e-Records Conference 2015: ERDMS Program Overview: Department of Interior

This is the second post of a multi-part recap of the 2015 e-Records Conference. Presentation materials from the e-Records Conference are available on the e-Records 2015 website.


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Seal of the U.S. Department of Interior

At the 2015 e-Records Conference, Vice President of Information Governance for IQ Business Group (IQBG) Carol Brock explained how her company helps the Department of Interior effectively manage 1M-70M emails per month generated and received by up to 98,000 users. The eMail Enterprise Records and Document Management System (eERDMS) program implemented by the department with the help of IQBG is quickly becoming a national model and the White House is tracking its outcomes. The implicit theme of her presentation was that most famous of Henry David Thoreau mantras: “Simplify, simplify.”

Implementation started with integrating the 14 CIOs of 14 existing bureaus within the Department of Interior under a single CIO. The department also eliminated separate email systems for each bureau to enable easy line of sight into every bureau’s inbox and outbox without translation.

IQBG evaluated the department’s record schedules and rewrote them to better align the schedules and lines of business with the department’s mission. Common schedules are now used for shared functions across bureaus, resulting in same records being treated in a single way enterprise-wide. And, like TSLAC’s, the department’s schedules are now media neutral, meaning they define how long to keep the record regardless if it is on paper, email, microfilm or hosted in the cloud. IQBG pruned over 200 schedules with approximately 2330 retention periods down to a single schedule covering 37 lines of business with less than 100 retention periods.

Restructuring the department and big-bucketing its unified and simplified schedule were only the necessary precursors to the biggest change introduced by IQBG: an eERDMS that auto-classifies emails as they are sent or received. The speaker described the system as “email journaling,” or controlling everything that comes through the spigot, and contrasted it with the more widely practiced system of email management. Instead of relying on the desktop user to determine the appropriate scheduling of an email and then drag-dropping it into the appropriate folder of a retention-centric email schema, the eERDMS does it automatically for every email for every user with a department email address.

Building and maintaining the decision algorithm motor driving the department’s auto-classification required large inputs of time and work. Stakeholders in the 14 bureaus provided about 200 key documents as samples for each task. These exemplar documents formed the model for records in each task; the decision algorithm looks for deeper similarities between the exemplars and live documents than just keywords in order to correctly schedule an individual email. Finding the right combination of exemplars is time-consuming, but so far IQBG has yielded 75% accuracy with auto-classification. They strive to achieve 90+% in the future but the speaker noted than 75% is the legally defensible threshold.

Obviously, most Texas state agencies and local governments lack the budget to purchase a fully-loaded Cadillac eERDMS upfront, but the speaker offered up two novel pieces of advice for purchasing and implementing records management systems that apply across the board. First, when purchasing, be sure to take stock of and integrate all of your required records management services so that, as you can afford to buy, you already have the capabilities you need built into the contract. For the Department of Interior, that means looking beyond email to managing forms in the near future and, by 2019, managing all permanent records electronically.

Second, when implementing changes to your records management program, speak in terms management, the users, and the system administrators can all understand. To the greatest extent possible, eliminate records management and IT speak from your vocabulary. Doing so will help you get the entire staff onboard with the change, understand how the changes will affect them, and manage their expectations.

Correctly handling millions of emails per month is a daunting task, even for a computer. But as IQBG effectively demonstrated with the Department of Interior, a difficult task becomes manageable when you break it down into smaller and simpler steps. How does your local government or agency manage email? Do you have an automated system that helps users? Or are users at the desktop expected to sort, retain, and disposition their in- and outboxes? When is the last time you trained your staff on managing their email? Please feel free to share your responses in the comments section below.