainable by selecting the right tools and services to align current and future electronic records management practices with IT systems and plans. By doing so, they can help their agencies determine how and when to outsource information asset management and help save their IT department from sustainment challenges down the road.
  • Performance goals. RM and IT professionals should jointly establish performance goals that are "specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound," according to NARA's recent self-assessment survey. They should also conduct risk assessments of records management to identify the internal controls necessary for successful IT implementation.

By strengthening collaboration between RM and IT, agencies can expect to see several measurable benefits. They will better manage paper and electronic records, redefine processes and retool system efficiencies. IT professionals will save time and employee resources by helping agencies more effectively use their IT investments for workflow and productivity gains and, in turn, federal agencies will be better prepared to deliver services to constituents.

By bringing together RM and IT to work on records modernization, federal agencies will meet mandated goals faster. Moving forward, there will no doubt be more steps to take to better bridge the gap between the groups, but their progress has already started to move the federal government forward, making digitization a more seamless process while modernizing information management programs and fostering a more open government.

About the Author

Sue Trombley is managing director of thought leadership at Iron Mountain.

Cyber. Covered.

Government Cyber Insider tracks the technologies, policies, threats and emerging solutions that shape the cybersecurity landscape.


Reader comments

Fri, Aug 1, 2014 Larry Medina West Coast

Now, if there were only established standards and practices in place for imaging projects to result in a common set of metadata and formats to ensure interoperability. Keep in mind these requirements in the MGRD relate solely to PERMANENT records. But with that said, take into account the VALUE of the content in these records and the need to ensure persistent accessibility PERMANENTLY, which requires (per 36CFR) review of samples every 5 years and conversion, migration, and refreshing media every 10 years to avoid obsolescence of media, formats and degradation. The other concern is the lack of sufficient staff and funding in Federal Agencies to support these efforts, and while it can be contracted to 3rd parties, the success rate with this is limited. Again, there is some information that can only be handled by individuals with adequate clearances, and the transport and storage of Permanent records while being processed requires 36CFR compliance. It's great there IS an MGRD, it's too bad it didn't come with a mountain of cash to meet the obligations it contains.

Fri, Aug 1, 2014

Document that rise to the level of "official records" need to be digitized for several reasons and with differing levels of security based on what the intent is for savings them. Saving space (economic), facilitating search/discovery, etc. are all worthy reasons but often documents are needed in court so must adhere to the "rules of best evidence." Obviously an original document is the best evidence but if it was distroyed after being digitized, is the electronic record admissable? Only if it can be proved it has not been altered and therein lies the rub. Hence, the challenges with electronic recordkeeping are not as simple as we are led to believe. Just a comment from someone that did the Govt electronic records keeping pilot back in the mid 90's!

Thu, Jul 31, 2014 Owen Ambur Silver Spring, MD

Consistent with section 10 of GPRAMA, the SMART goals that RM and IT professionals establish for digitizing records should be published in an open, standard, machine-readable format like StratML.

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