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E-records management moves up the state CIO agenda

As the business of running a state government moves increasingly to electronic form, e-records management moves up the CIO agenda. NASCIO offers help as well as firsthand accounts from state CIOs.

Washington state CIO Gary Robinson is developing an email archiving system to speed up the state's response time for public and legal discovery requests. The system, which uses standard rule sets, also includes analytics that focus on the content of emails and look for patterns of relationships, rather than words.

In Oregon, the state's CIO Council put one of its CoPs -- or "Communities of Practices" -- on the electronic records beat. CoPs are collaborative groups of experts and stakeholders statewide appointed to study specific areas of government and to hammer out common enterprise approaches to improve each area.

In order to make a business case to the state for a new approach to managing e-records, Minnesota CIO Gopal Khanna surveyed stakeholders, including citizen interest groups, and studied how other states dealt with e-records.

Managing e-records has jumped to the top of the state CIO's agenda, Robinson said.

"It is a priority for state chief information officers around the country and I would say not only for chief information officers within the public sector but also the private sector," Robinson said. The state of Washington spends about $900 million a year on computing. His department has a budget of $160 million.

"Part of the motivation certainly is that many organizations are both collecting and storing records in electronic format. Volume of electronic records is increasing for all organizations and many of the records that organizations may have been storing in printed format now are only available in electronic format," Robinson said. "We, like many jurisdictions, are now devoting attention to the storage and retrieval of the records, so ensuring we can be responsive to our service responsibilities."

State business increasingly is conducted over email and the Internet and on computer systems that create the original documents in electronic format. The multiple email systems and data centers that populate state agencies are coalescing as many states move to shared IT services, making a coherent e-records policy imperative. Web 2.0 collaboration tools that document state business add another wrinkle to the question of which records, however transitory, need to be preserved. Recent amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure regarding the discovery of electronic records in litigation add yet more urgency to the need for a technology and policy strategy for record keeping.

State CIOs live by the principle a "record is a record" no matter the format, said Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). But with the proliferation of electronic records, that principle is being put to the test in a big way.

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To help CIOs with an issue that has rapidly become a high priority, an NASCIO working group has issued a set of best practices for electronic records management. According to Robinson, the practices should be of use to corporate CIOs as well. Here are some of the highlights:

Set up a governance structure for managing and preserving e-records.

A successful governance structure will recognize that managing e-records cuts across state agency borders and the cost should be shared between the business and the IT side of state government.

There are many stakeholders in any effort to rationalize e-records. Many agencies manage their own e-records, including the technology for retaining, storing and deleting those records, the NASCIO working group discovered. So states should count on having to deal with a disparate set of records retention laws, schedules, technology tools and policies. Making sense of all this will require a statewide, or enterprise-wide, collaborative process. While CIOs can offer a big-picture perspective on technology's role in e-records management, a governance structure will reflect the expertise of many kinds of records managers, from state archivists and lawyers to the individual agencies.

Understand that a formal, enterprise-wide e-records policy requires substantial investment in staff and technology.

NASCIO advises CIOs to explore "innovative ways" to fund e-records efforts. A 2003 report on innovative state funding and financing is being updated. Options for e-records programs include: bonds, fee-for-service revenue, investment funds, grants and public-private partnerships.

CIOs should be prepared to make the case that improving e-records management across the state will lead to a reduction in risk and liability, as well as the cost of maintaining proprietary or standalone systems.

Build a framework for action.

Once a governance structure is in place, take inventory of the current state of e-records. "It is only through determining the 'as is' environment that states can create a vision of their 'to-be' or target e-records environment and then take steps to make that vision a reality," NASCIO notes.

Scope the project realistically.

Minnesota's research into other state efforts found that broad efforts tended to fail, in part because they did not recognize the value of specific records: Some government information is more valuable than other information, so it is important to set priorities. That requires a through review of your state's records retention laws and schedules, with the caveat that records retention schedules typically do not classify records according to their form or media but by content.

In the electronic world, it is also not unusual to have multiple copies of the same record and for that record to be sent, likely by email, to others. Be prepared to deal with questions about who owns the document and whether email transmission of the record affects its retention period.

Apply technology.

Once the records retention schedules are synched up with agency needs, explore how technology can facilitate the management and storage of e-records. Keep in mind that technology evolves rapidly, rendering computer equipment, software and file formats obsolete. E-record formats may change and even become unreadable, electronic objects can be subject to undetectable changes, and some document management systems do not preserve the integrity of the record over time, NASCIO warns.

Train, train, train.

State employees and even contractors will need to learn the new policies and procedures that come with an enterprise-wide e-records system. The training should include an overview of the issues and challenges regarding the management of government e-records, as well as the nitty-gritty. Don't omit how the records retention policy applies to instant messages, chat rooms or devices such as personal digital assistants.

Protect e-records from harm.

Catastrophic events such as this year's Iowa floods or Hurricane Katrina point to why it's important to protect essential records, which increasingly are e-records. CIOs and other state technology agencies must participate in the discussion of how to safeguard their states' records.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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