Sue Trombley (Tom Kates/ / Courtesy of Iron Mountain Consulting)
In his first day in office, President Obama signed the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for a new era of open and accountable government.
“My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.” — President Obama, Jan. 21, 2009
In today’s increasingly digital world, it is vital that the American public has access to all appropriate federal government communications to improve transparency and increase trust. Yet, five years after the president’s commitment, the government has yet to effectively and safely create this level of openness. Given that the federal government is now the single largest producer, collector, consumer and disseminator of information in the U.S., there is no doubt that it’s time to review policies and procedures of information communication and dissemination to determine a real-time approach to information management.
Though “going digital” produces a number of benefits, it doesn’t mean everything should or can be converted to digital. For example, a benefit of imaging printed information, according to a 2012 study by IDC Government Insights, is employees would gain 51 minutes per day, increasing productivity substantially. However, many government records still exist in paper format today for various reasons, including regulatory requirements, legacy storage practices and inadequate budgets, lack of resources or work flows to support digital migration at this time, or simply because the content isn’t of value to the public. Keeping track of these vital paper records is just as important as going digital, as these records are essential in providing for a truly open government. What the federal government really needs is a hybrid approach.
A hybrid approach to information management, or supporting both digital and physical information, will increase the visibility and access to government information, regardless of its format or location. It will also reduce the time agencies spend to retrieve mission-critical data. Additionally, it can foster more robust collaboration across the government, making it more productive and efficient. But, how should agencies create a hybrid management approach to information modernization? Start by following these five steps:
Collaboration. Determine the staffing and governance of your organization to know who is ultimately responsible for intra- and interagency information management. This will eliminate confusion, establish collaboration and accountability, and create a common goal for those responsible.
Governance. Understand agency priorities and ensure compliance. Determine what information is vital to meet compliance and legal requirements to identify which records to keep, digitize and/or destroy.
Management. Enlist the help of a key management stakeholder, who will function as a strategic business partner to legal, IT, compliance, Freedom of Information Act officers and more, to determine appropriate information governance practices.
Education. Train staff on the key aspects and benefits of records management — including record definitions, retention, disaster recovery and information access. Additionally, continually communicate the necessity and value of compliance while speaking to the productivity gains captured through streamlined records management policies.
Accountability. Exercise accountability by establishing a consistent audit and maintenance routine and developing a roadmap for meeting deadlines and ensuring compliance. Measuring successes through benchmarks and improvement goals will keep programs on track.
As federal agencies work to meet the needs set forth by the memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, they should take into consideration a hybrid approach to records management, which includes digitization, migration and improved paper processes. By mixing the right elements of physical and digital management of records, agencies will achieve the best outcomes for efficiency, productivity and transparency.■
Sue Trombley, managing director of Thought Leadership at Iron Mountain, has more than 25 years of information governance consulting experience. She sits on the AIIM Board, the University of Texas at Austin School of Information Advisory Council, and is vice president of the Boston ARMA chapter.