Bridging the RM and IT Divide to Achieve Records Management Directive Goals

Topics: IT Asset Disposition

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Both Information Technology and Records Management add discipline to managing, analyzing, distributing and storing records. Each deserves a critically important seat at the information governance table to champion lifecycle practices that will transform government asset management.

Iron Mountain’s Point of View

As a trusted information management partner, Iron Mountain strongly believes close alignment between professionals in records management (RM) and information technology (IT) is crucial to putting federal agencies on the right path to modernizing information management and meeting Directive deadlines. IT and RM executives must work together to understand how best to communicate to leverage each other’s expertise. This relationship will grow increasingly vital to the success of ongoing information management initiatives as data continues to grow exponentially and becomes much more complex. In building stronger collaboration between RM and IT professionals, government agencies will gain institutionalized and automated processes to efficiently manage the end-to-end information lifecycle in compliance with established polices and improved information governance. The end result is a unified, sustained information management program that spans assets of all formats, in all locations.

Because of the critical role records management plays in determining the value of information assets, and when to dispose of non-permanent records, RM professionals possess expertise agency CIOs and IT managers need to achieve Directive goals.

I. Introduction: A Government Records Management Update

Records lifecycle management is a primary federal agency requirement. Every record made or received by a federal agency that documents the organization, its functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations and other activities — regardless of who created it or how the information was recorded — must be identified, classified, retained and disposed of by federal employees, in accordance with guidance procedures authorized by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

While the Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records Management requires agencies to manage all permanent electronic records in electronic formats by 2019, agencies are struggling to dedicate resources, secure scarce funding and gain the top management support needed to meet the mandates.

As government organizations strive to gain greater value from the information they generate and collect, they simultaneously face rising costs to access and manage that information, and associated risks to keeping sensitive and/or classified information private and fully secured.

Why It's Critical

Increasingly it’s clear the real transition won’t be from paper to electronic records. What’s required is a change in how people do their jobs — and that’s inevitably a deeper challenge.

Because “people and processes” are paramount to effectively managing records, the roles played by IT and RM professionals are worth closer examination to understand how, why and in what ways better communication can help agencies achieve federally mandated information assets management goals.

Federal agencies have received marching orders to modernize records policies and operations and manage all permanent electronic records in electronic formats by 2019, to minimize costs and promote greater openness, accessibility and accountability. Driven by the Directive above, enacted in August 2012, the Open Government Initiative launched in late 2009, and several related federal mandates, memos and Executive Orders,* agencies are working to accelerate the transition to electronic records.

* Links to Related Directive Materials

Continuance of the Federal Government Sequester:

The Executive Order on Open Data:

The Office of Management and Budget Memorandum on the “Freeze the Footprint” policy:

Newly Proposed FOIA Legislation:

Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records Management:

One example, the Presidential Executive Order on Open Data, signed in May 2013, mandates government information resources must be made open and machine readable moving forward, to make sure data released to the public is easy to find, accessible and readily usable.

In making this the new default state, federal departments and agencies must also ensure the protection of individual privacy, confidentiality and national security. Expert IT and RM skills are both needed to make this possible.

In another example, the OMB issued a memorandum in March 2013 to “Freeze the Footprint” of federal agency real estate holdings, keeping agency real estate investments to 2012 levels moving forward. This policy poses immediate RM challenges due to the limits on the available storage space at all agencies as well as throughout much of the rest of the federal government.

Ultimately, despite the Obama Administration’s renewed focus on records and information management, the latest Directive remains an unfunded initiative that must compete with other federal priorities. While these challenges are widely acknowledged, records remain foundational to a true Open Government (as quoted by President Barack Obama in the Directive memo), and finding ways to bring together the traditionally separate IT and RM worlds remains less clear. Industry observers cite a general lack of communication and understanding between RM and IT executives as an obstacle to the success of transformative information management efforts.

With the Presidential Directive timeline in place, and with added pressure from other market drivers, federal agencies are seeking ways to improve information asset management and decrease their physical footprint.

