Do Federal Agencies Have What It Takes to Advance Information Governance Practices
By April Chen, Senior Product Manager, Iron Mountain
New findings show clear agency vision, but lack of corresponding skill sets
On December 31 of this year, agencies will be taking a huge step forward in creating a modernized system for federal records management. As part of the Managing Government Records Directive (M-12-18), agencies must submit records schedules for all existing paper and non-electronic records, and be ready to manage all email records in an accessible electronic format. Both of these are vital components to meeting the directive's end goal – managing all permanent electronic records in an electronic format by December 31, 2019. This milestone is important because agencies can leverage these changes to better respond to FOIA requests, meet eDiscovery needs and contribute to a more open government.
Currently, an overwhelming majority of agencies are on track to meet these deadlines – 93% of Senior Agency Officials reported they would meet the email goal by end of 2016. However, while these requirements constitute a solid baseline for managing records for future formats, they do not encompass the totality of what responsibilities and expectations will be required of information management professionals as data continues to grow and evolve over the coming years.
Information Management – Where We Are Now
A new survey shows that while the majority of federal information professionals are aligned with the high-level goals of the Managing Government Records Directive, troubling skills gaps may be brewing under the surface. These skills gaps would have a significant, adverse impact on the government's stated goal of "[developing] a 21st-century framework for the management of Government records." So what are the current skills gaps that may hinder the government's vision for the next generation of information management professionals?
Top Finding – Agency Priorities
The primary drivers for agency respondents were:
1) Meeting initiatives to manage information beyond records (i.e., managing information of all types) – 46%
2) Automating retention and classifications – 26%
3) Managing paper and digital records in one place – 26%
4) Reducing the footprint of physical records – 24%
Top Finding – In-Demand Skills
The primary in-demand skills among agency respondents were:
1) Information security and access control – 56%
2) Data quality management, data cleansing and migration – 39%
3) Analytics, data sourcing and integration – 39%
4) Information accessibility and delivery, including mobile – 32%
In reviewing the survey results, it becomes clear that agencies are looking to move past current retention methods, such as the notorious "print-and-file" methodology that the National Archives and Records Administration has cited as, "put[ting] agencies at risk of losing records, not having them available for business needs, and allegations of unauthorized destruction." According to the survey results, next generation information management will revolve around empowering agencies to meet government mandates through automation of the management, retention and disposition of both paper and digital records. Automated information management capabilities meet a number of agency needs, including eliminating constant updates to retention schedules, mitigating risks associated with improper access or removal of unnecessary information and removing manual processes. In addition, it assists with the consolidation of paper and digital records, reduces the physical footprint and creates a uniform classification and tagging scheme.
Although agency respondents clearly indicated that the future of federal information management will trend towards automation, compliance mandates and other initiatives for increased efficiency and accessibility, they also indicated that there is a shortcoming of available talent in areas that are vital to achieving these new and more digitally oriented goals.
For instance, in order to intelligently populate, categorize, sort and update their records databases, agencies will have to grow adept at harnessing the power of data analytics technology. It would appear that despite their explicitly recognized need for analytics (analytics was named as the third most in-demand capability, with 39% of respondents indicating a need for the technology), agencies do not currently have the corresponding skill sets.
While respondents indicated a high desire for improved analytics capabilities, they did not prioritize key components of analytics technology as highly as they did the overall capability as a whole. Survey respondents showed low levels of interest in predictive analytics technology (20%) and taxonomy and metadata management (6%) skills, both of which trended towards the bottom half of in-demand technical skills. Despite the low levels of interest, these skills are among the most important for agencies looking to achieve automation – a key component of advancing information management.
Even though we will soon be in the post "Managing Government Records Directive" generation of information management, agencies must do everything possible to carry on the spirit of the directive. This primarily boils down to building modernized systems for managing all records, paper and digital through one governance platform, so that agencies have the ability to maximize their Return on Information. To achieve that, agencies will need to attract and leverage many of the skills that are currently lacking according to survey respondents, and create the appropriate tools to holistically manage their agency's information assets, regardless of format or location.
Although federal agencies have made great progress in reaching the digital generation of information management, there is still much ground to cover before agencies are ready for a truly automated generation. By leveraging automation and its underlying components, agencies will begin to extract the maximum value of information contained within records, reduce risk, improve appropriate access and bring down overall costs. The challenge will be in arming information managers with the skills necessary to make that happen.