Electronic Records Enter the Mainstream

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					                         Electronic Records

      1                  Enter the Mainstream
                         David O. Stephens

This book is written for a diverse readership. Local governments operate in the
largest urban areas, the smallest hamlets, and everywhere in between. Governments’
information and record-keeping systems similarly run the gamut—from infrastruc-
tures with the most sophisticated technology to infrastructures in which desktop
computers have only recently made their appearance. Regardless of size or sophisti-
cation, every local government maintains substantial quantities of records and
increasingly—even predominantly—they exist in electronic form. Thus, this book is
written for everyone who is responsible for the management of records in local gov-
ernments: elected officials; city and county managers; and senior elected and
appointed heads of departments, particularly those who are responsible for the
management of the records of the jurisdiction, including clerks and heads of infor-
mation technology (IT) departments.
    This book is meant for any local government that wants to improve the manage-
ment of its electronic records. The transition from paper-intensive local governments
to nearly all-digital record-keeping environments is desirable and, indeed,
inevitable. This book will serve as a road map to accelerate and facilitate this

Reality of electronic government
Local officials need to realize that, even though paperless government did not
become a reality during the past thirty years, it will happen during the next thirty.
Some people scoff at the idea of the paperless office, but the transition from visible
media to all-digital record-keeping environments is a long-term trend that began
during the 1970s and 1980s. It is now proceeding rapidly and will accelerate during
the coming decades.
   The technology infrastructure for the digital society is now being put in place. Of
equal importance, however, are the cultural and generational aspects of the digital
trend. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, most local governments are still
being run by managers who have used paper as the predominant record-keeping
medium throughout their working lives. During the next twenty years or so, their
children and grandchildren—who have never used filing cabinets for record keeping
and who are unlikely to do so when they enter organizational life—will take their
places. Although paper records will continue to occupy the offices of local govern-
ments, paper is increasingly being relegated to the status of the casual printout.

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2   Electronic Records Management

    The electronic world emerges
    • Fred Moore, in “Digital Data’s Future: You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” published in Computer
      Technology Review in October 2000, stated that as much as two-thirds of the world’s information
      was at that time “born digital,” meaning that its original occurrence was in a digital format
      generated by a computer.
    • John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, in The Social Life of Information, a seminal study published by
      Harvard Business School Press in 2000, wrote that by the middle of the present century “. . . all
      information about physical objects, including humans, buildings, processes and organizations, will
      be online. This is both desirable and inevitable.”

Record systems essential to the management of local government either already
have or soon will be converted from paper to electronic media.

Where we are today
Several characteristics of paperless government are already facts of life:

Traditional records management programs are inadequate Traditional records
management programs in local governments must be immediately upgraded and
repositioned around the management of electronic records. Perhaps the most impor-
tant aspect of this transition is shifting the essential nature of records management
from exercising physical custody over records to policy planning, systems develop-
ment, and compliance monitoring. Traditional records management programs will
not be adequate to meet the challenges posed by electronic records of the future.

Decentralized management of records at the desktop level needs to be controlled
In the absence of formal records management and retention practices for desktop
users, most local government office employees are free to manipulate files—create,
store, modify, delete, and destroy records—entirely at their own discretion. This
mismanagement of desktop electronic records cannot assure accurate and timely

E-mail is a primary communications medium and needs to be included in records
management E-mail has largely replaced paper communications in many local
governments and has become one of the most business-critical computing applica-
tions for many jurisdictions. However, many e-mail systems were installed without
proper records management and retention methodologies. The risks and liabilities
associated with e-mail use are significant. Any local government that wishes to man-
age and control its records must make better e-mail management a top priority.

