Why its Crucial to Start Unifying Physical and Electronic Records Now

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Unifying the record management process is not just about indexing and filing records in a legally compliant fashion. Instead, agencies know it also involves facilitating the ability to locate and review information in order to make faster, more efficient decisions. In turn, agencies recognize that a solid management process empowers them to achieve their goals.

Federal agencies have reached an information management ‘tipping point.’ The Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records, in addition to the ‘Freeze the Footprint’ mandate, FOIA and information-centered initiatives such as the Open Data Policy, have provided federal organizations with a new set of challenging guidelines for putting records in order.

These mandates — combined with the explosive growth of electronic records — are driving federal agencies to seek solutions that can unify the management of both physical and electronic documents. According to industry research, the amount of data being created and stored by organizations is doubling every two years, despite having already reached staggering proportions.1 In today’s day and age, humans are creating as much data every ten minutes as was amassed by all of mankind from the beginning of recorded time through to 2003.2

For many organizations, the challenges of information management seem overwhelming. Federal agencies are trying to balance ever-expanding record volumes against flat or shrinking budgets, while simultaneously racing to meet mandates that require a fundamental shift in how information is stored, accessed and managed. There is also an understanding that unifying the record management process is not just about indexing and filing records in a legally compliant fashion. Instead, agencies know it also involves facilitating the ability to locate and review information in order to make faster, more efficient decisions. In turn, they recognize that a solid management process empowers them to achieve their goals.

At the same time, most government organizations also fully understand that digitizing everything is neither fiscally responsible nor practically viable. They realize that managing both paper and digital records in a unified framework makes the most sense, from both a fundamental and an economic perspective. Agencies therefore know that marrying these two types of records under a single information governance plan is crucial to meeting federally mandated goals.

Federal records and information management

Fewer than 1 in 5 federal records management professionals say they are completely prepared to handle the growing volume, velocity and variety of federal records.

A majority of those surveyed also cited a need for more training and budgetary dollars to help agencies meet federally-mandated records management objectives.

92% of respondents believe their agency must take further steps to meet the Presidential Directive deadlines.

46% Despite the advantages of the Presidential Directive, nearly half (46%) either do not believe or are unsure if the deadlines are realistic or obtainable.5

Such a unified approach can allow organizations to apply consistent policy management and enforcement to all records agency-wide, no matter where these records may be located, what format they may take or how they were initially created. According to agency respondents surveyed in NARA’s latest self-assessment report, policy enforcement could indeed be made easier if all records were combined under a single set of procedures and a streamlined management oversight system.3

Although federal agencies are now required to get their records management processes under control, fewer than 1 in 5 records management professionals surveyed in late 2013 reported being completely prepared to handle the growing volume, velocity and variety of federal records. Instead, according to the results of a MeriTalk survey of 100 federal records and information management professionals, almost half (46%) of respondents were either unsure of or did not believe in their ability to see the Presidential Directive goals as realistic or obtainable. Not surprisingly, a majority of those surveyed also cited a need for more training and budgetary dollars to help agencies meet federally mandated records management objectives.4

Major Deadlines Within the Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records


All records must be inventoried to ensure permanent records more than 30 years old are reported to NARA, and all unscheduled records stored at NARA must be identified as well.


Plans must be developed and implemented to transition necessary permanent records to digital formats.


Records Management (RM) training must be established to inform employees of the new responsibilities, policies and laws.


Enterprise content management plans must be built out to ensure electronic transfer to NARA’s Electronic Records Archives (ERA) when ready.


Both permanent and temporary email records must be managed in an accessible electronic format.


All electronic permanent records must be stored/managed in electronic format.


Ongoing requirements call for RM to be incorporated into cloud strategies and solutions at some point in the future.


Digital records growth:

One big challenge agencies face in unifying information management is coming to terms with the rapid growth of electronic records. If such records are not tagged properly, they multiply and continue to create headaches, particularly when there is a FOIA or e-Discovery request in place or if some other regulatory compliance practice is required.

