NARA To Software Vendors: Help Government Rethink Records Management

On September 10, the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) hosted an interactive panel discussion to educate solution providers, vendors, and the broader records management community on an opportunity to help shape the future of records management (RM) inside government. A follow-up activity to the August 2012 Presidential Directive on RM, this panel is a call to action to software vendors, consultants, and subject matter experts who care about moving the records profession in public sector out of the “mental model” of paper.

Important links include: the agenda (PDF) and the two-part event recording, hosted on the NARA UStream External Engagement channel, and the RFI (closes October 4, 2013).

My take? If you are a software vendor, consultant, records management practitioner, or a software developer looking for inspiration, listen to the videos. There is some important stuff there, with the US federal government demonstrating some true leadership in rethinking the oft-maligned records management software system. What does NARA want? Fresh systems, more automation, and a readiness to divorce from the construct of paper that has limited our progress in tackling e-records.

The discussion and sense of urgency here supports the trends and we’re seeing here at Forrester in this area. (See recommended reports and blog links at the bottom of this post.) Our research shows that RM programs today struggle to get consistent user adoption, align related initiatives (like RM, archiving, and eDiscovery), capture new content sources like social and mobile, and get over fear of the cloud.

NARA’s challenge to the vendor community (see Part 1 of the recording, approx. 9:45 min mark) is to become part of the sea change for how information is managed in the federal government. The challenge is big, and technical innovation is an important part of helping government more forward more quickly. An RFI has been launched to solicit input on the direction of RM in government, and capability statements are due by noon on October 4, 2013.

My key takeaways after watching the two-part presentation:

  • NARA is committing to driving change in how the management of electronic records is done and will work with agencies interested in trying new approaches – including automated capture and classification.
  • NARA wants industry – software vendors, service providers – to help shape this future by sharing their vision, road maps, and capabilities to help agencies plan for RM five, 10 years from now – not just the current state.
  • The DoD 5015.2 specification, while still endorsed and valuable, is not a requirement for recordkeeping systems any more. Adoption of RM systems is not moving quickly enough, and agencies need more access to different types of technologies. DoD 5015.2 has become a roadblock for smaller, newer, more innovative vendors because of the cost and complexity of the spec. NARA is ready to put fresh approaches ahead of complex certifications to get things done.
  • RM practitioners need to be in step with bigger picture initiatives, including being connected into open data policies that require information to be easily accessed and in machine-readable formats by default. It’s time to change the tenor of RM conversations by focusing on access up front.
  • It is time to change the views on RM programs – as facilitators to information access and  “not compliance, not overhead.”
  • Freedom of Information, eDiscovery, and long-term protection of records for history are related requirements that must all color RM initiatives.
  • New solutions for smaller agencies are needed. Vendors – including open source software providers – need to offer RM solutions to address smaller budgets. Leaner, practical approaches are needed, as many current RM systems are too heavy-footprint or expensive to be deployed in smaller shops.
  • Economically viable automated records management solutions are high on the priority list, and viewed as one of the only true viable approaches to meet the massive volume of digital records held in agencies’ pipeline to NARA. NARA’s goal is to produce a plan to describe suitable approaches by the end of 2013.
  • Viable open source records management solutions are desired, and the goal is to have work done jointly with industry and subject matter experts by the end of 2014. Open source is viewed as economically viable but not the only approach NARA wants to have. Open source community engagement is viewed as a way to get state-of-the-art technology in place to fill gaps.
  • NARA wants to see development of interoperable modules and systems that can easily share records metadata. Agencies need better ways of working together across systems – get the friction smoothed, get records to NARA in better shape and more consistently. The interoperability standard CMIS was specifically called out as having potential benefit.
  • Vendors must “stop paving the cow path” with electronic records management offerings and start innovating and automating records capture and categorization.
  • With 2% to 3% of data produced by the US federal government slated to be sent to NARA, a 30-year records pipeline could be up to 14 zettabytes using industry data growth projections. Replicating paper RM processes will not work at this scale.
  • Vendors need to innovate on usability and behind-the-scenes management. Users deliberately create workarounds when even one or two extra clicks or buttons slow down their job.
  • eDiscovery technologies will disrupt RM systems as search, retrieval, and analytics move up the stack into information governance.
  • Records managers must stop using the fear factor to drive RM adoption. It doesn’t work on busy users. The goal is to manage information the right way so it is there in the future.
  • Records managers need to become more mature and adapt in areas of technology to move these new approaches forward.
  • Vendors need to reduce the marketing speak and jargon and come up with common definitions for what they sell. Buyers get confused over what products really do and what must be bought as extra modules or delivered via customization services.
  • Government agencies need records management capabilities need to be pervasive in information management systems – Why is RM always a separately acquired module for most vendors?
  • Proprietary connectors are not the direction – open standards-based interoperability is where technology needs to go. No vendor has the entire solution, and it is not realistic to expect all information to be put into a single repository.
  • Cloud must be on the radar for agencies and vendors. The value of cloud is becoming real for many agencies, and future software investments likely won’t be installed in their own data centers. Vendors should partner with approved cloud providers if they can’t offer their own.
  • Vendors need to better support proofs of concept, using real data and addressing real challenges. Drop the PowerPoint and work with prospects on solving problems.

Where To Find More Information:

Download the RFI via FedBizOpps website and provide feedback on this new vision for RM. NARA’s plan is to collect this input and share it with other agencies. Or share information directly with the Presidential Records Management Directives outreach team by emailing prmd @ nara.gov using “A3.1 Vision” as the subject line.

Recommended Forrester Research (Subscription Required):

Five Trends Are Changing Records Management Technologies And Practices

Records Managers Must Focus On Business Needs, Budget, And Technology to Succeed: Forrester Research And ARMA International Records Management Online Survey, Q3 2013.

Blogs And Articles

Propelling The Profession (And The Professional) Forward – ARMA Information Management Magazine, Sept/Oct 2013 edition.

Is Skeuomorphism Holding Back The Evolution Of Records Management?” – Forrester blog

CMIS 1.1 Approved: OASIS Standard For ECM Interoperability Evolves And Gains Traction” – Forrester blog

NARA Seeks Industry To Help Automate Records Management” – Thinking Records

A Grand Challenge For Industry” – NARA Records Express blog