e-Records 2012: Managing the Hard to Manage

e-records conference imageThis article is the fourth in a series of recaps of the 2012 e-Records Conference, a conference dedicated to electronic records management that has been co-sponsored by TSLAC and the Department of Information Resources since 2000. Presentations from the e-Records Conference are available on the e-Records 2012 website.

By Angela Ossar, Government Information Analyst

A Records Management Officer who’s a systems architect in the county’s IT department, Ryan Ellis is someone who understands how to use information management tools strategically to improve the efficiency of an entire organization’s operations.

His presentation was a case study on using an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solution to manage all of the records of a county, even the “hard to manage” ones like email and shared drives.  Located in Galveston County, emergency preparedness is a key concern for his program – recovering records with water damage after Hurricane Ike cost them (or would have cost them) over $236,000. And that was just for the records that could be restored – some records destroyed by water were not recoverable.

Prioritizing Records

In this post-disaster reality, some departments with boxes upon boxes of records just wanted to scan everything, hoping to avoid ever experiencing that kind of loss again. But many of them didn’t even know what was in their boxes. The county had hundreds of millions of hard copy documents and in order to be able to spend their imaging dollars wisely, those documents had to be prioritized.

Ellis presented a model for prioritizing those records, a pyramid diagram familiar to those with healthy essential records programs: essential records on the top, high-visibility underneath that, followed by high activity records, active records, and inactive records on the bottom. Those levels were defined as follows:

  • Essential / Vital Records:  What do we need to keep doing business? These are the records that are defined as essential by law: anything necessary to continue government operations in an emergency, records necessary to re-create financial or legal status, and records needed to protect and fulfill their obligations to the public.
  • High-Visibility Records: What is most important to the public?
  • High Activity Records: What will significantly improve our efficiency or effectiveness?
  • Active Records: What is likely to be accessed or audited?
  • Inactive Records: All records not falling under one or more of the previous categories.

Hiring an ECM Vendor

With the scope of their effort defined, so the county proceeded with hiring vendors to achieve their ECM goals. They put together a scorecard (see image below) to rank their three potential vendors. Then, they based their ratings on technical reviews, site visits, and interviews with references.

Summary ECMS Scorecard (click to enlarge)

The vendor they chose (OnBase) was the one who ranked the highest, but they said the decision was strongly influenced by the company’s technical and training support.

The ECM solution they chose has functionality for document retention and automated destruction — even for those records whose retention is event-based (e.g., termination of employment, approval of minutes, filing of claim, etc.)  The software enabled manual and automated redaction as well as the indexing and retrieval capabilities they needed.

Managing Email

The county employed the same ECM software to manage their email, with records management functionality incorporated right into Microsoft Outlook.

They were able to put rules on email folders and tell the system to keep certain fields as metadata. They might require a user to add important metadata like case numbers.

The records management functionality includes being able to save email attachments into a centralized system, with additional metadata added. This consolidated their records into a single location (down from 3 separate locations), reducing time spent on audit preparations.

Managing Shared Drives

Ellis spoke about “shared drive sprawl,” which I’m sure most of us can relate to: when one drive fills up, we ask IT to create another. This becomes a problem for users (“Where’s my stuff?”) and IT alike.

They created a taxonomy of records, which struck me as a more modern, practical form of taking inventory. The taxonomy delineates very clearly what document types the county is retaining, how they’re classified on the retention schedule, what the retention period is, which department owns the data, and the volume of the data.

Records Taxonomy screenshot (click to enlarge)

The Return on Investment (ROI) for using the ECM tool to manage records rather than leaving them as unstructured data on the shared drive was estimated as a departmental savings of 36 hours a month.

Managing Paper

Of course, no office is truly paperless, and it’s difficult to transfer a paper process to an electronic one when the paper process has been around a long time.

Ellis estimated, though, that 90 percent of the paper information they collected was simply printouts of electronic information. So they implemented this simple strategy: if it’s born digital, keep it digital.

Ellis gave the memorable example of one department who would print out a form, have a customer sign the form, scan the form back into the system, and then keep the paper and deal with it at a later time (which was pretty much never). “A signature pad costs $200,” said Ellis. They eliminated the entire step of printing out the document, switched to digital signatures, and drastically improved the department’s efficiency.

Conclusion and Q&A

Ellis described an initial meeting with a department to discuss automating processes and improving efficiency. With the RMO, vendor system administrator, and records management liaison in the room at each meeting, he said, “It comes down to asking the department: what do you do? What records do you create? Where are your bottlenecks?” And then they take that information and present a solution to the department, providing training to the department on using their part of the system. This approach to records management — showing departments how records management can help them do their jobs — is exactly the enabling spirit that is the cornerstone of good records management.

In the Q&A, one person asked how long it takes to configure and customize the ECM system for each department. Ellis said it is a 60-day process of setup, training, and migrating legacy data (or “back file conversion”). The initial meeting is usually a 1- or 2-hour process of mapping on a white board or Visio diagramming.  The meetings can involve having the records liaison walking them through the steps of their business processes: where does the document go? When is it printed out? When is it scanned in? (etc.)

Is Ellis concerned with eliminating jobs? “If tech could eliminate jobs,” he said, “we’d have all been unemployed after the Industrial Revolution. There is always more work to do.”

By the way, Ryan, if you are looking for more work to do, we’ve got a job opening… and we don’t get hurricanes in Austin!

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