Making comprehensive archiving work for the public sector
- By Dan Thompson
- Jan 20, 2016
Virtually every state and local government must be prepared to respond to open records requests from citizens and outside groups, but many agencies can only archive and search their email.
That won’t cut it in this era of social media posts, texts, instant messages, videos and website content, where citizens and public officials are always connected, and the lines between work and personal communications are blurring. In August 2015, for example, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that a public employee’s work-related text messages sent and received on a private cell phone are public records.
The speed at which this complex digital landscape is changing creates a constant challenge for public sector IT managers and public information officers who don’t want to fall behind the curve. To meet regulatory requirements, agencies are quickly finding that they need a solution that can help them archive and retrieve a broad range of electronic communications including social media, website content, instant messaging and other new and emerging forms of discourse.
When looking for a solution, IT departments might try to extend their current on-premise archiving applications to these new communications channels, or take matters into their own hands and build an archive themselves. However, most government IT departments aren’t equipped to build a truly comprehensive archiving system. There are too many pieces to put together, and tight budgets and limited staff resources would render such a system difficult to implement and maintain.
On the other hand, cloud-based solutions are becoming popular because they can provide the scale and security that an agency needs to keep pace with technology, citizens’ records requests and regulatory requirements. The optimal cloud archiving solution is comprehensive, offering archiving (and the ability to produce records) for a broad range of modern communications.
A cloud archive can also make it easier for an agency’s compliance, legal and records team to access and produce communications records, without the need to engage IT.
There are three steps to finding the best archiving solution:
Know the applicable state, federal and local regulations. From Sunshine Laws and open records rules to legal rules of conduct, understand all the requirements that affect records across the agency. Armed with this knowledge, agency stakeholders can find an archiving solution that will work well for everyone.
Consider the long-term strategy. The retention requirements for most of the information an agency is required to archive and produce may outlast the specific social media, email or instant messaging tool that created the information. Choose an archive provider that has the flexibility to incorporate new and emerging communications technologies -- now and into the distant future -- while also retaining records of the past in an accessible format.
Prepare for budgeting changes. Historically, most states, counties and cities have thought of IT procurements as one-time capital expenditures. Cloud-based services present a different scenario, with an ongoing operating cost that requires a change in the budgeting process. IT managers must ensure that those holding the purse strings clearly understand the benefits of a cloud solution: It offers more linear and straightforward budgeting, and a comprehensive cloud-based archiving solution (where email, social media, text, etc. are archived and searched together on one platform) can be more cost effective than implementing a different archiving solution for each type of electronic communication.
To meet today’s requirements, a truly unified, comprehensive platform is needed to align, search and review all forms of communications content produced by government. Only then will an agency’s compliance and legal teams be able to search for, find and discover correlations and context among various emails, social posts or instant messages.
Social, mobile and technological changes will continue, and the public sector cannot afford to overhaul IT systems to handle the archiving of the next new communications channels.
Dan Thompson is public sector director, Smarsh.