Information management extends beyond digital records

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Information management extends beyond digital records

By the end of December, the federal government will have completed a major step of one of its biggest information management initiatives, the Managing Government Records Directive (M-12-18). The directive, which seeks to establish a modern framework for the management of government records, instructs agencies to manage both permanent and temporary email records in an accessible electronic format by the end of 2016.

Currently, the overwhelming majority of agencies are on track to meet the directive’s Dec. 31 deadline and are ready to refocus their attention towards meeting the next major deadline, set for the end of 2019, which requires them to manage all permanent electronic records, not just email records, in an accessible electronic format. As agencies move towards this final deadline, it is important that they are not focused solely on meeting checklist requirements, but rather on meeting the directive’s overarching goal of a modern government.

That said, comprehensive modernization means more than just going electronic. While the digital aspect is a large component, it’s important to recognize that modernization also means considering the whole of any agency’s overarching information management program, including compliance, classification, retention and employee training, to name a few.

To obtain the best possible return on all government-owned information, agencies must incorporate these multiple management concerns into a flexible, but universal,  information governance framework that maintains visibility of both digital and physical information assets from creation to disposition. The core components of this framework include:

  • Format-agnostic information life cycle management
  • Automating governance
  • Retention and disposition
  • Education, mentoring and training

Return on information is format agnostic

The top-of-mind objective for agencies as they look towards 2019 should be extracting the maximum possible amount of value from all of their information. This value, commonly referred to as return on information, is extracted by properly managing information resources throughout the entire information life cycle. And while managing electronic records in an accessible format is a crucial component of this objective, agencies need a comprehensive governance strategy for managing all their information, physical or digital, regardless of format. Informational value is not limited to just electronic emails. Properly identifying value in assets, regardless of the format of those assets, is the first step towards a modernized governance strategy.

Modernized, continuous and automated

After successfully identifying all value-creating information assets under its control, an agency can move on to ensuring that its information inventory is continuously kept up-to-date through automated governance and retention policies. These policies will be an invaluable resource for managing the information life cycle, helping agencies to build standardized classification schemes or taxonomies, create and manage retention schedules with rules based on record type, jurisdiction or both, and keep agencies informed of all applicable compliance requirements.

Maximizing value by minimizing costs

The Managing Government Records Directive rightly prioritizes the management of the government’s electronic records, as agencies increasingly adopt advanced technologies like analytics to help them realize unprecedented levels of return on information. However, electronic records are only one portion of the picture. The government’s  massive stores of physical and paper records, which left unattended, have the potential to put large dents in agency budgets. For example,  storage costs can be reduced by as much as 30 percent if agencies can quickly and accurately identify which records they can digitize or destroy and when. Retention policies can also help evaluate the economic costs and benefits of solutions like off-site storage.

Ultimately, agencies incorporating thorough retention policies into their governance schedules can expect to reduce the number of records stored, the space those records occupy, their risk exposure and compliance costs, while increasing the overall value of the information through increased control and accessibility, as well as speed and accuracy of retrieval.

Ensuring continued value with informed end users

The last, and incredibly vital, component of a modern information governance framework is training agency end users. An information governance policy can only go so far without the understanding and support of the employees who are responsible for creating, managing and disposing of government information every day.

Agencies also must ensure they are properly leveraging the valuable institutional knowledge held by experienced staff by including them into the agency’s wider mentoring and training programs before they retire. This practice will help with the very important task of information transfer and ensure continuity of operations even as the agency gains and loses employees over the years.

The progress that the government has made towards modernizing its information -- and extracting value from modernized resources -- is extremely commendable, but it is just  one step on a long journey towards fully realized return on information. As agencies move beyond the 2019 deadline, they cannot afford to be taxed by both real and opportunity costs.

To reduce expenses, agencies need a detailed and comprehensive information governance framework that provides visibility of the entire information life cycle. To stop short of this goal means forfeiting the truly modernized information governance framework that the directive seeks to establish.

About the Author

April Chen is senior product manager with Iron Mountain.

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