Automate Communications Archiving and Unburden Your Staff

April 22, 2021by Paul Clanton

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When public records were strictly paper-based, the archiving process was as simple as filing hard copies of documents in the office filing cabinet. Those days are long gone, yet many still use a paper-based process, which requires staff to manually archive communications data that is considered part of the public record. This might include printed screenshots of text messages or social media posts – a laborious, unsustainable and ineffective process.

Consider the many digital tools we use to conduct business today:

  • Email
  • Instant messages (IM)
  • SMS/text messages
  • Mobile messaging applications (WhatsApp, WeChat, etc.)
  • Collaboration tools (Microsoft Teams, Slack, etc.)
  • Social media
  • Conferencing tools (Zoom, Webex, etc.)

Communications data is increasing

According to a McKinsey analysis posted by the Harvard Business Review, “the average professional spends 28% of the workday reading and answering email. For the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent, and 120 messages received per day.” On top of that, the volume and variety of IM, SMS/text, collaboration, conferencing and social media data only continues to grow.

In a report from the Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM), it’s noted that "on average, organizations expect the volume of information coming into their organizations to grow from X to 4.5X over the next two years. They expect more than 57% of this information to be unstructured (like a contract or a conversation) or semi-structured (like an invoice or a form)."

When staff is burdened with the responsibility to archive this variety and volume of data, deciding what to do can be overwhelming. The basic questions are what to archive, what format to keep it in, how to classify it, where to put it and how to secure it. Once those questions are answered more questions arise like how to ensure a complete, accurate and efficient downstream process in the event of litigation, open records requests or internal investigations. Then come data retention questions about how long to keep the archived data, when and why to delete it (or not), and how it should be deleted.

What data must be preserved?

Just the question of what data to keep is more complex than most people realize. As technology has advanced, document retention laws (FOIA, state sunshine laws) were developed or amended to include most of the structured and unstructured data mentioned above.

Even if policies could keep up with changing requirements, expecting staff to manually archive data creates several challenges, including:

  • Classifying and managing data may be considered over and above an employee’s typical job responsibilities
  • Most employees lack sufficient training to classify and manage data effectively
  • Many retention policies are difficult to understand
  • In many cases, employees consider themselves to be the owners of “their” data, so it never leaves their personal drive, phone or email system
  • The number of data sources employees have access to continues to grow and evolve at an ever-increasing rate
  • Employees can't keep up with the continuing changes in public records laws and requirements
  • The amount and complexity of data security risks keeps increasing

In sum, most employees lack the time, knowledge, and incentive to classify and manage the enormous volume of data that they encounter every day, so it never gets done.

As a result, when compelled to respond to a public records request, employees must manually sift through a ton of old, uncategorized and unmanaged data. This takes a lot of time, and the response is often late, incomplete, and/or includes redundant, obsolete or transitory data. Data archiving and production for legal requests or public records inquiries can no longer be satisfied with traditional, paper-based processes. This leaves government agencies vulnerable to legal liability, security risks and reputational damage.

Automated communications capture, archiving and search

When it comes to archiving data, the goal for public agencies should be to automate the process so that most employees don’t even need to think about it. Ensuring that all relevant digital communications are captured, classified and searchable with a secure, centralized archiving solution makes it easy to achieve this goal.

Modern communications archiving solutions are designed to archive both structured and unstructured data without the continuous need for employee input. To be effective, key features should minimally include:

  • The ability to archive electronic communications and additional metadata in full conversational context and in native format
  • Data capture, indexing, retention and search features to support public records management and e-discovery
  • A user-friendly interface that doesn’t require the need for technical resources

Archiving solution providers should also have future-proofing strategies to support:

  • New and emerging sources of data
  • Ever-changing global data privacy regulations
  • Emerging technologies that utilize machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI)

By utilizing a modern archiving solution, public agencies can do away with outdated paper-based processes and provide relief to staff and efficiency for the organization. The data we generate is only set to grow and evolve into an even more complicated paradigm. The time to act is now.

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Paul Clanton

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