The Internet and the Web are primary computing platforms During the past sev-
eral years, virtually all large governmental entities (and many smaller ones) have
moved aggressively to reinvent their business processes around intranets, which are

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                                                           Electronic Records Enter the Mainstream 3

deployments of standard Internet technologies that are designed to provide com-
mon, consistent, and global access to various forms of information. Many local gov-
ernments view this technology as important for achieving their strategic business
objectives. Indeed, some governments have embraced a strategic direction for the
Web in which their intranet and Web sites will become the primary platform for the
deployment of electronic government solutions and for accessing stored electronic
information throughout the jurisdiction. To achieve this objective, however, the gov-
ernment must develop new policies and practices for managing information in Web

Challenges of electronic records management
Dr. H. G. Jones, a pioneer in the field of records management in local government,
did not refer specifically to electronic records in his brief but eloquent statement
quoted in the sidebar on this page. Nevertheless, the principles inherent in his state-
ment apply to electronic records with equal or even greater force than to physical
records, and their value and criticality increase with every passing year. The man-
agement of electronic records must be one of the top priorities of any jurisdiction.
Electronic records management systems differ from paper records management sys-
tems in several fundamental ways.

High strategic importance The notion that “better records make a better local gov-
ernment” has always been true. In the world of paper, however, high-quality filing
systems could go only part way toward delivering outstanding public services. By
contrast, electronic records are essential to today’s high-performance government.
Expanded access to information, data sharing among government systems, better
decision making, and good customer service can all be greatly enhanced with elec-
tronic records.

  Importance of public records
  H. G. Jones was a pioneer in local government records management initiatives during 1956–1972,
  when he served with the North Carolina State Department of Archives and History. In 1980, he wrote
  Local Government Records: An Introduction to Their Management, Preservation, and Use (published
  in Nashville by the American Association for State and Local History), in which he stated:
     Public records are public property, owned by the people in the same sense that the citizens own
     their courthouse or town hall, sidewalks and streets, funds in the treasury. They are held in trust
     for the citizens. . . . [They] may not be sold, given away, destroyed, or alienated from custody
     except through an official act of the governing authority. . . . As public property, public records
     may no more be altered, defaced, mutilated, or removed from custody than public funds may be
     embezzled or misappropriated. Indeed, because records document the conduct of the public busi-
     ness—including the protection of rights, privileges, and property of individual citizens—they con-
     stitute a species of public property of higher value than buildings, equipment and even money,
     all of which usually can be replaced. . . . It is the unique and irreplaceable nature of records that
     gives them a sanctity uncharacteristic of other kinds of property. . . .

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High public expectations During the days of paper records, a phone inquiry from
a citizen to a local government was usually followed by “We’ll have to retrieve your
record and give you a call back.” This return phone call might be hours or even days
later, and, although some citizens might have become irritated by this delay, it was
entirely consistent with citizens’ perceptions of the level of service that could be
expected or, indeed, tolerated. In the era of electronic records, however, citizens
expect—even demand—immediate responses and no waiting for return phone calls.
They also expect to find on the jurisdiction’s Web site a wide range of information
and interactive services that they can access without ever leaving their homes; driv-
ing to the courthouse or the municipal building is not a welcome alternative. Only
electronic record-keeping systems can deliver this higher level of performance. In
short, local governments will not be able to get away with delivering substandard
public services—or operating horse-and-buggy record-keeping systems—in the age
of the Internet.

Demand for technical expertise In the past, operating high-quality paper record-
keeping systems was not a very technically demanding endeavor. File cabinets, open
shelving, file folders, and other equipment and supplies had to be ordered; records
had to be organized and sequenced for efficient retrieval; and the physical security,
retention, and disposition of records had to be considered. Planning, designing, and
implementing a sophisticated computer infrastructure to support high-quality elec-
tronic records is another matter altogether. It is not a job for amateurs! If there is one
mistake that many local governments make as they attempt to assimilate IT into
their record-keeping operations, it is that they fail to employ the specialized expert-
ise that is required. Many local governments do carry out a records automation proj-
ect with existing staff, but the case study on page 13 provides an example of what
can happen when existing staff are not trained for the task.

Rapid growth in volume Because of the growing number of paper-producing
machines—copiers, laser printers, and fax machines, for example—per office worker,
the quantity of paper records continues to grow. But the growth of electronic records
can only be characterized as explosive and unprecedented. Annual growth rates for
data storage range from 50 percent to 60 percent in most organizations.1 Trends in
computer data storage indicate that fewer data are being deleted while archival data
are being retained longer. This issue is most acute among high-growth jurisdictions,
but most local governments need—but do not now have—solutions to address this

Barriers to accessibility Knowing where all jurisdiction records are and retrieving
records accurately and quickly as needed are difficult to accomplish for several rea-
sons: Structured data are typically managed by IT departments that may not have
records management expertise; hardware and software platform incompatibility
hampers jurisdiction-wide accessibility; and an absence of file-naming conventions
and training for desktop users can make accurate, jurisdiction-wide retrieval of doc-
uments residing on hard drives and network servers very difficult.

