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Thoughts on this week’s Presidential Memorandum on Records Management

The White House on Records Management: ‘We Can’t Wait’

“Records management can’t wait,” President Barack Obama told the federal government agencies yesterday, via presidential memorandum. It’s likely the federal government could learn a lot from state and local government agencies who have already embraced records management. Maybe you can, too.

The president hopes to transform federal agencies and create more transparency. How this will happen is captured in a White House blog post titled “We Can’t Wait: Bringing Records Management into the Twenty-First Century.”

It is a great post, but I believe it’s possible many readers will overlook a small – but important – phrase:

“…The [Records Management] Directive will focus on maintaining accountability to the American public through documenting agency actions; increasing efficiency (and thus reducing costs); and switching, where feasible, from paper-based records to electronic records.

In those few words highlighted above, the enterprise content management (ECM) community rejoices. Why? Because ECM is a valuable tool for government, and it is an investment that should be made at every level of government, even in this time of severe budget reductions.

You see, the flexibility of a good ECM solution means the solution can become a tool for many government departments and initiatives. Understanding this, thousands of cities and counties across the country have already embraced electronic records and ECM, and have used the solution to meet a number of needs. We can see the result:

  • Reduced costs. From eliminating paper and file cabinets to the costs of storing and moving files.
  • Reclaiming staff time. No more searching for files, no lost documents, no filing, printing or photocopying.
  • Speeding up government. Workflow automation shaves days off of processes; physical paper files replaced with electronic allow more staff to simultaneously access information.
  • Connecting documents and data. Easy information retrieval helps make the transition from paper files to electronic records easy and intuitive for users, and requires little or no staff training.

At the same time, the ECM investment lays the foundation for meeting transparency and open government initiatives, while realizing all of the lowered costs and efficiency government organizations need to survive. So, access to records can take place through a website or a kiosk or a computer station at an office, improving constituent service while reducing the staff time needed to fill requests.

The good news for federal agencies is that they need look no farther than the counties and cities who have invested in an ECM solution. Other counties and cities who are considering an ECM solution can similarly find ideas and proven value thanks to the examples of their peers.

Current government ECM users show that creating transparency is just one of the benefits of moving to electronic records. So, while federal agencies may make this transition to meet a presidential memorandum on Open Government, their efforts could end up improving government operations, reducing costs and reclaiming staff time for the important work they do. The proof is in the results of cities and counties who have already moved to include ECM as one of their IT tools.

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