Today, pretty much everything is going digital, including government information and documents. But for public agencies with outdated, hard copy records management systems, how do they handle demands to manage vast amounts of data and digitized documents?
It’s no easy task, but the implementation of an effective information governance strategy is critical to agency performance. Proper information governance and document management strategies can impact everything from FOIA requests to e-discovery initiatives – and it helps to build a more transparent and effective government.
High-profile incidences, such as allegations that the EPA made it more difficult for conservative groups to obtain information, have illustrated that mismanaging or failing to produce public records can have serious repercussions. To navigate these challenges, we talked with Tom Kennedy, Director of the Public Sector Archiving and E-Discovery Team at Symantec, to get a better idea about where to start and how to frame your public agency’s information governance strategy.
“There are two main drivers that are pushing agencies towards improved information governance strategies,” explained Kennedy. “The first is the fact that the government is held to a higher standard than ever before, everything they do is for the taxpayer and everything needs to be completely transparent with their business. The second driver is that now there have been many policies and mandates coming out of the White House, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and Office of Management and Budget (OMB), that are emphasizing the importance of properly managing records.”
In moving to a truly digital world, though, agencies will encounter a fair amount of obstacles. “One of the challenges is that records management is a really broad term,” said Kennedy. “If you look at it and go to the grassroots of records management, it truly is document management. The world is changing and pretty much all documentation is moving to electronic format, but our government still has a ton of hard copy documents as well.”
Agencies are also faced with inadequate funding to support information governance programs. While agencies often appreciate the mandates calling for more effective records management, they also need to see additional funding to support those mandates.
Additionally, information governance involves many different stakeholders and requires a full-team, collaborative effort. “On an IT project, there are a myriad of users of the data, and often, having clarity over who owns and can enforce the overall information strategy can be a challenge at times,” said Kennedy. To help with this, the OMB suggests that agencies designate one senior official to take the reins and help streamline the process.
A final roadblock is cultural resistance, where teams have trouble moving away from traditional processes (the Federal Records Act has been around since 1950, after all, and is largely intact today). But the key for organizations is to express how improved information governance can lead to more effective workforces, and make the jobs of employees easier by automating tasks.
If your agency is still using print-and-file methods, it’s time to leverage technology to improve how you manage your information. “Sometimes a challenge is just knowing where to start, which can be an overwhelming issue for government, especially with so many different sources of data,” said Kennedy.
Kennedy suggests starting small and breaking down the process into digestible chunks of the larger end-goal. Understanding your agency’s final objective is critical so you can build on the successes of each smaller goal and measure your progress towards completion.
For information governance, Kennedy said the end goal should be a system that can manage, secure and discover records. He emphasized the importance of “…not just being able to retain, but also recalling [records] efficiently.”
Another key feature of any information governance strategy is the ability to automate some of these business processes. For example, Kennedy worked with one government agency that retained all of their documents. Automation can delete unnecessary files when they’re no longer needed (called “defensible deletion”), which makes managing your records easier and significantly reduces storage costs.
Symantec has a suite of products to improve information governance, ranging from things as simple as enforcing a retention policy to advanced analytics (helping understand what you have) all the way through the discovery process (collect documents, analyze them, filter them down, and produce the relevant ones). Symantec also integrates their services across these products to improve the process for the whole information governance life-cycle.
As more agencies move to digital, it is essential to deploy solutions that properly manage information and documents. With effective solutions such as those from Symantec, your agency can generate cost savings, increase organizational performance, and maintain compliance with public records requests – keeping you out of sticky legal situations.