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                                             Electronic Records Enter the Mainstream 5

High risk of loss Paper records are vulnerable to fire, water, and weather damage,
but electronic records residing in computing environments are at even greater risk
even though their physical security may be better. Successful restoration of paper
records is frequently possible, except in cases where they have been totally
destroyed by fire. On the other hand, restoration of electronic records is frequently
much more problematic, if not impossible, because of the fragility of the media on
which the records are stored and other factors. Since September 11, 2001, local gov-
ernments have learned they must take precautions against terrorist attacks as well as
against natural disasters and technical threats.

Short life expectancy For paper records that are created on stock of good quality
and subjected to reasonable storage conditions, a life expectancy of several hundred
years is the norm. For computer-based records, the outer limits of life expectancy
range between ten to twenty years and can be as short as about five years—a time
period consistent with the average service life of the hardware and software
required to read and process electronic records. This time period is adequate for
many electronic records kept by local governments, but for many others it is not.

Barriers to preservation Paper records can be preserved by accident rather than by
design, stashed in the basements or attics of government buildings and forgotten
until someone discovers them decades later, perhaps deteriorated but nevertheless
in usable condition. But electronic records cannot survive unless specific steps are
taken—and repeated continually—to ensure their longevity. There is no foolproof,
single step to preserve electronic records permanently against media instability and
the obsolescence of hardware and software. Moreover, to satisfy extended-term data
retention requirements, records managers need the help of IT departments.
    Thus, we see that the management challenges posed by electronic records in local
governments are much greater than challenges encountered during the days of
paper. Local government managers must be prepared to make increasing invest-
ments in the right combination of technical talent and technology resources to
ensure that the solutions they implement are appropriate for current and future

Key trends in electronic records management
Plans for managing electronic records must address trends that are redefining—even
revolutionizing—records and information management in local governments. For
the foreseeable future, key trends will include several shifts.

Data processing becomes document management During the first twenty to
thirty years of their use in government, the primary function of computers was for
number-crunching applications such as financial reports and books of account, pay-
roll data, revenue and tax records, and other transaction-based applications. More
recently, however, the use of computers has gradually shifted from data processing
to document processing. In fact, some estimate that up to 80 percent of government
electronic information is now in the form of text files, or documents, as opposed to

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6    Electronic Records Management

    What are electronic records?
    Electronic records are so ubiquitous that users do not always recognize them as records. In the mod-
    ern office electronic records include
    Electronic files of all types Documents, spreadsheets, and other electronic files may be found on
    servers, desktops, and personal digital assistants (PDAs). Multiple locations for the same information
    make it difficult to manage records and cause problems with discovery and Freedom of Information
    Act (FOIA) issues.
    Electronic mail Like other documents, e-mail may reside on the e-mail server, the desktop, or the
    Instant messages In government situations, instant messages may be considered a form of meet-
    ing and the information subject to your state’s FOIA. Because several competing instant messaging
    systems are in use, and not all are compatible, the software that created the message will need to be
    preserved if these records must be retained. Alternatively, the organization may choose to standardize
    on a single system for “business activities.”
    Databases Databases for storing and retrieving information range from simple flat files to highly
    complex relational databases that have multiple linked files covering thousands of different types of
    information. There is much discussion about what is the actual record—the database itself or the
    reports generated from the database—but both can be records.
    Geographic information system (GIS) data A GIS takes information from a number of systems
    to create multilayered maps; for example, files on a county’s roads, sewer system, electrical grid,
    water system, and other utilities are combined into a single map.
    Web pages Local governments use Web sites to distribute information to citizens, provide access
    to government records and services, and conduct online procurement. As a result Web pages are a
    medium through which citizens and their government can interact. When Web pages become records,
    they have to be documented and preserved. Web pages can also be historical documents and pre-
    served for that reason.
    Digitized voice recording Computer-based phone switches allow phone conversations and tele-
    conferences to be preserved as electronic files. These files can even be transferred as .wav files via
    Videoconferencing Videoconferences among many participants in separate locations can be
    saved as videotape or electronic files.
    This list is by no means exhaustive, but it suggests the varied forms that electronic records can take.
    Each of these different forms of electronic information can be a record and each raises different
    issues with regard to management, retention, and preservation.
    Source: Robert Nawrocki, state records administrator, Commonwealth of Virginia.

