Planning for and dealing with administrative change in the digital environment – practical tips and strategies August 15, 2013

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Last week the members of the EDRMS Implementers Discussion Group met to talk about administrative change. Many of the members work in large government agencies subject to regular administrative change – functions coming and going, agencies being merged into single organisations and then separated again etc.

These types of changes will have an impact on an organisation’s recordkeeping:

  • If a function is transferred to another NSW government agency, how will the original agency identify the records which should be transferred in support of the function?
  • If two or more agencies are combined into one, and each has their own electronic document and records management system (EDRMS), should all areas of the organisation be migrated onto a single system? Or should different business units continue using the system with which they are familiar?
  • If digital records are transferred to another agency as a result of administrative change they will likely be copied – what should the original agency do with the ‘originals’ after transfer?

As always, the discussion was fascinating with members sharing strategies that have worked for their organisations and the decisions that were made.

Some of my agency’s functions have been transferred to another agency – how do we determine which records should be transferred to the new agency?

One member, who works for an organisation that has experienced extensive administrative change over the last 10 years, described the practices which his organisation has put in place to facilitate the transfer of records to other agencies when functions are transferred. This member talked about the valuable information contained in administrative orders, which detail legislative changes and changes to an agency’s functions. This member explained that it is often possible to map the functions listed in an administrative order to the business classification scheme (BCS) in an EDRMS to identify records documenting/supporting the functions which may need to be transferred to the agency taking over responsibility for the functions.

My agency now has several different EDRMS in use – should we support them all? Or choose one and move all areas of the organisation onto a single EDRMS?

One member talked about the situation in their organisation where several agencies have been combined into a single new agency:

  • Each agency was using the same EDRMS, but had implemented different versions. These versions don’t ‘talk’ to each other.
  • Each agency also had their own retention and disposal authority and BCS.
  • Each agency had their own business rules establishing the points at which records were captured into the EDRMS. Some of these worked well and had significant user acceptance.

The new agency is now in the process of making some decisions about its digital recordkeeping environment. Should all areas of the organisation be migrated to the most up-to-date version of the EDRMS? How can different BCS be incorporated into a single system? Should the ‘best’ business rules be rolled out organisation-wide, or should new business rules be developed for the new agency (bearing in mind that the business needs of each area of the organisation may differ widely and a ‘one size fits all’ approach may not work)?

State Records is aware of a large NSW government agency (consisting of a number of formerly separate agencies combined into a single organisation) that decided to migrate all areas of the organisation to a single version of the most commonly implemented EDRMS. However due to licensing considerations, this resulted in some areas of the organisation having to ‘go backwards’ (i.e. downgrade from a more recent version of the EDRMS to an earlier version). This required the agency to develop complex mappings and understandings of system functionality (e.g. barcodes, workflows, document tracking etc.) and undertake system testing to determine whether specific functionality would continue to work in the earlier version. If some system functionality can no longer be supported, the efficiency and effectiveness of existing business processes can be impaired.

Other members talked about their organisation’s experiences where, as a result of administrative change, different areas of the organisation use different EDRMS. One organisation decided to move all areas from their existing EDRMS onto a single EDRMS, as none of the areas had mature digital recordkeeping systems or processes. In this case, administrative change presented an opportunity to transition all areas of the organisation to a digital recordkeeping environment.

Even when agencies have implemented the same version of the same EDRMS, they may have configured them differently to meet particular business needs. This can make it very difficult to establish a single system across the new agency, and it may not be possible to accommodate all business needs in a single, merged system.

More administrative change is inevitable – how can we be as prepared as possible?

When administrative change occurs, there is often little time to undertake strategic planning – the changes usually need to be implemented immediately. Two of the members described the strategies implemented by their organisation to be as prepared as possible for administrative change:

  • The organisation maintains a register of recordkeeping tools (e.g. BCS, retention and disposal authorities) and recordkeeping systems (e.g. EDRMS) in use within the organisation.
  • The organisation also maintains information about historic recordkeeping practices, including the ways in which previous recordkeeping systems were configured.
  • Although the organisation has a single EDRMS, different areas of the organisation can have their own dataset – access is controlled using caveats.
  • The organisation’s EDRMS includes metadata fields to document provenance (documenting former agencies is considered vital).

With digital records, it is also very important to have the records in importable/exportable formats prior to administrative change.

Records should follow function – but what do we do with ‘original’ digital records after copies have been provided to another agency?

As a general rule, a key principle to be observed when a function is transferred to another agency is that records relating to the function should also be transferred. This will assist the successor agency to manage the function effectively and with as little disruption as possible.

In a paper-based recordkeeping environment, the transfer of records generally involves the transfer of the original paper records. The original agency may choose to retain copies of certain records to meet ongoing business needs.

However, as one of the members of the Group noted, the transfer of digital records will generally always involve the copying or migration of records. This means that the original agency will continue to hold the records after they have been ‘transferred’ to the new agency. While this might be appropriate in certain circumstances where both agencies have an identified need for ongoing access to the records for business purposes, formal agreements should document which agency is the primary custodian (and therefore responsible agency) for the records to facilitate managing access. If the original agency does not require ongoing access to the records for business purposes, it should consider strategies for ensuring that ‘original’ records are eventually disposed of after copying/migration.

Has your organisation developed strategies to deal with administrative change in the digital environment? We’d love to know!

State Records is currently expanding its advice on managing records in administrative change to capture the lessons learned by agencies following recent extensive administrative change across NSW government. This extended advice will examine in greater detail some of the technological challenges posed by administrative change.

Has you organisation developed particular strategies to deal with administrative change? Would you be willing to share the lessons learned, supporting documentation etc.? If so, we would love to hear from you – please email us at govrec@records.nsw.gov.au.

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