As the volume and complexity of records grow exponentially, so too will the burden of shrinking budgets. Today, agencies are wrangling with budget cuts due to ongoing Sequestration disputes. A recent landmark survey of government records management executives asserted that overspending and growing RM costs are unsustainable. According to the Meritalk Survey, “Navigating the Storm”, underwritten by Iron Mountain,1 federal agencies spend more than $34 million, on average, annually on RM or $5 million more than budgeted. If organizations maintain current practices, RM spending is expected to more than double to $84 million per agency by 2015. This level of spending is unsustainable for any federal agency, so clear change is needed in the management and structure of information asset management.

To resolve the challenges, better understanding and communication between government IT and RM professionals are needed to help streamline and automate agency information management procedures.

Understanding IT/RM Challenges — The Latest Agency Self Assessments

Results from NARA’s 2012 Records Management Self- Assessment Survey Report, issued in July 2013, tell the tale. Based on the latest report, RM professionals still aren’t fully participating in IT planning processes.

Organizational barriers, including a lack of top management support and a disconnect with IT, were cited by agency records managers. In total 64% percent are involved electronic systems design/development.

When asked whether agency records management staff participate in the design, development and implementation of new electronic systems, the response in 2012 was similar to 2011 (64 percent said “yes” in 2012; 58 percent said “occasionally,” “most of the time,” or “always” in 2011).

Of the 36 percent of agencies reporting no RM staff participation in 2012, a third said collaboration was “under development,” and that they are working on policies and procedures to accomplish this practice. Others cited “a lack of upper management support, lack of expertise, no new systems under development, and agency reorganization,” as reasons for not including RM staff participation. Many agency records managers also reported to NARA they were not invited to meetings with IT and program staff, or were otherwise excluded from the design and development of new systems.

Based on the latest records management self-assessment report, it’s clear IT and RM executives in federal agencies must find better ways to work together.

The number of respondents who maintain “records functions” are incorporated into the design/development and implementation of new IT systems has remained flat (57 percent in 2012, 55 percent in 2011), and 30 respondents (12 percent) were unable to answer whether records functions are included in IT plans. According to the self-assessment survey, approximately 40 percent of agencies reported records managers play “an active role in decision-making processes,” in meetings with IT, acquisition/ procurement and program staff. Those records managers may be taking part in working groups and review boards, developing system checklists and requirements documents, and/or working with agency Chief Information Office (CIO) and program staff. Those agency respondents also reported RM participation is, “an effective method toward ensuring the integration of records management requirements, as agencies develop new systems.”

Based on the latest records management agency self-assessment report, it’s clear that IT and RM executives can forge stronger relationships and execute better together than separately to help agencies move to the right path for information management and governance.

II. Bringing IT and RM Closer Together

It is time for senior executives in the agencies to support and nurture greater collaboration between RM and IT to generate greater value from agency information management reforms.

Characteristics of Strong Records Management Professionals

A variety of attributes and expertise make RM professionals invaluable. Records managers apply disciplined policies and automated procedures to the process of information management, addressing each step in the lifecycle of an agency record.

What RM needs from It

Records managers undoubtedly need greater cooperation from IT, as well as top agency management. Better communication among all parties, along with additional storage capacity will be required to help agencies achieve compliance with the Presidential Directive. Industry and federal overseers maintain that records managers need the following from agency IT organizations, including:

  • Information on how the IT organization plans to phase-in the capture of electronic records, including which types of records will be captured first, and which will be added later.
  • Whether the agency has determined where an electronic records repository should reside, and who will be responsible for maintaining it. Management of agency electronic records repositories will require a clear delineation of IT and RM responsibilities.
  • How the agency plans to address cultural changes associated with electronic records is also important. RM and IT staffs must gain a mutual understanding of workforce skill levels and processes. Left unaddressed, NARA maintains, “Cultural issues can derail any technological solution.”2 Because cultural issues and RM knowledge levels vary dramatically by agency, it’s important to utilize focus groups, prototyping and pilot testing in system design to help diminish potential problems.
  • Whether an electronic records solution provides criteria for identifying each type of user, (contributor, coordinator or consumer) and how each type of user will be trained.
  • Whether an electronic records implementation plan is sufficiently funded and possesses enough resources to succeed, remains key. Time, money and the right combination of skills are needed to effectively migrate any agency to electronic records. Also, agencies must find a way to prepare for upgrades and future changes in technologies.
  • How terminology differences between RM and IT should be resolved to gain consensus. Even the word “record” is a problematic term, NARA officials concede.3 IT defines a record as a collection of data items (also called fields), which contain information about a specific subject or activity. To an RM executive, a record is “any book, paper, map, photograph, database record, email message, image, or other documentary material, regardless of physical form or characteristics, that is made or received by a federal agency and is evidence of the organization’s activities or has informational value.” Due to differing lexicons, some guidance is available from NARA at:

What It must learn about RM

Most pressingly, IT needs assistance from RM to know how to sort and organize records to determine what can be discarded, and what must be kept for the long term. The Gartner Group defines information governance as “the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to ensure appropriate behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archiving and deletion of information. It includes the processes, roles and policies, standards and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.”4

What most agency IT executives may not fully realize is the degree to which records managers can help the agency better achieve information management goals. Indeed, the initial storage hardware and software investment makes up only a small part of the total costs associated with retaining information. It’s the application and infrastructure costs that continue to rise, and are recurring. At the same time, most organizations have dozens, if not hundreds of redundant applications that may remain active solely because it’s difficult for IT to understand the specific legal, regulatory or operational requirements of that application’s data

Improving IT/RM Collaboration

There are several additional market drivers that show why IT and RM professionals must find a way to work together. As exponential growth of records is inevitable, NARA, along with much of the rest of the federal government, is quickly becoming “space-constrained.” The goals of the Administration’s “Freeze the Footprint” initiative5 will force records managers and IT staff to seek alternate solutions that will allow agencies to keep pace with growing records storage requirements. IT storage expertise and RM skills will be needed to ensure government records are fully protected, available and stored for the proper duration, as mandated by federal oversight organizations.

In addition, selecting the right tools and services now and in the future will require a strong combination of RM and IT skills and expertise. For example, determining how and when to outsource information asset management, including if and when it makes sense to outsource from a cost and efficiency perspective, will require both IT and RM input and analysis. Only through closer relations between IT and RM will agencies gain the ability to select the right partners to aid in improving each agency’s information asset management goals.

Agencies should work to establish performance goals for records management, much like IT performance goals. Those RM goals should be “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound,” as NARA reports in the latest self-assessment survey. And similar to agency continuity of operations planning (COOP), NARA recommends agencies should conduct risk assessments of records management to identify what internal controls are necessary, and regularly monitor and test those controls to ensure their efficacy.

Conclusion: No more DO-IT yourself approach

Rewards of closer IT/RM Relations

By improving interactions, and fostering open communications between IT and RM professionals, government institutions can expect to better manage records, redefine processes and re-tool RM efficiencies, to fulfill key mission requirements and deliver better constituent services. Via working IT/RM relations, government organizations will also learn how and when to turn to outside experts to assist with RM and long-term storage requirements, and how to keep pace with looming federal compliance deadlines. This way, IT and RM officials can avoid overloading current IT and RM staff who may lack the time and/or ability to handle exploding records management and storage requirements. One of the biggest challenges cited by federal IT and RM executives in the Meritalk survey is the overuse of a DIY approach for RM. More than 60 percent of federal records managers currently use in-house systems, which are often less than effective, since federal finance professionals say problems with managing records are hindering agency operations. By working closely together, IT and RM executives will gain the ability to better leverage tools and expertise available internally and through external partners, including Iron Mountain, to help meet mandated RM goals, now and in the future.

1 March 2013:
2 2012 Federal Agency Self Assessment.
3 Ibid.