the structured number-crunching applications that formerly dominated government
   Thus, the IT departments of local jurisdictions are no longer in the data-process-
ing business; they are actually in the document- and records-management business.
The problem is that most of the information specialists who work in these depart-

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                                               Electronic Records Enter the Mainstream 7

ments are attempting to manage huge quantities of electronic records without
records management knowledge or expertise. Therefore, initiatives in local govern-
ments must forge close relationships between the IT department and other depart-
ments not only to improve management of electronic records within and across
departments but also to place data processing in a document-centered (and records-
management-savvy) context.

Static documents become dynamic virtual documents In the traditional record-
keeping environments of local government, records and documents were static enti-
ties, fixed in time and frozen in format. Electronic versions of documents were often
viewed as nonofficial, that is, merely an analog to the jurisdiction’s paper files that
were considered to contain the official records. This traditional document paradigm
still persists among some local governments, but it is rapidly shifting. In the
advanced computing environments of today and tomorrow, electronic records will
be viewed and managed as dynamic, modular, multimedia entities. These “intelli-
gent” documents will carry with them their metadata—information about their ori-
gin and identity as well as executable code that enables them to be rendered and
manipulated as required for any number of business needs.
    The new electronic documents of government computing will also be multi-
dimensional, in that their component parts can be linked back to other documents
and updated with new information in ways not possible with physical records. New
software will enable documents with built-in intelligence to be routed around a net-
work and presented to users in a variety of forms and formats across multiple plat-
forms in various computing environments.
    The combination of these attributes produces the virtual document, which is cre-
ated from various parts of the computing environment and exists only when assem-
bled on demand by an individual user for a specific business purpose; it is
disassembled afterward (in effect, de-created) and returned to storage, without any
durable record of its content or even its existence. Thus, substantial adjustments in
practices of electronic records management will be required in order to manage
these virtual electronic documents properly.

Cost reduction becomes process improvement In the past, most governmental
records management programs usually tried to sell their solutions as service func-
tions that would result in substantial savings in the administrative costs and over-
head expenses associated with running the jurisdiction. Although cost savings will
always be important to local governments, in the electronic record-keeping systems
of today and tomorrow, process improvements will constitute a more compelling
objective. The only way any local government can deliver high-quality public serv-
ices consistent with citizen expectations is to reinvent itself and its business
processes—including its record-keeping systems and processes. Thus, the principal
business objective of records management must shift from cost reduction to process
improvement. This will be a key feature of electronic records management initiatives
in local governments everywhere.

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Media management becomes accessibility management The central focus of tra-
ditional records management was to manage information by managing its carriers—
the storage media on which it resided; for example, the file folders, storage cartons,
and various microfilm formats. In the advanced electronic record-keeping systems
of the future, however, most records will reside on several media formats and on
multiple platforms during the several stages of their life cycles. Electronic record-
keeping systems will need to provide interoperability across dissimilar platforms,
with links providing access to centralized storage facilities.
    This key trend began during the 1980s with the movement toward open systems,
and it is now rapidly accelerating with the development of intranets based on
Internet technology. The main point, however, is that in the electronic record-
keeping environments of today and tomorrow, the management of data carriers and
storage media is incidental to the central focus of managing information. The main
focus is on the accessibility of the information. The electronic records management
initiatives of local governments will need to embrace this key principle.

