digital records


Making the 2019 records management mandate … and beyond

The Managing Government Records directive aims to create a 21st century framework for the federal government to modernize records management policies and practices. The goal is to improve performance and promote openness and accountability by better documenting agency actions and decisions. Under the mandate, federal agencies are required to manage all permanent electronic records in a digital format by the end of 2019. According to a 2011 presidential memo to the heads of all executive departments and agencies, “When records are well managed, agencies can use them to assess the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money, and to share knowledge within and across their organizations.”

The mandate makes sense. We live in a digital world, but managing increasingly complex digital data is a tough task -- not to mention the challenges of eliminating paper. Somewhere in a government agency, someone is hitting the print button right now, over, and over and over again. And someone else might be scanning that paper back into an electronic system.

Each government agency deals with almost four petabytes -- or 4 million gigabytes -- of data. Ninety percent of that data is unstructured. It’s found in paper documents, email, social media posts, phone conversations, web pages and so on -- and it’s growing. It’s estimated that 625,000 new pages per year are produced per 100 government employees.

We refer to this rapid increase of unstructured data as “data chaos,” and it has a major impact on records management in government agencies. When compared to other industries like manufacturing, communications/media, banking and healthcare, government ranks second in terms of overall industry data volume and fourth in terms of amount of data per organization, according to 2016 estimates from the McKinsey Global Institute.

This four petabytes of data -- medical records, physical mail, email, forms, etc. -- all needs to be digital and incorporated into records management systems by 2019. Will agencies just check a box to meet the deadline to comply with the directive? Or will they truly achieve digital transformation and drive meaningful results by delivering increased security, efficiency and compliance?

The ideal state is data harmony: an entire organization with a synchronized strategy and execution of digitally transformed workflows, minimal impact from silos and efficient platforms and connectors to make cross-departmental automation a reality.

Of course, reality is somewhere between data chaos and data harmony. The scale and complexity of data that government agencies are dealing with requires an integrated approach that combines hardware, software, services and partners. When evaluating solutions, agencies are best served by an ecosystem approach that includes:

  • Best-in-class scanners to capture information from paper-based documents.
  • Software with intelligent capabilities, such as immediate identification of missing information in forms, accurate data extraction with minimal setup and automated switching of scanner settings from one job to the next.
  • Services to optimize and streamline capture processes -- from configuration and training to repair and maintenance.
  • Partner and developer communities to connect, configure and create customized solutions. It’s unlikely that one services provider can manage every component of a successful document management system, so partners are critical to success.

By deploying this combination of hardware, software, services and partnerships, agencies can extract information from documents to not only check the box of the Managing Government Records directive, but also increase document security, efficiency and compliance.

Securing records

Although security is the No. 1 thing keeping government CIOs up at night, digital workflows are more secure than physical records in terms of preservation but also access permissions when set up properly. As agencies design their document workflow architecture they must find the best locations and combination of devices that will meet their security needs.

For example, for documents containing sensitive personally identifiable information, agencies may want to consider a decentralized document capture architecture where files can be directly scanned and uploaded into the system from a desktop device versus scanning documents from a centralized location that may be less secure. Effective document capture is an important part of the security process as it works to decrease the amount of paper that exists within agencies, helping to minimize the probability of someone walking out with confidential or sensitive documents, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally.

Leveraging efficiencies, easing compliance

Digital-centric systems also drive efficiency by enabling speed and reliability that is impossible with manual processes. Agencies can also gain insights with analytics made possible by a digital system. One critical challenge that government agencies face when it comes to document management is that there is quite a bit of redundant, obsolete and trivial (ROT) data among agency records. ROT is produced on a daily basis and continues to compound as new documents are created, which makes it very challenging to separate good data from ‘junk’ data. To resolve this issue, agencies must ensure that their document capture process can support data analytics and structured data. The key to creating a successful digital-centric system is not just electronically capturing information from paper-based documents, but instead creating a way to extract value from the data.

The words compliance and audit can give even the most confident CIOs anxiety. With an ecosystem approach, agencies can enforce retention and retrieval policies with pinpoint precision. By taking a holistic approach to their document workflow, agencies can identify parts of the process that may be barriers to compliance, whether security related or regulatory.

Many government agencies are still a long way from achieving the “paperless office,” so it’s critical they have some plan in place to address and effectively manage paper to meet compliance requirements and policies.

The Managing Government Records Directive is a catalyst for digital transformation, giving agencies an opportunity to create a strategic digital records system that transforms data chaos into usable information.  By taking advantage of new science for extracting information from documents, the latest technology for integrating it into business processes, bolstered by a partner and developer community to ensure delivery and support, agencies make digital transformation a reality.

About the Author

Joe Yankle is public sector strategic alliance manager for Kodak Alaris Information Management.

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