Understanding the impact of social media:

Government agencies are similarly burdened by the more specific growth of social media and the inherent changes to information management such growth can cause. Just a few years ago, industry surveys indicated that up to 50% of managers were unaware their organizations were legally liable for social media content. Yet the bottom line is: they are.

Deciphering who’s in charge:

This is where management and cultural issues come into play. The IT department may be in charge of storing electronic records, but it may not necessarily be in charge of compliance or policy management. IT and RM executives must therefore work together to establish their proper roles in achieving both consistent compliance and the modernization of key RM processes.

Managing legacy records:

A unified approach can also help agencies address the management and disposal of retired paper records. With unification, the agency in question is required to inventory and benchmark its information assets, regardless of the format or location of its records, thus allowing for easy access and retrieval. This unified effort can also help determine which paper records to digitize and which to keep in paper form.

Why Unify Records Now?

While the concept of unified records management is not new, the pressure to achieve unification has intensified in recent years. This is largely due to the current administration’s ongoing efforts to promote greater transparency and better information oversight. In addition, key deadlines intended to drive agencies towards the digitization and streamlining of records management practices are already upon us. In fact, the mandatory first step, a deadline requiring agencies to identify all permanent records in existence for more than 30 years, already passed us on Dec. 31, 2013. According to a December 2013 MeriTalk survey, just over half (54%) of records managers expected to able to meet this first major requirement on that date. What’s more, 92% of respondents believed their agencies must take extra measures to meet the directive deadlines. Yet the longer agencies delay in getting started, the more difficult it will be to keep pace with continually evolving federal mandates.

For federal agencies today, one of the biggest challenges implicit in unifying information is the building of a solid foundation — a foundation that starts with establishing a single, consistent system of record. On the next page are steps for getting started.

Benefits of Unified Records Management

By deploying a comprehensive unified solution to address records management, agency records officers and IT professionals gain the ability to:

  • Reduce risks inherent in managing information in multiple formats across a variety of locations for end users with different access needs.
  • Lower costs by reducing the total amount of data stored, and likewise by enabling records managers to make better, more informed decisions about which records to store in digital formats and which to store on paper.
  • Respond quickly and comprehensively to changes in FOIA and e-Discovery compliance requirements as they arise, resulting in reduced costs and reduced risks to the organization.

Reframing the Challenge

Much like the unification of physical records, the unification of electronic records is largely focused on improving the way in which key policies are applied. Many organizations in both the private and public sectors find that it’s helpful to re-apply the skills and knowledge gained from unifying physical documents when creating a new electronic system. While such cross-pollinating can be useful, Iron Mountain advises federal agencies to take a measured approach and suggests organizations keep in mind the innate differences between managing physical documents and overseeing digital records when creating an information management plan.

In reframing the challenges involved in unifying records management, agencies need to be able to:

  • Apply policies, retentions and holds uniformly across all record formats
  • Classify records of all types upon creation for efficiency, consistency and defensibility.
  • Enable users to find the records they need quickly and efficiently.
  • Speed up e-Discovery and FOIA searches using both an integrated platform and a system of reliably classified records.

A discussion guide for Records Unification

The following questions are designed to facilitate discussion among records managers, IT managers and compliance managers:

  1. When it comes to unifying our physical and electronic records, which of the following challenges present the biggest obstacles for our agency: explosive digital record growth, social media, unclear leadership or ownership, the managing of legacy records, or the application of an appropriate retention policy? Are there other challenges that present similar problems?
  2. What is the greatest benefit to be gained if we were to unify our records? How could this benefit be tangibly demonstrated to senior agency leadership?
  3. Do we already have enterprise content management systems that offer records management capabilities, and, if so, how are we currently employing them?
  4. What challenges have we encountered while trying to connect systems so they can share common policies?