First step: A good strategic plan
If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there! The first thing
any local government needs as it contemplates electronic records management is a
good, long-range strategic plan to guide the assimilation of a variety of document
technologies throughout the local government during a three- to five-year period.
The plan must articulate a clear vision for electronic records management in the con-
text of the overall goals of the entire jurisdiction. Moreover, the plan must contain a
clear delineation of short-, medium-, and long-term objectives for managing jurisdic-
tional records as well as strategies for achieving these objectives. Each key trend dis-
cussed earlier should be addressed in the long-range strategic plan for electronic
records management.
    The strategic plan should be developed by professional specialists, reviewed by
all senior managers of the local government, and approved by the jurisdiction’s gov-
erning body. Planners should look at all aspects of records management. Many local
government officials ask, “Why can’t I just scan everything and throw away the
paper?” They may think that investing in one technology solution will solve all
records and information problems. (Maybe a vendor told them so.) However, a mix
of solutions—some focusing on technology and some not—may better address their
needs. Local governments need to examine carefully a mix of solutions and not limit
the planning to only one solution.
    In addition, because the entire subject of managing electronic records is so
dynamic, the plan should be updated annually or at least every other year.

Four goals for electronic records management
What, exactly, is the desired state of electronic record keeping in local governments?
Local governments can be confident they have achieved effective management of
their information assets when they are well on their way to reaching the following
four goals.

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  Four goals for electronic records management
  • Every record of strategic value to the local government is in digital format and readily accessible.
  • Records management across the organization uses one platform.
  • Only records necessary to conduct business, comply with the law, and meet reasonable needs for
    historical documentation are retained.
  • Information protection and document security practices are implemented fully.

Complete transition from paper-based environment to a largely digital record-
keeping environment Every record of high strategic value to the local government
should be in digital format and rapidly and fully accessible for all business pur-
poses. The location of all records of the jurisdiction must be known, and the records
must be retrievable accurately and within time frames that are consistent with the
government’s operational requirements and standards for public service.

Adopt and implement a standard, enterprise-wide platform for electronic records
management All business-critical documents should be able to be shared easily
and instantly with all internal organizational entities and external parties, including
service providers and the public. The strategic objectives of electronic commerce and
jurisdiction-wide collaboration are thereby achieved.

Retain only such records as are necessary to conduct business, comply with the
law, and meet reasonable needs for archival preservation of historical documenta-
tion All other records, whether paper or electronic, should be systematically dis-
carded under the authority of approved records retention policies and practices.

Implement fully the appropriate protection and document security practices All
business-critical documents and data should be safeguarded against loss, whether
from natural disasters, technical threats, theft, willful destruction, or other risks.
Moreover, in the event of a disaster, the jurisdiction’s records protection and recov-
ery capabilities should allow it to resume the normal delivery of public services
within a reasonable period of time.

Ten more specific objectives are outlined in the next section, and Chapter 4 discusses
early planning for specific projects and objectives.

Ten business objectives for electronic records management
The central business objective of electronic records management can be expressed
succinctly as follows: Get the right information to the right people where and when
they need it and at the lowest possible cost. Or, put another way: Electronic records
management endeavors to optimize the value of information by managing it so that
it is timely, accurate, complete, cost-effective, accessible, and usable for any and all
governmental purposes. The basic premise for electronic records management:
Better records make a better local government!

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Control the growth of records Without an electronic records management pro-
gram, local governments have, in reality, no control over the growth of their elec-
tronic records. Retention strategies that include planned disposal must be developed
in two broad computing environments:
• For data residing in production applications managed by IT departments
• For user-controlled data residing in desktop computing environments.

Reduce operating costs Most local governments do not know what they spend on
record keeping. Many think it is cheaper to keep all records forever than to make
decisions about retention and dispose of obsolete records. Purchasing and budget
data show the costs of only certain components of record keeping, for example, com-
puter hardware and software and filing cabinets. The total cost of ownership of all
jurisdictional records and information is usually not known, but it is estimated to be
five to seven times the cost of the hardware used for data storage.2 Because most
organizations, public or private, maintain somewhere between 30 percent and 60
percent more records than are required,3 a good plan for disposing of useless records
can be expected to produce significant savings. (See the section, Electronic records
retention and cost avoidance, in Chapter 8 for more on reducing operating costs.)

