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A State Archives and Records initiative for the NSW Government
Updated: 3 days 44 min ago

The business and recordkeeping benefits of digitising approval processes

14 February, 2018 - 10:17

The Digital Implementers Group met last week to talk about the ways in which NSW Government agencies have implemented electronic approvals (e-approvals). The group talked about the pros and cons of various applications and how digitising approval processes has benefits both for business AND recordkeeping.

Here is a summary of what the group said:

Paper-based processes are inefficient and don’t work in flexible workplaces

One member talked about how the inefficiency of paper-based approval processes drove the adoption of e-approvals. Employees kept losing paper approval forms, it took a long time to get things approved, it was difficult to track who had approved what and when, and documents related to an approval process were saved in random and multiple places.

In this organisation, the inefficiencies of the paper-based process resulted in organisational support for moving to e-approvals.

Another member commented that paper-based processes are doomed as organisations move to flexible and activity-based working. It won’t be possible to circulate pieces of paper around an organisation for sign-off when users are working at different times and in various locations.

The adoption of e-approvals presents opportunities to redesign and improve processes

One member commented that the digitisation of an approval process presents a good opportunity to re-examine the business purpose of the process and identify possible improvements. When digitising a process you need to consider the business objective, and not necessarily replicate the current process if it is inefficient or contains unnecessary steps.

Another member noted that their organisation has had e-approvals in place for a few years and it is now timely to re-examine the processes with a view to streamlining and improving them.

The use of e-approvals results in better recordkeeping

One member talked about how the implementation of e-approvals has dramatically increased the number of records captured in the corporate recordkeeping system. Because the e-approvals application is integrated with the organisation’s EDRMS and all documents as well as details of who approved what when are captured, recordkeeping is a by-product of using the application.

As well as increasing record capture rates, the use of e-approvals has also increased the visibility of the organisation’s EDRMS. Users know that if they want to refer to past approvals documentation it will be in the EDRMS.

For recordkeeping professionals in organisations without a strong recordkeeping culture, the use of e-approvals applications presents an opportunity to achieve recordkeeping by default. One member noted that they are aiming to use their e-approvals application for any process involving two or more users making a decision – this will ensure that records documenting organisational decision making are captured and kept in ways to support their ongoing accessibility and value.

E-approvals applications need to extend beyond organisational borders

Some of the members commented that the key disadvantage of their organisations’ existing e-approvals applications is the inability to involve external users in approval processes. In these organisations, approval processes can only get to a certain point electronically and documents must then be printed or otherwise exported to external approvers.

Approval processes can also be managed in business systems

One member noted that their organisation has numerous systems with approval functionality used by different business areas in support of various processes. These systems meet business needs, so there is no need to implement an additional application from the perspective of the business.

The group noted that such systems may have sufficient recordkeeping functionality for the records they capture and keep. Organisations can use the checklist for assessing business systems to determine this.

Another member noted that care must be taken when using action tracking software that users understand what ‘completing an action’ means (e.g. does completing an action equate to approval?) Outcomes for actions may not be complete and well defined.

Case studies

We have been talking about the recordkeeping benefits associated with digitising approval processes for some time:

  • In March 2017 Denise North shared the Public Service Commission’s experience in implementing an electronic approvals workflow system at the Records Managers Forum. You can listen to Denise’s presentation and see the accompanying slides here.
  • At the same event, Ann Turner, Chris Leeming, Jason Covell and Michael King shared their experiences on the completion of the OneTRIM project, including implementing MiniApp, a workflow tool for ministerial and executive records. You can listen to their presentation and see the accompanying slides here. Further information about MiniApp is included in our Q&A with Tim Hume on OneTRIM and our case study of the OneTRIM project.
  • In 2016 we published a case study describing the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s electronic approvals project. You can also listen to a presentation by Mitya Antoncic, Nadine Louis and Dave Phillips at the August 2015 Records Managers Forum and see the accompanying slides here.
  • We also published an infographic on six steps to e-approvals based on the experiences of the PSC and DPC.
photo by: striatic

Approaches to managing social media records with long-term retention periods

29 January, 2018 - 10:08

Government use of social media are many and varied, but in total, it is used to communicate and to engage the community regarding policies, new and existing services including service disruptions, and government projects / initiatives.

