I’ve never fully agreed with the saying, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” To me, that’s sending the wrong message. I’m all about setting the tone from the get-go.
While I agree that the finished product is the most important, it’s how you start something that can directly determine its success – or even if you make it to the finish line. That’s why track and field runners try to get off the blocks first and jockeys are so focused on where they stand out of the gate. The sports clichés can go on forever.
In records management, there’s no pithy turn-of-phrase or sports metaphor that highlights the importance of a program’s early stages. All we have to go on is the old saying, “start off on the right foot.” That’ll do the trick just fine.
The launch phase of a records management program is an extremely important process for any organization looking to better synthesize with the information they produce. With paper records overflowing from cardboard boxes and filing cabinets, a storage strategy is essential to keeping it all straight and properly maintained.
At the moment, nowhere is this more evident than among U.S. government agencies.
Since the end of November, many federal organizations have been grappling with exactly how they are going to comply with President Obama’s government-wide mandate requiring them to revise their records management processes and the role played by electronically stored information.
Demonstrating the urgency with which the president wants organizations to address these issues, Obama devised a four-month timeframe for department heads to devise and present an action plan for how they will go about modernizing and reducing the costs their records management program.
That’s why it’s so important for government records managers to follow key steps to get off the line (there’s another one of those sports clichés) as quickly as possible in determine a best strategy and make recommendations for improvement.
Take the mission into account
The aim of each individual organization will be different. For example, the Department of Defense’s top goal is to uphold national security, while the Department of Agriculture has vastly different considerations. The mission and overriding goals of the agency will directly effect how they go about complying with Obama’s mandate, including how records will be stored, in what format and how accessible they need to be.
Audit Stored Records
It’s always good to know what you’re working with before launching into a records management overhaul. By auditing records, the government will get a better idea of what they have, what documents are varying degrees of sensitive, what needs to be kept, and what can be destroyed.
Identify a Risk Profile
Each government organization also has specific risks to think about. We’re not just talking about the threat of data leaks, breaches and accidental exposure. While all of those can be damaging in their own right, there are other risk factors to consider, including regulations. Compliance is essential for any organization.
Between the requirements contained in 36 Code of Federal Regulations Part 1234, enforced by the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Continuity of Operations Planning mandate, government organizations have much to think about when storing records and meeting compliance. There are also numerous other agency-specific requirements, as well.
Determine a Best Approach
With the new mandate, the Obama administration is looking to promote holistic records management across the federal government. Doing so will require individual organizations to take an approach that best fits their information needs and processes.
What works for one department or division, may not be good for another. So each needs to determine what among its records needs to be addressed. That could mean digitizing some, while keeping others in physical form or going through and destroying what is no longer needed so that challenges can be cleared up.
Communicate the Plan
Once a strategy has been devised and the records management plan has been set in motion, the effort is not fully complete. The final step is for project leaders to communicate the needs and records storage processes out to stakeholders. Only when front-line employees, information producers, and records managers are aware of a strategy, can it truly be carried out to its fullest potential.
- Responding to President Obama’s Memorandum on Government Records: 5 Steps to Get You There
- Managing Government Records: What Federal Records Managers Can Learn From the Private Sector
- Federal Mandate: Presidential Memorandum – Managing Government Records
- Ten Steps to Cost-Effective Government Information Management
- How Long is Long Enough: Records Retention and Your Agency