Improve efficiency and productivity A key objective of electronic records manage-
ment is to evaluate the performance of record-keeping systems—both paper and
electronic—and recommend solutions to optimize the operation of all such systems
throughout the jurisdiction. For every mission-critical record-keeping system, the
goal should be to optimize its performance so that it can consistently deliver to its
users exactly the information requested—no more and no less—within time frames
that are sufficient to meet jurisdictional needs.
   Paper-based record-keeping systems (particularly the larger ones) are not usually
capable of delivering requested information to their users much faster than within
approximately five to fifteen minutes. With microfilm, average retrieval times are
somewhat faster—three- to five-minute delivery times are most often cited. Good
digital-based record-keeping systems, however, should be able to deliver requested
documents and data to their users consistently within time frames ranging from a
few seconds to less than one minute. These performance characteristics obviously
have a direct impact on the quality of public services as well as citizen perceptions
about the overall quality of the jurisdiction’s management.

Assimilate new record-keeping technologies New computer-related technologies
designed to improve record keeping include records management software, elec-
tronic document management software, electronic document-imaging and work-
flow systems, full-text retrieval, and various other categories of technology
solutions. (See Chapter 2 for more on these systems.)
   To take advantage of the opportunities afforded by these new records and docu-
ment technologies, the jurisdiction must employ professional records management
expertise in close collaboration with IT resources.

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  Ten objectives for electronic records management
  • Control the growth of records
  • Reduce operating costs
  • Improve efficiency and productivity
  • Assimilate new record-keeping technologies
  • Ensure regulatory compliance
  • Reduce legal risk
  • Safeguard vital information
  • Support better decision making
  • Preserve the jurisdictional memory
  • Foster greater professionalism.

Ensure regulatory compliance Legislative and regulatory bodies around the world
impose numerous record-keeping mandates on local governments. These include
requirements for records maintenance and retention, requirements pertaining to the
use of various record media, and requirements for assuring the integrity, or trust-
worthiness, of records—both physical and electronic. (See Chapter 6 for a discussion
of the legal status of electronic records.)
    Legal compliance with record-keeping laws and regulations has been one of the
principal objectives of the records management discipline for decades. To comply
with these requirements, someone needs to study them and develop a comprehen-
sive plan that lays out exactly how the jurisdiction can comply. This task typically
falls to records management specialists who work in close collaboration with juris-
diction attorneys, IT personnel, and senior managers of local governments.

Reduce legal risk Local governments are by no means immune to lawsuits and the
risks associated with the use of records in adjudicating them. It is essential that if a
local jurisdiction possesses records that are deemed relevant to actual or potential
litigation or a regulatory investigation, the jurisdiction must produce those records if
requested to do so by the authorities. And if those records are introduced into legal
proceedings, the jurisdiction must defend their contents. On the other hand, if the
jurisdiction no longer possesses requested records, it must explain why it no longer
has them.
    Because old records are much more likely to be construed as incriminating rather
than exculpatory, the best strategy for minimizing the risk of litigation is to retain
only those records required to operate the government and comply with the law. All
other records should be destroyed immediately after the expiration of their value for
legal and business purposes. They should not be allowed to sit indefinitely in stor-
age facilities or on digital storage media. (See the section below on preserving the
jurisdictional memory.)

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     Records recovery after Hurricane Katrina—Long Beach, Mississippi
     Long Beach, Mississippi—a city of 17,000 on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico—lay in ruins after
     Hurricane Katrina swept over the Gulf coast in late August 2005. The city hall and the court building
     were unusable after being flooded with almost three feet of water. But less than three weeks after
     the hurricane, just after electricity was restored and a fire station was reconfigured as an office, the
     city government was able to open its doors for business.
         Long Beach, as a small city government, does not employ full-time information technology staff. A
     combination of a contract for outsourcing the city’s financial functions and a resourceful part-time IT
     contract employee saved the city’s electronic records.
         The city’s financial functions and payroll are managed by a company in Maine via a virtual private
     network, which made it possible for city employees to pick right up where they left off as soon as
     electricity was restored and new computers set up. Other city records, such as permitting and court
     records, were stored on separate servers. In the hours before the storm, the part-time IT consultant
     grabbed the city’s three servers (which are not much larger than the towers of desktop computers)
     and drove them outside the hurricane zone, thus saving the city’s electronic records.
         Because Long Beach did not have an ongoing program of scanning old city documents, many files
     and bound books of records had to be reclaimed from flooded areas. Mold was growing by the time
     these records were rescued. Although the traditional records were salvageable, the electronic records
     were easier to save and usable immediately.
         The city’s Web site, which had been managed by the school district, remained online during the
     duration of the storm because it had been moved to a host outside of Long Beach before the storm
     hit. The Web site was particularly valuable in the aftermath of the hurricane, as people needed infor-
     mation about local recovery efforts, permits, police functions, and claims.
     Source: Tom Fitzgerald, information systems manager, City of Port Orange, Florida. Port Orange is a sister city of Long Beach,
     Mississippi, and a team from Port Orange assisted Long Beach in its recovery efforts.