In our guidance “Strategies for managing social media records” we have enumerated various strategies depending on business needs and risks.

As social media platforms and technologies mature and offer more services, we recommend that agencies consider the approach of leaving social media records in its native platform or application as most of these records have short term retention requirements and the risks associated with the business are low.

We have identified some approaches on how to preserve social media records with long-term retention periods but you should only consider them if there is a business need to retain them on premise or if the records support high risk business processes.

Platform self-archiving service approach

The big social media players such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube provide ways of letting users download content shared which is great. However, this approach is still a manual process and does not offer wriggle room if further information or customisation is needed.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) approach

Another approach is the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) provided by social media platforms which enable access to raw social media data. This approach entails additional processing to reformat the social media data into a user-friendly format. Raw social media data are very useful though for research or information reuse purposes.

Social media archiving tool approach

The use of social media archiving tools is another approach used by some agencies. This approach seems promising as these tools claim that they enable agencies to comply with their various recordkeeping obligations including the State Records Act. However, the extent to which the tool performs archiving is based on the vendors’ definition of what archiving entails.

From a recordkeeping perspective below are some of the functional requirements we have identified that we’d want a social media archiving tool to have:

  • ability to capture all records in any social media platform which includes:
    • original social media posts, associated comments, likes/dislikes, hash tags, emojis and if needed, deleted posts or comments
    • embedded images, videos, files and links to other websites
  • ability to manage social media records captured, which includes ability to:
    • tag and capture user-assigned metadata to classify or group records
    • delete records
    • authorise deletion of records
    • identify which records need to be preserved
    • prevent alteration of captured social media records
    • manage access and security permissions
  • ability to capture metadata regarding the post, including process capture information such as timestamp and system information
  • ability to display social media records in human readable formats
  • ability to export records out of the system in various formats – json, xml, html, csv, pdf.

Most importantly the social media archiving tool should have a robust search capability.

The list above is not exhaustive and may not necessarily be required in every scenario, but it provides enough information to assess social media archiving tools against recordkeeping requirements.

For information on what strategies and tools to use to manage your social media records click here.

Please contact us if you want to share your social media recordkeeping pains or preservation strategies.

Records Managers Forum presentations now available on Future Proof

8 January, 2018 - 15:33

The presentations and podcasts from the Records Managers Forum held 11th December 2017 are now available on Future Proof.

State Archives and Records NSW uses the Forum to engage with public offices and to provide an opportunity for other NSW public sector organisations to share information about key initiatives or government programmes.

The Forum included presentations from:

  • Christine Boardman, Executive General Adjuster, Crawford Global Technical Services – “Damage – the Journey from Destruction to Recovery”
  • Dominique Mossou, Conservator, State Archives NSW – “Practical aspects of records recovery and conservation”
  • Richard Lehane, Glen Humphries and Malay Sharma from Digital Archives Team, State Archives NSW – “Machine learning and records management.”

In her presentation Christine Boardman provided a brief overview of the insurance industry, how they respond to losses in the public and private sector and what happens when there is a claim on material damage or consequential loss.

Dominique Moussou provided tips on how to prevent disaster from happening to records and what to do when it does happen.

Lastly, Richard Lehane, Glen Humphries and Malay Sharma from State Archives NSW’s Digital Archives team talked about machine learning and its potential application for records management, including the results of an in-house pilot on the application of machine learning to classification and appraisal of unstructured information.

You can find the presentations and podcasts here.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information on the presentations or if you have something to share with us.

Image Credit: Mushrooms by DIMTRX (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Review of the general authority for source records that have been migrated

19 December, 2017 - 11:52

Systems migration is a frequently occurring activity for any organisation that conducts its business digitally. And the ‘digital on the inside’ priority of the NSW Government Digital Strategy may be a driver for migration as agencies streamline their business processes and consolidate their legacy systems.

The general retention and disposal authority for source records that have been migrated (GA33) permits NSW public offices to destroy the source records remaining after a successful migration project, subject to certain conditions being met. We are currently reviewing this authority, and are seeking feedback from NSW public offices.

The current authority requires source records to be kept for a period of no less than six months after the success of the migration has been confirmed. Agencies have suggested that this mandatory minimum retention period is unnecessary for projects where the migration process has been relatively straightforward.

