Cull: Readying for the e-documents storm

Too many agencies have placed the burden of records management decisions on the individual.

As we move into the season of summer thunderstorms and hurricanes, I cannot help but think about the storm brewing for federal agencies that face a mounting wave of electronic records. Information is the currency of government, and it is increasing exponentially.

Today, agencies should be preparing for a looming e-documents storm and must address enforcement and compliance issues linked to National Archives and Records Administration rules for records management.

The enormity and complexity of the problem have tempted agencies to dodge the issue. But this short-sighted approach is becoming increasingly untenable. NARA is working with the Office of Management and Budget to include records management questions in the business case guidance for fiscal 2006 budget submissions. They are also determining the role of records management in the federal enterprise architecture.

Traditionally, too many agencies have placed the burden of records management decisions on individual employees. This approach does not facilitate the enforcement of a cohesive records management policy. Without such policies, federal employees are ill-equipped to make critical records management decisions.

Most records management systems are too difficult to use. A six-month NARA study of users of such systems found that a significant number of them avoided the system after initial training. The study showed that 56 percent of users found the technology either burdensome or extremely burdensome to use, and 6 percent did not use it to file a single record.

The impact of this lack of enforcement of records information management policy means that agencies might not establish and follow cohesive records management policies across business systems. Or agencies that have policies might not capture or file documents in the correct place because employees misplace or incorrectly tag files. Furthermore, agencies may fail to follow appropriate life cycle management by keeping records too long or destroying them too soon.

A lack of consistent enforcement frequently results in the compromise of records management programs. As today's records management environment becomes increasingly complex, agencies must take advantage of new technology rather than rely on people to ensure policy compliance and enforcement.

Today's records management solutions provide sophisticated automation throughout the records management process, taking the burden off the content creator by automatically recognizing, filing, archiving and disposing of records in real time and based on NARA and agency-specific policies.

The volume, complexity and gravity of the records management challenge is building like a tropical storm. Agencies need to act today to fortify their electronic content management infrastructure and foundations to avoid becoming a casualty of the impending records management e-documents storm.

Cull is vice president of government solutions for FileNet, which makes e-records products.

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