This is the fifth 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.
In today’s office environment, a whole host of factors drive the switch from paper to electronic records: the rapid increase in born digital and exclusive handling of many records electronically; falling costs of server space; growing participation in work across devices and locations; and adoption of the federal paperless initiative. Eric Stene and Alexander Webb from the City of Austin provide a case study of how one municipal government is managing the switch with the help of an Electronic Document Management System, or EDMS. The city’s Certified Records Managers demonstrated the system to the public at the 2015 eRecords Conference, but I found the implementation story just as instructive as the test drive.
A key point of Eric and Alexander’s presentation is the Records and Information Management (RIM) professional as a “great resource.” A typical government has IT and legal departments, management, and end users who all have a stake in the government’s records but very different agendas. The RIM professional works in the convergence of multiple disciplines; this approach uniquely positions the professional to reconcile the gaps between different stakeholders. Eric and Alexander explored this topic throughout their presentation.
The City of Austin is building their EDMS on the chassis of the four stage records lifecycle. For those unfamiliar with this model, it describes the management of a record from creation, its active use, maintenance while inactive and awaiting its retention period’s expiration, and finally disposition. The team asked questions at each stage of the lifecycle to clarify the City’s workflow and construct policies and procedures for training and managing staff to create, store, access, change, and ultimately disposition records on the EDMS.
The EDMS’ engine is the OpenTex eDOCS software that is the foundation for the city-wide system. The system enables users to document security through access controls, tag documents with metadata, search by content or metadata, and enforce records retention.
The team rolled out the EDMS with a pilot project including records of the City’s Purchasing Office. Eric and Alexander recommend limiting such projects to no more than one or two series so that you receive feedback and can adjust course without sinking too much in inefficiencies or unworkable plans. Using a 2010 RIM analysis as a blueprint for naming convention changes, document conversion, protection of confidential information, and stakeholder responsibilities, they set up a two phase pilot project.
Records management expertise allowed the team to keep the pilot project focused while addressing the needs of the various stakeholders. Following the mantra “plan before you scan,” they avoided scanning records nearing their disposition dates and record series whose digitization would save marginal space. They decided in advance how and what metadata to capture about the records with the goals of improving searchability while not exposing sensitive data and preserving the integrity of records. They identified required resources, including licenses to be purchased, to make sure their plans worked on the existing IT infrastructure and to manage any “sticker shock” associated with procurement.
Phase one of the pilot project focused on converting vendor W9 forms. They started here because it is a relatively simple record series to input: the forms are not as complex as most, required fewer metadata fields to describe, and organized into a simple file folder structure. Lessons learned from working with this simpler series would be applied to the much more complex purchasing contracts series in phase two, the real test of the system’s performance.
Phase two involved converting the City’s purchasing contracts. The team limited it to just fiscal years 2009-2011. They worked with legal to identify which portions of the contract needed to be scanned and what could be left out. They established scanning guidelines and quality checks for temporary staff that would be tweaked and then transferred to full-time staff after the EDMS fully rolled out.
I was particularly impressed with how the team built a single unique identifier to automatically name each file based on some metadata, which in turn pulls the remaining metadata from the City’s financial system and identifies the record’s retention trigger. Automating several portions of the records management workflow is the difference between using Google Maps for navigation and taking a ride in a Google driverless car; the users are in control without the constant demand to steer and work the pedals to move a record through its lifecycle.
Phase three involved setting up procedures to automatically publish through the City’s portal public facing versions of the purchasing contracts to provide transparency if not necessarily Public Information Act compliance.
The final phase is perhaps the most critical: review and audit of the project. The team determined the initial process lacked accountability. To remedy the problems, they identified and procured additional licenses to help them better track a file from creation to disposition. This, in turn, led to new procedures and additional staff training. They created a Dashboard tool to generate reports for managers to oversee records management in the EDMS. The Dashboard gauges the health of the system by looking for discrepancies between the records in the EDMS and the City’s financial system.
To address the question I’m sure everyone is asking, yes, they did destroy the paper records after scanning in accordance with procedures approved by the City’s RMO. Staff performed a final review of the source documents before listing them on the City’s disposition log and destroying the paper copies.
Eric and Alexander concluded by acknowledging not every government can afford to implement an EDMS. But, they recommend, the lifecycle questions apply to any electronic record; answer them as the basis for improving policies governing electronic records wherever you store them. Doing so puts records management behind the wheel, ultimately simplifying retention and disposition, rather than bolting on the legal, fiscal, operational and historical requirements for your records onto a system not always capable of adequately meeting those demands.
How does your government manage its electronic records? Do you have an EDMS like the City of Austin? Do you have clear policies governing use of your shared drive or SharePoint system? Please comment and let us know what electronic records management looks like in your office.