Are Agencies Up to the Task of Managing Electronic Records?
New findings show no lack of vision, but a shortage of corresponding skill sets.
On Dec. 31, federal agencies will be taking a huge step forward in creating a modernized system for 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 Dec. 31, 2019. This milestone is important because agencies can leverage these changes to better respond to Freedom of Information Act 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 percent 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 the responsibilities and expectations that will be required of information management professionals as data continues to grow and evolve over the coming years.
Where We Are Now
A new Iron Mountain 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 gaps could 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?
In the survey, agency respondents said their top priorities were:
- Meeting initiatives to manage information beyond records (46%)
- Automating retention and classifications (26%)
- Managing paper and digital records in one place (26%)
- Reducing the footprint of physical records (24%)
The primary in-demand skills among agency respondents were:
- Information security and access control (56%)
- Data quality management, data cleansing and migration (39%)
- Analytics, data sourcing and integration (39%)
- 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 putting agencies “at risk of losing records, not having them available for business needs, and allegations of unauthorized destruction.” According to the survey, 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 simplifying the process for maintaining up-to-date retention schedules, mitigating risks associated with improper access or removal of unnecessary information and removing manual processes. In addition, they assist with the consolidation of paper and digital records, reduce the physical records footprint and create a uniform classification and tagging scheme.
A Digital Divide
Although agency respondents clearly believed the future of federal information management is automation, compliance and accessibility, they also indicated 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 (it was named as the third most in-demand capability, with 39 percent of respondents indicating a need for the technology), agencies do not necessarily have the corresponding skill sets in their workforces.
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 percent) and taxonomy and metadata management (6 percent) skills, both of which trended towards the bottom half of in-demand technical skills. In contrast to the low levels of interest in these skills, they are among the most important for agencies looking to achieve automation and data analysis – both key components 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 a single 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, and create appropriate tools to holistically manage information assets, regardless of format or location.
Although federal agencies have made great progress in reaching the digital era of information management, there is still much ground to cover before agencies are ready for a truly automated generation. This will include evaluating up-and-coming talent, as well as a training regime suitable for future requirements. By being able to leverage 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 lies in arming information managers with the skills necessary to make that happen.
April Chen is a senior product manager at Iron Mountain.
Photo: Flickr user justgrimes