Modernizing Government Records Management: Looking Beyond 2020

December 17, 2020by Smarsh

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State and local governments have policies and requirements that make them slow to adopt new workplace technologies. This year, agencies had little choice but to adapt. Following pandemic shut-downs, many agencies hastily implemented communication tools to help suddenly-remote staff collaborate.

However, these tools also generate electronic communications. These communications must be captured, archived and accessible in the event of an investigation or public records request.

In a recent webinar, Otto Doll, Senior Fellow of Center for Digital Government, and John Rowe, VP of Sales for Government at Smarsh, discussed how 2020 has accelerated the need for more modern government records management. More importantly, they share key insights about how governments can adapt to new trends and the increasing volume of digital information.

Strengthening public records management policies

Traditionally, responses to public records requests have been time-consuming, staff intensive and costly. But this is a new era. Today, the public expects instantaneous responses and more efficient government spending. Traditional records management creates discontent between the government and the people they serve.

Doll broke down what agencies need to consider when they review their records management strategy:

  • Communication channels: Agencies need to be able to retrieve records from all of the communication channels that they use. These agencies are now using more channels — such as instant messaging, text, and social media — and they must be able to respond quickly to requests for those records
  • Comprehensive search: Advanced search capabilities that can handle complex requests are vital, especially with multiple communication channels. Agency staff should also be able to complete searches themselves, without involving the IT department
  • Robust legal holds management: The ability to hold onto records for several years is legally required

Secondary (but important) considerations of government records management include:

  • Supporting the redaction process: Every record that’s released must be reviewed for sensitive information. Making redactions easier to complete saves resources, especially when it comes to video content
  • Integrating records management with department processes: Making it as simple as possible to capture and retrieve electronic communications will help public agencies streamline their records management
  • Minimizing IT involvement: Involving IT staff in day-to-day records management tasks can be a drain on the IT department, and a bottleneck for the retrieval process

Rowe agreed with reducing IT’s involvement in records management.

“I’ve seen some agencies have their top IT person retrieve information because searching the database is too hard. These are complex searches sometimes. Human capital is something that agencies don’t consider.”

Overall, Doll said governments need to focus on their records management process. Putting policies in place that support the strategy is vital to success, and efficiency.

“It’s more challenging if staff have to decide for themselves what’s considered public or personal. It’s surprising how much information governments collect and how often we find that the information isn’t well-defined relative to its privacy and transparency requirements.”

A thoughtful strategy will go a long way in helping public agencies comply with recordkeeping requirements. This is especially important in BYOD or remote working environments, which are great for productivity but do require more thorough records management.

“Cybercriminals are targeting people who work from home,” Doll said. “We’ve seen an uptick in phishing and cybersecurity-related attacks. Agencies have the technology to put multiple layers of security on the cloud, so people shouldn’t have to work only on their devices. Agencies should provide workers the security tools they need.”

“Always start with the policy,” Rowe added. “Sharing files, for example. It can be as simple as sending a link to a file on a shared drive instead of attaching the file in an email.”

Records management trends to consider

People will continue to gravitate to the technologies that enable them to work more efficiently, such as:

  • Microsoft Teams or Slack
  • SMS/text messages
  • Videoconferencing

Government agencies need to take steps to ensure they are prepared. Rowe noted that one of the most popular channels for workers is one that governments are struggling to capture: text messages.

“The email channel started as a business tool. Then it became possible for people to create email accounts for personal use, whereas text began as a personal communication channel that migrated to the business world. Many people still have an impression that text messages that contain business-related content are private, which isn’t the case anymore. We’re seeing all over the country that governments are being more explicit in saying texts qualify as an electronic record.”

The various social media applications have also become standard channels of communication between government agencies and the public.

“A lot of government departments are using non-traditional channels, particularly with social media, to get to certain populations,” said Doll. “Agencies need to be aware of using those types of applications. Many are encrypted, which makes capture complicated or impossible.”

Both Doll and Rowe stress that communication technology use should stem from policy.

“Policies are lagging and behind the available and already-used technologies,” said Rowe.

“Having policies that approve those channels are really important. Let IT know so they know to capture that information,” Doll added.

While the most requested records are still emails, instant messaging and texts, non-traditional requests are becoming more popular.

“Video has become a popular public records request in the past three or four years, particularly from police,” said Doll. “We see requests for body cams and traditional public safety cameras. You’re going to see a lot of requests for non-traditional records — video conferencing, for instance.”

Records management technology that supports strategy

While there are plenty of solutions available, Doll and Rowe outlined key capabilities a system must have to modernize a public agency records management process:

Grow with the data volume: Agencies need to consider how they will handle the volume of data they will accumulate over the next five years, as well as their needs today.

Cloud-native: A cloud-native application has the processing power of the cloud. In addition to being able to add resources to handle an expanding archive, a cloud-native application also has the capacity to search through a large volume of data to retrieve relevant content quickly and easily.

Centralized repository: An agency with a single, centralized repository that allows individual departments to access within the framework of their own processes will help the agency be more efficient. A public records request for an inter-department collaboration project won’t require staff to search multiple silos to retrieve records.

Availability: As the pandemic has proven, technology solutions must be accessible at the point of need. It needs to be deployable on personal or work-issued devices — regardless of the operating system — to empower staff working remotely.

User-friendly: The recordkeeping solution needs to be easy to use, not just for staff but also for the public. Public portals can’t frustrate the public, as transparency is a sensitive issue and process. The solution should also have self-service features that empower individual departments; aside from initial implementation, IT shouldn’t be a part of the records request process.

Compliance: Government transparency isn’t just a public issue, it’s a legal one. A records management system needs to be able to schedule records retention rules, export multiple file-formats and streamline e-discovery.

Watch the webinar for the full discussion on how agencies can modernize their government records management processes and technology.

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Smarsh handles information you submit to Smarsh in accordance with its Privacy Policy. By clicking "submit", you consent to Smarsh processing your information and storing it in accordance with the Privacy Policy and agree to receive communications from Smarsh and its third-party partners regarding products and services that may be of interest to you. You may withdraw your consent at any time by emailing privacy@smarsh.com.