Safeguard vital information Every local government is vulnerable to the loss of
vital or mission-critical records, records without which the jurisdiction could not
provide essential services. Every local government needs a comprehensive plan for
protecting its most vital information assets from disaster and for restoring damaged
records and returning them to business use immediately following a disaster.
Employees must be ready to activate the plan at any time.

Support better decision making Records management initiatives must ensure that
local officials have the information necessary to make important business decisions.
Jurisdiction-wide document indexing conventions and records management, docu-
ment management, full-text retrieval, and knowledge management software can
assemble the relevant information needed for current business decisions and future
planning. Every record in the jurisdiction—whether paper or electronic—should be
accessible quickly as needed for management decisions.

Preserve jurisdictional memory The historical records of any local government
constitute its institutional memory—an irreplaceable asset of significant value, but
one that is often overlooked. This is particularly true of electronic records of archival

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value. An e-mail from the municipal archivist and records manager of the city of
Reykjavik, Iceland, an extremely stable local government, illustrates the problem:

   At my archives we are now receiving information in digital form almost every week. In
   endless sizes and formats. Up to 15 to 20 years old. Most of it is impossible to read for
   us today and some of it has permanent value, but it is not available on paper so it is
   really lost. It is a great and GRAVE problem how we can be sure to preserve our infor-
   mation today for the future. But this is not a problem for the future but for today.4

   Closer to home, Edith Allen, recently retired manager of records operations at the
Battelle Memorial Institute, put this matter into sharp focus:

   Our in-house computer staff tells us that they can provide storage for 3 to 5 years with
   certainty; 7 to 10 years with a “little bit of luck”; and, if storage is required after 10 years,
   there are no guarantees.5

   Local governments are legally responsible for preserving historical records. To
date, however, most preservation efforts have addressed only physical records.
Moreover, digital preservation practices of most IT departments have been limited
to performing data migrations during the course of upgrading to new generations of
technology. While these are of crucial importance to ensure the preservation of
legacy data in new hardware and software environments, in the near future local
governments will have to implement comprehensive data preservation strategies—
new policies and procedures, dedicated technical expertise, and sustainable organi-
zational commitment—to ensure that computer data of archival value will retain its
integrity. Electronic records management specialists and archivists must work with
IT specialists to preserve in full detail the story of each local government.

Foster greater professionalism When electronic records are lost and cannot be
retrieved readily, it reflects adversely on the quality of the jurisdiction and those
who run it. The morale of employees and their pride in their place of work are sure
to suffer.
    Managers and executives want their jurisdictions to appear professional to out-
siders, and they should also insist on professionalism in the management of the
office and its physical and electronic records. Although image and morale are intan-
gible, difficult-to-quantify factors, they may be the best reasons to support better
electronic records management.

Case studies: Tales of two local governments
Life, they say, is full of choices, and it is certainly true where the management of
records by local governments is concerned. Every local government must ultimately
make decisions about whether, when, and how it will embrace the future of elec-
tronic records and modernize its record-keeping systems, or whether it will continue
to operate systems that are functionally obsolete until, at some point, it has no
choice but to modernize them. The theme of this chapter is that local governments

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14   Electronic Records Management

can choose to assimilate new electronic records technologies sooner or later, wisely
or foolishly. The following case studies illustrate both courses.

