Records Management: You Gotta Take Your Medicine

There are some really foul-tasting medicines out there – malaria pills and cough syrup especially come to mind. But even though it’s no fun to take your medicine, it helps, and it’s much better than being sick. Who actually wants malaria?

Records management, like medicine, is not the most exciting thing, but it’s absolutely necessary for the federal government considering how many records it generates – and so it’s critical that this information is kept organized. Right now, the challenge for the government is transitioning from paper to digital records.

To address this issue, several nonprofits recently announced the formation of a group called the Coalition for Public Sector Information Governance Leadership to provide assistance to the federal government in modernizing their records management systems. Liz Icenogle, one of the records management experts involved in the new coalition, spoke with Christopher Dorobek for the DorobekINSIDER about how they’ll tackle the federal government’s records. Icenogle is the Director of Government Affairs at ARMA International, a membership association concentrating on information management.

According to Icenogle, one of the most difficult challenges of records management is its reputation. It’s seen as both boring and as a non-priority, so it’s often ignored or postponed. “But if you continue to ignore [record management] and pretend as though it’s something that’s not important and necessary for business continuity, then you’ll find yourself in a lot of trouble,” she said. “It’s not the sexiest topic, but it’s one of those foundational elements that makes an organization healthy.”

President Obama has mandated that all records in federal agencies must be managed electronically by 2019. But this massive transition to electronic records is, according to Icenogle, a “huge undertaking.” Records management is in fact a complicated task – a wide variety of skillsets are needed, meaning it can’t just be the job of one or two unlucky federal workers within each agency.

Most importantly, according to Icenogle, records should be looked at holistically. Information should be systematically managed and implemented throughout the government, for the greatest reach and benefit.

But what does that actually look like?

“You have to look at the information coming into your enterprise holistically, and understand what is good information to keep, how long to keep it, what kind of access you’re going to need, how long to keep it, determining its lifecycle and be able to dispose of it in a way that is safe and secure,” explained Icenogle.

So how will this tremendous task be completed? This is where the newly formed Coalition for Public Sector Information Governance Leadership comes in – to help the government in the transition to electronic records.

The coalition will be educating federal workers on the importance of records management and how it should best be implemented in their organization, based upon that particular agency’s needs and goals.

“Their needs are so vastly different,” Icenogle explained. “We’re going to try and help bring all those who are managing the information together and help them find some common themes, or just help them work through how they’re going to acquire new technology, and what that technology needs to look like.”

They’ll also be working closely with the National Archives and Records Administration, who will be helping provide the agencies with the information they need to complete their transition to electronic records.

The government clearly has a very large dose of cough syrup awaiting it. The sooner they grin, bear it, and digitize their records, the sooner they’ll be able to function more efficiently.

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