We are therefore considering removing the six month minimum retention period as a specific condition for destruction of source records. Instead, we are proposing that the authority will require the source records to be retained for a sufficient length of time after the migration to enable confirmation that the migration has been successful. Public offices will be responsible for determining an appropriate retention period, on a case by case or project by project basis, based on an assessment of risks associated with the business purposes of the records, size and complexity of the migration process etc.

We would appreciate comments regarding:

  • the proposed change
  • GA33 in general
  • any insights or experiences of public offices on the management of migration projects that could be used as examples to support the development of updated guidance.

Further information about the review and how to submit comments is available on our website.

photo by: USFWS Mountain Prairie

Recordkeeping FAQs – Using third party software for business transactions

18 December, 2017 - 09:29

Across the NSW public sector, organisations are using a variety of third party software to manage their business.

The recent NSW Auditor-General’s report into agency compliance with Government travel policies has highlighted some of the advantages and disadvantages with using third party software for business transactions.

Since September 2016, an approved private sector company has provided travel services to the NSW Government under a contract negotiated by the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. The software automatically captures key information fields and approval processes, and the Auditor-General has recommended use of the tool to avoid control weaknesses and allow better documentation of travel decisions. This is a good example of records creation and capture happening seamlessly behind the scenes, without additional steps required to make sure the process is accountable should questions arise.

This is important as records around approval of travel-related expenses are required to be retained for a minimum of 7 years after action completed or expiry of approval, including requests that are refused (see GA28, 15.2.1).

Our advice on accountable outsourcing notes the important role that the contract plays in outsourcing arrangements and advises that the contract should include clauses relating to:

  • the recordkeeping requirements of the business being outsourced
  • ownership (including intellectual property) of records
  • timely records disposal
  • the return of records at the termination/expiration of the contract
  • information and records security ( including systems security and records storage security)
  • privacy management and protection of personal information
  • rights of access and arrangements for access to records (including access under GIPA legislation)
  • monitoring and inspection arrangements for compliance
  • the processes and penalties for failing to comply with records provisions in the contract.

The Auditor-General noted in the report that most agency records management systems did not retain adequate travel documentation, and that travel records retained by the previous approved supplier were difficult to access and retrieve. This means that relatively recent records (created in 2016 and before) have effectively been lost well before they can be legally destroyed.

State Archives and Records NSW has recently revised the checklist for assessing business systems. Agencies can use this checklist to assess the ability of existing and proposed systems to capture and keep records. This includes third party software.

Understanding the capabilities and limitations of systems in relation to recordkeeping will enable organisations to implement effective mitigation strategies to ensure that they are making and keeping the records they need to support their business.

Recordkeeping FAQs – records in EDRMS are not immune from format obsolescence

30 November, 2017 - 08:46

File format obsolescence used to be a source of great concern for recordkeeping professionals. And while we haven’t exactly forgotten about obsolescence, our attention has lately been focussed on the diversity, variability and quantity of digital records being created.

Some recent enquiries from agencies have reminded us of the need to maintain our vigilance against format obsolescence. And it’s important to remember that electronic recordkeeping systems, like EDRMS, are not immune.

This is particularly crucial as many agencies pursue a strategy of integrating key organisational business systems with their EDRMS. One of the drivers for such integrations is the inability of some business systems to protect and maintain records for as long as required. Where agencies are relying on EDRMS for protecting and maintaining records, they need to be vigilant against obsolescence.

As we note in our FAQs on EDRMS, EDRMS do not automatically manage the long term needs of records.  Records captured in an EDRMS can still be affected by technological obsolescence.

We recommend that organisations implement a ‘technology watch’ to monitor the condition of records of ongoing value:

  • What is the ongoing viability of the systems they are contained in and the formats they are stored in?
  • Are there imminent changes by vendors, forthcoming obsolescence, impending withdrawal of vendor support or other factors to be aware of?

In our advice on metadata for records and information we note that agencies can use metadata as a tool to proactively plan for and then perform ongoing accessibility and preservation activities such as migration:

  • Metadata can document software and hardware dependencies for records and information. This helps to manage the vulnerabilities which occur when software and hardware are changed.
  • Metadata can also be used to tag records in vulnerable and unusual formats, as these may require specific management in order to be accessible and useable for as long as they are needed.

