Leveling-Up Records Management in the Digital Era: Challenges and Opportunities

This paper is prepared for the executives working in the field of information management, data management, document management, information and communication technology and records management in the public sector, specifically in the Civil Service Commission Regional Office V. 

Zarah Zamora-Arroyo
Master of Digital Information Management, University of Technology Sydney

The records management landscape is changing. Organisations are confronted with a new set of challenges as to how information should be created, used, stored, and disposed as there is an increasing reliance on digital content. The changes are inexorable. Records keeping has changed over the last several decades, where in most cases the records which we used to think as a paper document in files, we now refer to as data in digital format with metadata. The question is how we manage these changes. The way we view and practice records management may change over time and the technology has changed, but the need for records to be reliable, compliant, comprehensive, trustworthy, and accessible are still essential characteristics of a recordkeeping system (Week 8 MEIK, 2019) especially in the public sector.

Why We Keep Records?

The Philippine Civil Service Commission (CSC) Regional Office V manages critical data and information which require integrity, authenticity, reliability, accessibility, and usability. CSC creates and receives information as part of the conduct of its activities and as it renders its services to the public. Information in all formats, specifically digital, must meet certain standards as they become more complex and voluminous. A systematic approach through the use of technological opportunities is a requirement. Records are a critical tool for providing evidence for action, moreover the State Records Act 1998 of NSW stated the following compelling reasons why records are important: 

  • Protection – Records are proof that you have considered decisions and taken appropriate actions. Records become invaluable if you are questioned. Moreover, good recordkeeping assists you to comply with relevant legislation and support you Government during legal or other challenges. Without records, the Government and clients are at risk.
  • Increase Accountability – Being one of NSW Public Sector core values, good recordkeeping underpins accountable and transparent Government to be accountable to the community.
  • Reduce Risk – Good recordkeeping prevents loss of crucial business data and information. Loss of records and data exposes you and the Government to significant risk.
  • Support Decision-making – Trustworthy and accessible records support informed decision-making. Good recordkeeping processes ensure that you can trust records.
  • Commercial Advantage – Good recordkeeping saves the government money through routine purging of non-critical information. Information that is organised and easily found can be applied and re-purposed in beneficial ways. This brings enormous competitive advantages and adds value to your business.
  • Improve Security – Good recordkeeping involves the proactive identification of information security requirements, and the development of secure business systems so that the integrity of your records and information is protected at all time.
  • Increase Efficiency – A well-functioning recordkeeping system increases efficiency of business processes such as data entry, record capture, and retrieval.

Looking into all these reasons may keep us wondering which data or information are worth keeping. Government offices such the CSC face the challenges of the ever-increasing volume of records, both physical and digital. Implementation disposal policies are more important than ever. But retaining every document forever is not reasonable. Effective management and disposal in both paper and digital form helps in appraising vital business records that can be stored or archived and would free up space if you know which information can be deleted or disposed. Government organisations are urged by the current situation to implement recordkeeping strategies suitable for a wide range of information types.  Findlay (2010) in her own words, say, “As a general observation we would also note that the move by organisations to digital recordkeeping affords many benefits to the business – better information sharing, improved accessibility, capacity to integrate recordkeeping requirements with business processes.”  CSC, being situated in the Philippines, can learn from the best practices of government agencies in Australia through the analysis of case studies and referencing from the tools available online in the website of NSW State Records.

Why We Go Digital and How to Achieve It?

More and more records are now created and kept electronically with its own strengths and vulnerabilities. Considerations on proper controls over digital records may be benchmarked against international records management standards as they are far more advanced. Good practices as well as lessons along the process of digitisation will be beneficial. Practically, the recordkeeping has evolved over time as it adopts to the varying types of documents. Some countries have adopted the Electronic Records Management (ERM) as well as the Electronic Recordkeeping System (ERKS).  ERKS, by definition according to GRMPS Hongkong, is an information/computer system with the necessary records management capabilities designed to electronically collect, organize, classify, and control the creation, storage, retrieval, distribution, maintenance and use, disposal, and preservation of records throughout the life cycle of records. ERKS aims to manage records with the desired levels of confidence and integrity, by combining both advantages of electronic ways of working with well-established records management principles. Furthermore, the successful implementation of ERM and ERKS in an organization also depends on the following critical success factors: 

  • formulate ERM policy and strategies and integrate them as part of corporate records management programme and clearly define roles and responsibilities of staff on managing records; 
    • foster a corporate culture of taking responsibilities on records management among all staff members and adopt electronic means to manage records; 
    • analyse business processes before incorporating ERM processes into business operations; 
    • provide training and support to ensure compliance with the corporate records management policy and requirements; and 
    • develop practices and guidelines in managing electronic records to guide staff members. 

In reality, going digital is never easy as problems arise from the simplest scanning of physical documents without losing its authenticity to something as complicated as varying digital formats and multiple storage repositories.

What is in it for CSC?

Government agencies in Australia that are now operating in a full digital environment have recently reported a result of a survey to NAA on the benefits of going digital and the results are outstanding such as:

  • meeting legislative and statutory reporting,
  • justifying or explaining actions investigations,
  • auditing and accountability,
  • risk management,
  • business continuity and protection of vital information,
  • better business decisions and processes,
  • reduced operations costs,
  • better productivity and reduced staff time, and
  • storage savings.

We reckon that digitisation and automation of recordkeeping processes are innovations worth trying by the CSC, having to consider the promising benefits as it moves forward in improving public service delivery in this digital era.

(An appraisal of the existing records keeping management systems in CSC RO V was conducted using the ECM3 through the DIRKS Methodology. Results of which and the proposed actions to be taken will be presented to the CSC RO V executives.)

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