A Sneak Peek at NARA’s Electronic Future in 2022

Michael Lewis

Right now, the federal government is in a pivotal moment for records and information management. As we near the end of the last deadlines laid out in the Managing Government Records Directive, all government agencies must be ready to store all electronic permanent records in an electronic format by the end of this year. This is all in preparation for NARA’s main goal: to go wholly digital by 2022.

In its FY 2018-2022 Strategic Plan, NARA states that by 2022 it will no longer be accepting analog record transfers from agencies. To help agencies prepare for this change, NARA will be establishing career development programs to support the transition to electronic records. These programs will train the federal workforce to fully utilize best practices from both government and the private sector. In order to be successful, best practices must be established throughout every point of the information lifecycle, touching capture, maintenance and use, disposal, transfer, metadata and reporting. So, what will these best practices look like? Here are a few of the high-level best practices and tools that will be necessary for agencies transitioning to a digital 2022:

Automation

One of the biggest focuses for agencies moving forward will be automation. Automation lessens the burden on agency end users, as it eliminates the requirement to touch each file and makes separate recordkeeping decisions about each one. With the integration of automated capabilities, records are consistently captured and managed, and therefore more accessible for support of the agency mission. Automated processes can scale up to handle a higher volume of information, a vital capability for agencies that are dealing with increasing data generation daily. Automation also is capable of automatically determining when information has reached the end of its mandated lifecycle and needs to be disposed, helping agencies to avoid unnecessary costs while maintaining records compliance.

Metadata

Metadata is vital to managing, accessing and tracking information throughout its lifecycle. Metadata tells agencies vital information about their information – what the content is and what characteristics it possesses. Metadata is also a predicating requirement for automation, as many automation processes will rely on the provided metadata tags to properly sort and manage information. It will be vital for agencies to agree upon and conform to standard, universally required metadata elements before going through the process of identifying additional, more granular elements. This “tiered” approach is highly recommended to facilitate the consistent use of the minimum amount of metadata properties for managing the government’s information consistently across agencies. Best practices dictate limiting these essential metadata fields to five, particularly if there is a dependency on employees for population, as ease of use is vital.

Analytics

Once metadata tags are in place, agencies should utilize analytics to validate the quality and accuracy of any new or existing metadata tags and make necessary adjustments. However, not all of agencies’ legacy data was formatted with the necessary metadata earmarks. To fill these gaps, agencies will need to make use of data analytics to populate as many metadata elements as possible before that information can be migrated or transferred. Analytics can also help agencies to eliminate manual recovery inefficiencies; track and manage digital records; track inventory activity; monitor performance; and point to future needs.

There’s no doubt – agencies face an uphill battle heading into 2022. This is especially true for agencies who have little in the way of a comprehensive records management framework – implementing new best practices from the ground up is going to be a difficult and disruptive process. However, these best practices, once established, will serve as the necessary groundwork for the next generation of government records.

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