In this advice we highlight the example of audio visual formats, which are often subject to rapid change and therefore threatened by format obsolescence. However these strategies can also be used for more common, Office-type formats.

If you would like to share the strategies your organisation uses to combat obsolescence, please get in touch!

photo by: Dean Hochman

Strategies for recordkeeping in collaborative spaces

13 November, 2017 - 09:09

NSW government agencies are increasingly using collaborative tools to transact government business. Whether used for drafting policies or managing projects or commenting on proposals, these tools will create and store records. Organisations need to establish policies and practices to capture and keep the records it needs to account for decisions made and the outcomes of collaboration.

State Archives and Records NSW recently published some advice on keeping records created in whole of government collaborative tools. Coincidentally, the Digital Implementers Group met last week to talk about collaborative tools and their implications for recordkeeping.

A place for everything and everything in its place

In the spirit of Mary Poppins, a number of members talked about the ways in which their organisations are encouraging users to think about the work they’re doing and the systems and spaces in which they’re doing it: there are different places and spaces for different types of information.

  • Users are encouraged to begin thinking about projects and products and jotting down their initial thoughts in less controlled information spaces, such as personal drives.
  • Collaboration with colleagues on drafts, research, brainstorming within a team etc then occurs within collaborative spaces such as SharePoint or Google Docs. One member described this as the ‘conceptual’ or ‘ideation’ space.
  • Records documenting decisions, results, approvals etc are captured in a formal recordkeeping system (e.g. EDRMS) or business-specific system with recordkeeping functionality.

Interestingly, a few members commented that users still turn to email when they want to get something approved. This chimes with the observation that rather than ‘killing’ email, new collaboration technologies rely on it.

Someone needs to take the lead

When it comes to interagency collaboration, State Archives recommends establishing a ‘lead agency’ that is responsible for ensuring that the primary records created by the project are managed and kept for the minimum retention periods required.

One of the members of the Group spoke about how this works for collaboration with government agencies in other jurisdictions – the lead agency assumes primary responsibility for recordkeeping, while the other agencies determine what records they need to keep for their own business needs.

Don’t forget about the leftovers

Most of the members of the Group said that their organisations capture key records of decisions and final products from collaborative systems into their EDRMS. This raises the question – what to do with the records that remain behind?

This is an important consideration as part of any strategy for capturing records from systems into an EDRMS. Whether it be SAP or SharePoint or Outlook or Salesforce – organisations need to establish retention rules for any data that remains in systems after export. This should not be neglected, as otherwise it just defers the problem and makes it solution increasingly difficult.

Better the devil you know (again)

Just like at their last meeting, members again acknowledged that it is better to have users creating records in known systems (no matter their recordkeeping limitations) than in unknown and uncontrolled external systems (e.g. Dropbox).

If organisations do not provide users with systems for collaboration, users will simply find such systems themselves. The risks to records grow when they leave an organisation for uncontrolled, external, cloud-based spaces.

As always, thank you to the wonderful members of the Digital Implementers Group for sharing their experiences.

photo by: Good Free Photos

Digital records need good storage conditions too

31 October, 2017 - 08:36

Each year as we approach the ‘wet season’, State Archives and Records NSW reminds agencies of the importance of good records storage. And while until recently we’d almost forgotten what rain looks like in Sydney, it’s important to remember that it’s not just paper records which can be damaged and destroyed as a result of inappropriate storage. Digital records on removable media or other offline storage are also vulnerable and must be protected.

State Archives recommends against storing records on offline media, such as CDs, tape, USB sticks and removable hard drives. This is due to the risks of loss, lack of back-ups and the dangers of technological obsolescence.

A recent case in Queensland highlights another risk associated with the storage of records on offline media: the records of a building company were on a server left in the back of a ute, and were destroyed because of water damage. While this is an extreme and unusual scenario, it does highlight the importance of ensuring that any facilities used to store records on offline media are suitable and well maintained.

State Archives has published extensive advice on appropriate storage conditions for records which have a physical format. These identify the importance of maintaining and monitoring storage areas to ensure that any problems or issues are identified and remedied before disaster strikes.

For specific advice about recovering records from offline media, please contact us.

And remember, don’t store records in the back of a ute!

photo by: NatCooper