December 22, 2008 By Corey McKenna
"Can you find the information you need?" The pressure of citizen service requirements, litigation, the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure, the media, audits and activist organizations and individuals are forcing agencies to take a closer look at their answer to that question, as the failure to find information can have catastrophic results. Gregory Trosset, electronic records management program manager for King County, Wash., noted at the Best of California event in Sacramento earlier this month that the failure to produce requested documents could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in sanctions being levied against an agency.
But litigation and fines are not the only reasons for agencies to be able to find the data that they are supposed to have on hand. "The reality is that if you deal with citizens, you're often going to have to deal with paper. No matter how much we capture on the Web, no matter how much we do in the interview-style of data capture, citizens are often going to need paper," said Gary Rodgers, worldwide public sector for HP, at the same event.
When a citizen applies for some kind of a benefit, he or she normally has to go through a certification process and there is typically some kind of a case-management system that tracks that. The citizen brings his or her evidence of identity: birth certificate, driver's license, passport, a document from the agency -- these all need to be captured and stored in a secure repository which is tied to a database accessible to a caseworker who can take appropriate action.
Rodgers and Trosset urged agencies to be methodical about how they implement records management policies. "Having to go back and rebuild stuff is what blows your budget out," Rodgers said.
How does an agency go about defining a records management policy? And once the policy is defined, how does one go about implementing it? However an agency decides to proceed, "it is not a technology project. You need to have your records management folks involved. They need to take the lead," Trosset said.
King County, Wash., has answered just such questions. The 13th largest county in the nation by population, the government consists of seven separately elected bodies and employs 13,000 people. "What we're doing is implementing a records management system across all of that," Trosset said.
The county is capturing many kinds of unstructured data: e-mail, documents, spreadsheets, etc. "We're also implementing a physical-records module for our records center which has about 100,000 boxes in it. We have a Web records component that we're implementing, and we're going to make digital imaging available if it makes business sense for county government to use," Trosset said.
"As we've been talking with county agencies about our records management system the first thing I hear is 'God, I can't wait till you guys come in because we've needed document management for so long.' We have to burst their bubble. We're not doing document management," Trosset said.
"There's a huge pent-up demand for document management in the county, but there's also a records management need. The problem is that agencies don't recognize that they had a records management problem because their immediate concern is document management," he said.
The first step is to define the policy, because the policy should drive the technology implementation. The Federal Rules for Civil Procedure played a large role in the development of King County's records management policy, Trosset said. "Two years ago when the rules were revised they specifically talked about electronic records. And as those rules are promulgated in the federal courts, they tend to get adopted by the local jurisdictions. So if you are not having to deal with the requirements of the federal rules now, because you don't go