digital records

NARA helps agencies get their electronic records in order

As agencies work to comply with the National Archives and Records Administration’s mandate that all records management be digital, NARA is looking to help them make the transition.

An industry day event, held Aug. 6, gave NARA officials a chance to detail the intricacies of the Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI) and NARA’s strategic plan to “help agencies be fully electronic,” Lisa Haralampus, director of records management policy and outreach at NARA, said at the meeting.

Launched in 2015 and borne of the Automated Electronic Records Management (ERM) Plan, FERMI’s ultimate objective is for agencies to manage all permanent electronic records digitally by Dec. 31, 2019. That expands to include all records by Dec. 31, 2022.

Ninety-eight percent of agencies are on track to manage all permanent e-records by the deadline, according to NARA’s 2017 Federal Agency Management report, released late last month. Still, that’s only part of the requirement.

“When we started working on FERMI, first we created the electronic records management universal requirements, and that was the high-level framework,” Courtney Anderson, senior electronic records policy analyst at NARA, said at the event. A number of other products provide more detailed information.

NARA then developed the ERM Federal Integrated Business Framework (ERM-FIBF) that identifies the key functions, activities and capabilities agencies need to manage their electronic records, Anderson said. It starts with high-level functions that map to a record’s lifecycle – such as capture, maintenance, transfer or disposal -- and then gets into activities that need to be executed under each particular function. Under the activities are business capabilities that need to happen to accomplish the activity.

“They have inputs, outputs and processes for each of those capabilities, and for each of the processes, we have created business scenarios that have events that show how that particular business scenario would be executed,” Anderson said.

NARA created one use case for each part of a record’s lifecycle: capture, maintenance and use, transfer and disposal. Records management vendors can then create demonstrations of their solutions based on the use cases so agencies can see how those solutions will work as the new requirements take effect.

USSM’s Business Standards Council is set to review the use cases, likely this fall, Anderson said, with the Office of Management and Budget getting final say over them before they are included in FIBF.

In conforming with NARA’s requirements, agencies face three main challenges: process, content and technology changes, said John Peluso, CTO of AvePoint’s Public Sector.

“They’re not really set up to do this,” Peluso said of agencies. “They don’t really have the tools right now to do this in an effective way. They’ve relied a lot thus far on leaving a lot up to the end user to do the proper classification of content and get the content where it needs to be. A lot of time, that involved users knowing where things needed to go, putting them there, handling them properly. And what’s become clear -- in not just federal but all records management implementations -- is that end users are unreliable for that because they don’t think like a records manager.”

Agencies should take a four-step approach, Peluso said. The first step is to assess their current processes and content discovery to get an understanding of what records they have and how to classify them.

“They know they have content in places that’s dark,” he said. “They need to make sure that they have ways of discovering those data repositories and separating out content that they need to manage from content they don’t need to manage.”

For example, a civilian agency that AvePoint is working with has petabytes of content, but it needs to manage only about 10 percent of it. That means the organization needs a technology that can do a deep investigation and analysis of the content and identify what the agency needs to care about, Peluso said.

This will be a tough process for agencies to go alone, which is why NARA is working with GSA to ease their access to records management technology. Specifically, the agencies worked together to create Special Item Number 51 600 for ERM in Schedule 36, a contract vehicle to help agencies find vendors offering ERM-compliant solutions.

“Some of the signals that we hear from NARA is that ideally, they’d like to see some kind of shared services model, where every agency doesn’t have to go out and source and implement their own system, but could subscribe to systems that are operated as a service,” Peluso said.

The third step in the process is implementing the new solution for both existing and future content, and the last piece is ensuring compliance with requirements such as retention and expiration, and exportation to NARA.

“The solution can only help you modernize if you know your modernization plan,” Peluso said.

Editor's note: This aritlce was changed Sept. 7 to correct John Peluso's title. He is CTO of AvePoint’s Public Sector.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.


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