Driving Operational Improvements

Unifying electronic and physical records can bring significant operational productivity to government institutions. Such productivity includes:

Improved agility:

By establishing a single policy to uniformly address both electronic and paper records, any organization can achieve economies of scale in training employees and in making adjustments to its policies. Why? Such practices and changes can now be rolled out at the same time across the entire organization. For Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP), each agency gains the ability to find and recover vital records when they are most needed.

Reduced risk:

With all records subject to the same policy management and enforcement, employees can become practiced at finding and accessing records as needed for FOIA, e-Discovery or other regulatory requirements. The potential costs of e-Discovery will decrease, as will the costs associated with finding, accessing and producing documents in a timely manner.

Improved defensibility:

By applying policies consistently to records of all types across the enterprise, federal agencies can have a much more defensible position for both legal holds and the destruction of records. According to Iron Mountain’s research, an impressive 60% of organizations reported having aligned governance policies for electronic and physical records, but only 33% reported an alignment on policy application for holds and destructions across all media types.6

Caring for all platforms:

The Iron Mountain® Federal Information Asset Framework is designed to help Federal IT and RM professionals gain control over the entire information management process, and leverages Iron Mountain proven services along with best-of-breed partnerships that integrate ECM and Cloud platform needs to create a program that allows for better access and search capabilities to speed E-Discovery, FOIA response and increased productivity overall for agencies in meeting their missions.

By 2019, federal agencies are required to manage all permanent electronic records in electronic format in order to achieve compliance with the Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records.


By 2019, federal agencies are required to manage all permanent electronic records in electronic format in order to achieve compliance with the Presidential Directive on Managing Government Records. During NARA’s Industry Day on September 11, 2013, officials estimated that only two to three percent of federal records should be considered permanent. Iron Mountain can help agencies digitize their mission critical permanent records, while helping to effectively manage the remaining 97% of records that fall into the “temporary” category.

To get the job done, agencies must start now. This is why Iron Mountain developed the Federal Information Asset Framework (please visit http://programs.ironmountain.com/content/IMNAFederalVirtualToolkit for more details).

With a comprehensive records management plan in place, agencies can expect to meet all pertinent directive deadlines and discover added savings. Such a plan can be implemented through careful review of current records management practices. This type of assessment aids agency leaders in achieving their buy-in on modernization while allowing them to work with industry partners to uncover cost savings for both physical and digital record management.

Iron Mountain is committed to applying a well-designed management methodology to empower federal agencies. We can help you unify current systems that collect and digitize records using a prudent conversion schedule to help prepare for Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system use.

By partnering with Iron Mountain, agencies gain the resources and expertise of the world’s leading records management provider. Iron Mountain can help design and execute the procedures necessary to store records in secure, environmentally controlled, CFR-compliant facilities. And, should disaster strike, agencies working with Iron Mountain can rest assured they will be able to retrieve vital information and implement Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) while continuing to serve constituents and meet mission objectives.

Iron Mountain stands ready to assist you and your organization as a trusted adviser for total records and information management unification. Regardless of your agency’s starting point within the framework — whether you need help determining which records to digitize, migrating to electronic records management or securing storage to maintain your agency’s vital information assets — Iron Mountain and our partners can help you transform your operations. This will empower you to effectively support the needs of your agency’s stakeholders and constituents alike and can help you fully address the records directive.

There is no better time to take action toward a unified information management plan. Visit http://programs.ironmountain.com/content/ IMNAFederalVirtualToolkit today.

1 “The Digital Universe in 2020: Big Data, Bigger Digital Shadows, and Biggest Growth in the Far East,” IDC, December 2012, 2 “Big Data or Too Much Information?” Smithsonian, May 7, 2012 US, 3 http://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/resources/self-assessment-2012.pdf MeriTalk, December 2013, 5 Ibid, 6 “Federal Records and Information Management: Ready to Rumble?” MeriTalk, December 2013.