Many may have noticed the coverage of the Directive outlining new records management requirements in the federal government. The directive is NARA's and OMB's response to a memo issued by President Obama in late 2011. Among the requirements outlined in the directive:
By 11/15/2012, each agency must appoint a Senior Agency Official (SAO)
- Each SAO must ensure that permanent records 30 years and older are transferred and reported to NARA
- Each SAO must identify all unscheduled records.
- All federal agencies must have a plan to manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format by Dec. 31, 2019.
- NARA will issue guidance on managing, disposing of and transferring email.
- A formal career path for records management officials must be laid out.
- All agencies must have records management training in place for appropriate staff.
- Each SAO, with the agency records officer, must ensure that NARA has received records schedules for all existing non-electronic records.
- All agencies must manage permanent and temporary email records in an accessible electronic format.
In the realm of gratuitous advice, here is my advice to those up and coming SAOs out there (talk about a thankless job!):
1-- Acknowledge that the problem is getting worse. When (NARA) estimates that 95 percent of agencies are out of compliance with current electronic records requirements, clearly there is a problem that must be addressed. Add to this the often quoted Digital Universe statistic that the volume of digital information is growing by a factor of 44 during the course of this decade, and you have a recipe for losing a key part of our digital heritage -- institutional Alzheimer's, if you will -- that we will never be able to recover. And if that was not bad enough, even though the rate of growth of paper records is slowing relative to electronic records, in absolute terms it is still growing.
2 -- Understand and educate about the impact of poor information management on agency effectiveness. According to our surveys, almost 40% of government officials surveyed have little or no confidence in the accuracy, accessibility and trustworthiness of their electronic information. The percentage rises to 60% for e-mail. 32% of government officials describe the accessibility of records to employees across their organization as "poor" or "very poor."
3 -- Embrace the concept of T-shaped individuals. The call in the directive for a career path for e-records management is welcome and overdue. Everywhere I go, I hear the same refrain, "Most RM staff know paper, not systems," and "Our IT people know storage, not retention." We need to help individuals place their deep-dive competency in a broader information management context if they are going to be effective in the future. Gartner predicts the need for these types of cross-function information professionals will grow by 50% by 2015. That's what the Certified Information Professional program is all about. (Assess your skills HERE!)
4 -- Put the focus on getting more data about data. We will not solve the problem of managing exploding volumes of electronic information by simply putting more "effort" on it or by goading individuals to be more "responsible" in complying with records management requirements. No one ever woke up in the morning and stretched and proclaimed, "I can't wait to classify my information according to the taxonomy and records retention requirements established by my organization." Auto-classification has come a long way. The use of semantic technologies to infer metadata where none exists has come a long way. It's time to step on the accelerator with these technologies.
5 -- Get out of the paper paradigm. NARA's annual self-assessment by agencies show that printing and filing remains the most common archiving method for email records, with 81 percent of respondents stating they utilize it. The second most common is back up tapes, with 49 percent stating that constitutes an archiving method (agencies could chose more than one method). A large majority of agencies are at high to moderate risk of bad records management. One unnamed agency in the report says they have "no electronic records." Yikes.
6 -- Think "digital preservation." The continuing confusion about backup and archiving says to me that we need more education that is centered around the concept of preservation. I was once many years ago a history major, so I have an appreciation for this concept of preservation, and think it is vastly under-utilized in explain why we care about all of this. The point of all of this is create an accountable history of what we did and how and why we did it. Preservation has 3 dimensions -- 1) people (training is key), 2) technology (PDF/A important here), and 3) commitment (investment in systems). Doing just 1 or 2 of the 3 wont suffice.
7 -- Be realistic. These are challenging times. The mission of your agency is NOT records management. Records are a byproduct or an artifact of the work of your agency, not the actual product. Sometimes the more zealous of records managers forget that. One recent AIIM survey commenter said, "It is difficult to justify an ERM system when bridges are falling down and people go hungry." An emotional response, but a real factor in tight times, not just in the federal government, but in any organization. You have to be able to make the argument that effective information management will help make your agency more efficient and product and not just that you "must" to do it.
Budding SAOs out there, AIIM can help! Here are a few places to start.
AIIM is the leading provider of skills development training on electronic records management. Thousands of people have taken our ERM courses online, in person, and in private courses. Sign up for a course today or Contact Thedra White at twhite [at] aiim.org and find out how.
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