5 Records Management Best Practices for Government Agencies
The proliferation of digital communication channels has created a vast and deep ocean of decentralized data, making e-discovery and records management a complex and time-consuming exercise for government agencies today. That depth of uncertainty can't be taken lightly. State and local governments should look to establish proper records management best practices as soon as possible.
Public-sector employees often engage with coworkers and constituents over social media and video chats — such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Meta, and more — in addition to communicating over their own personal mobile devices. At the same time, many government agencies still use outdated systems with insufficient data capture capabilities, resulting in a vast array of data siloes residing in a variety of different formats.
The digital world has created several new challenges for government agencies, including how to:
- Effectively harness and store data
- Leverage data in a way that adds value to the agency
- Get key stakeholders to become good stewards of the data
“Organizations really need to prioritize the work of setting out a strategy and carrying out what that vision looks like,” says Dr. Sherry Bennett, chief data scientist at TD Synnex.
In our recent webinar, E-Discovery 101 – Supercharge your Government Discovery and Records Management, experts discussed best practices for gathering and storing data effectively.
1. Set a strategy
Government agencies want to get to a place where they can be proactive rather than reactive about responding to records requests. They want to be able to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) that can run algorithms on all the structured and unstructured data they hold.
“That’s the ideal state, but unfortunately we’re not quite there yet,” says Bennett. While there are a lot of AI tools on the market, “many of these can’t be leveraged until organizations make that commitment to integrate their data, to manage it so that they can get to this desired state.”
To achieve that, many agencies today are hiring a chief data officer. This role will be responsible for establishing data governance policies and procedures, helping to improve the quality of data that the organization holds, and moving the organization toward advanced analytics capabilities.
“There are a number of challenges, but the goal should all be in alignment between your technology team, legal and compliance staff, as well as those who are responsible for records,” says Robert Cruz, vice president of information governance solutions at Smarsh.
2. Decide whether to leverage the “cloud”
While cloud storage and processing services are important features of any modern information architecture, simply lifting and shifting all information into the cloud isn’t always the best path.
“Depending on the type of service, it may be that you cannot actually move certain services into the cloud,” says Bennett. Instead, many government agencies manage their applications and their information in a hybrid fashion, keeping some data on premise while putting certain other data in the cloud.
When considering a strategy for how to leverage the cloud, Bennett recommended thinking about the following questions:
- What do you keep on premise?
- How do you archive?
- Where do you archive?
You need to go through this exercise of thinking about cost optimization if you're going to leverage the cloud. It needs to be a part of your strategy.
Another challenge with moving to the cloud is that retrieving information can be quite difficult at times. While moving data to the cloud might make searching the information easier, it’s not easy to get information out — not at the volume or speed that you might need to fulfill a records request.
3. Harness the data
Government agencies can realize many benefits when they invest in a robust data management strategy, including improved responsiveness to records requests, reduced costs and improved efficiencies.
“It’s going to help them deliver better services to citizens,” says Bennett. “It’s going to have the capacity to minimize risk and improve compliance.”
Having a sound data management strategy enables government agencies to monetize the information to effectively deliver services to the public and achieve their operational goals.
In the event of a natural disaster, for example, agencies could leverage different modeling techniques and algorithms to analyze what geographic regions suffered the most damage.
“That can all be leveraged from an operations perspective to do resource planning,” says Bennett. “It takes a little bit of creativity and vision and thinking outside the box.”
4. Consider data privacy implications
More stakeholders are at the table looking at how to manage and secure information that could have data privacy implications attached to it. Chief data officers should be working closely with chief information security officers to ensure processes are put into place to manage all the different communication channels that the agency is using. This enables agencies to create a data management strategy that considers how personal information is being protected within unstructured data.
Just as it is everybody’s job to maintain data privacy and data security, the same applies to data management. Some organizations create data stewards across all levels of the organization to get people thinking about analytics and how data can inform how they do their job every single day.
5. Just get started
For agencies that are just now beginning their data management journey, it’s important to just get started. No level is too small from which to start or too high for which to strive. If you're going to improve your records manegement and enact best practices you need to take the plunge.
“Think big, have a vision, and work with your leadership,” says Bennet. “Many individuals who are wedded to current processes and what those look like can be a little resistant to change. That’s a cultural issue and requires leadership … to help lead that change and give the vision about what the next state of services could look like.”
It’s important to identify roadblocks that make it difficult to provide the ideal service to citizens or to effectively minimize compliance or risk issues internally. Meet with colleagues to brainstorm and list out those roadblocks. At the end of the day, there is an opportunity to reinvent processes that aren’t being optimized.
Cruz further suggested thinking about how to become more effective in handling e-discovery or records requests.
“Have a good solid data strategy that enables you to effectively identify, search and retrieve the information you need when you need it,” he says.
Finally, don’t try to boil the ocean, but rather evolve and mature the agency’s data management practices over time.
“Find the opportunities that provide the biggest value and start there,” says Bennet.
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