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Three Principles for Successful Federal Records Management
Feb. 3, 2014 08:15 AM
The below is summary of my comments provided on Wednesday, January 29, 2014, at the Alfresco Content.Gov event in Washington, DC.
In my 27 years of federal service, I've watched the growth in federal records and the implementation of new executive orders and regulations aimed at improving records management across the federal space. There are immense challenges associated with litigation, review and release, tracing factual evidence for analysis, managing information legal proceedings, and overseeing a plethora of authorized and unauthorized disclosures of classified and/or sensitive information.
Federal records management professionals are true, unsung heroes in helping our nation protect information while also protecting the civil liberties and privacy of our nation's citizens. The job has become increasingly more difficult in today's era of "big data." Records management and information management in the 1980s was hard and that's when we thought big data was hundreds of gigabytes. As we consider today's generation of data, four (4) decades later, federal records professionals are charged with managing tens of thousands of gigabytes-petabytes and zettabytes of data. It's an especially daunting task.
Three principles for records management are critical to future success for the federal space:
Point 1: Capture on Creation
The federal workforce stores this created content in just as many formal and informal ways. It's stored on local hard drives, mobile phones, corporate storage, shadow IT storage, public clouds, and private clouds.
In short...it's a mess for the records management professional.
What is needed are solid systems and capabilities that demand capture on content creation. Simplistic and non-intrusive ways to drive the creator to label information will help tremendously. Non-intrusive doesn't mean voluntary; actions for content creation need to be forced and demanded. Not everything is a record, but many things deserve to be preserved for after action review, lessons learned, and knowledge management training over time.
Many of today's technologies make it far too easy to create content and far too difficult to manage it in perpetuity. Content creation with longevity in mind is critical for the federal records management professional and for the federal government in general.
Implementing technologies that work together to achieve the longevity goal is paramount. No federal agency can survive on one tool; one tool rarely meets the variety of end user needs or requirements. Discovering and implementing technologies with easy interfaces, open APIs, and purposeful data exchange bases will be most successful in the federal government. Often this equates to open source tools, which are naturally built for easy expansion and integration with other tools.
Point 2: Manage and Secure Through the Workflow
Introducing solid records management to these macro and micro workflow environments is necessary and important.
The federal government needs tools that understand the intricate workflow processes and seamlessly captures the changes, approvals, and actions for the workflow throughout the entire process-from creation to retirement. A suite of tools-built on open platforms for easy data exchange-is likely to be required for any federal agency. Working through big ERP systems and through small purpose-built systems, workflow foundations can capture information necessary for approvals and for long-term retention.
Equally necessary are workflow tools that maintain data integrity, individual privacy, and agency security. The Federal Government demands absolute security in processing workflows, especially for citizen-based services that span public and private information processing environments. It's simply not enough to have workflow tools which are fundamentally secure in a private environment. Federal agencies need confidence when exchanging data from a mobile, citizen platform to a private, agency platform.
Point 3: Archive Responsibly
The Federal Government and its agencies aren't private institutions. Although there is information that we should not keep, federal agencies should continue to err on the side of caution and keep anything that seems worth keeping. We should be prepared to keep more information and more records than legally required to lend credibility and understanding of historical decisions and outcomes.
Again, we need tools and technologies that make responsible records management and archival easier for everyone. The amount of resources spent by the federal government on review and redaction of federal records is staggering. If we could have technologies to cut the resources just by 10 percent, that would be awesome. Reaching 20 or 30 percent cost reductions would be phenomenal.
Key to reducing manpower in archival, review, and release, is solid creation at that start. At the risk of creating a circular reference, I'll take you back to my initial point of Content Management at Creation.
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