How not to do it: Anytown, USA
One of life’s great lessons is that we learn more from the failures we endure than
from the successes we achieve. The following case study, based on the experience of
one city, illustrates mistakes that can lead to failure.
    A few years ago, Anytown paid more than $800,000 for an electronic document-
imaging system that is now regarded as little more than an expensive filing cabinet.
Had the plan worked as intended, more than 25 city departments would have
scanned millions of records into the system to let anyone, including the public,
retrieve municipal records from any computer terminal. Officials predicted a paper-
less city hall within two years; they even planned to sell off most of the city’s filing
    The estimated revenues ($100,000) from the sale of the cabinets never material-
ized. Most of the system’s image-capable workstations were never put to use;
indeed, some were buried under the stacks of paper records the system was sup-
posed to store. Only the accounting department used the imaging system as
intended, although the city clerk’s office stored ordinances and resolutions on opti-
cal media.
    Although city accountants can retrieve more than two years of invoices and
vouchers, the system is “functionally and technologically obsolete; it was a mis-
take,” says the city’s head of information technology. The former city clerk who
spearheaded the acquisition of the system says, “Everybody wants to do their own
records. That’s the old culture. It was supposed to be citywide, for all departments
to deposit their records into, and it was supposed to allow for better access and stor-
age. That never happened. People just didn’t want to do it.”
    What lessons can be learned from this story?
    First, the city did not obtain professional advice or develop a good understand-
ing of the nature of the problem or the ability of the specific technology to solve it.
    Second, the city treated the new initiative as a general-purpose solution that
could be assimilated immediately throughout the organization. However, document
imaging is not a general purpose solution for records management problems; its suc-
cessful deployment is for specific applications. The city should have started by con-
verting a single pilot application (for example, accounts payable) and then scaled
outward from there.
    Third, the city assumed that all departments would participate in the citywide
implementation of the new system, but the departments’ buy-in was never obtained.
    Fourth, although the city planned to sell its filing cabinets, it did not have a plan
to convert its large quantity of existing records to image format.
    Last, the city used the new system to scan ordinances and resolutions of the city
council (records scheduled for permanent retention) without confirming that elec-
tronic document imaging is appropriate as a medium to support these retention

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                                              Electronic Records Enter the Mainstream 15

Success story: Reinventing government at the recorder’s office, Maricopa
County, Arizona
This case study was assembled from notes taken by David O. Stephens during a
visit to the office of the Maricopa County Recorder, Phoenix, Arizona, January 2000.
Data on the operation of the program were confirmed and updated in August 2005.
    Maricopa County, Arizona, provides a true-life success story. The Maricopa
County Recorder’s Office operates a state-of-the-art electronic document-imaging
system for recorded documents such as deeds and estate papers. The system is one
of the largest and most technologically advanced of its kind in the United States,
and it required four years of planning, from 1988 to 1991, before the system went
live. It was financed through a state-approved recording-fee surcharge, with funds
earmarked for the electronic imaging system.
    Under the old system, documents presented for recording were microfilmed, and
the originals were returned to the recording party by mail. Original film was stored
in a vault, and copies of the film were used for public reference. With the new sys-
tem, documents are scanned, digitized, indexed, and recorded to optical media for
rapid online access. The scanned images are then microfilmed for permanent
archival storage.
    Approximately 70 million images have been produced since the system was
implemented. The system—with approximately 12 terabytes of disk space, of which
some 75 percent is being used—processes more than 9,000 new documents each
day. In recent years, the image storage system has shifted from optical media housed
in a nearline repository to a high-performance online capability. Because these
recorded documents are among the most vital in this or any county government,
Maricopa County cannot risk losing them. Thus, the county has implemented multi-
ple levels of backup protection. As required by state law, all recorded documents are
on microfilm (a recognized archival medium not exposed to hardware and software
dependencies) as well as in electronic format. The silver original films are stored in a
basement vault in the courthouse. Security copies of the optical platters are stored
off-site at a commercial data protection company, as are mirror images of the online
data. Finally, to augment the degree of backup protection still further, the recorder's
office creates digital video disks (DVDs) for remote storage in another state. This
multitier security system thus provides the ultimate in backup protection for these
vital county records.
    The system is now Web enabled; users can access recorded documents via the
Internet from their home computers. Recorded documents can be downloaded and
printed. The result: much greater efficiencies for the county and its citizens.
    Maricopa County’s system is a classic example of reinventing government
through the assimilation of advanced electronic records management technologies. It
wasn’t created overnight, however; technology assimilation is all about introducing
new system solutions systematically and gradually over time, so that the organiza-
tion can reposition itself to the next level of sophistication. Assimilation is accom-
plished through deployment of a high order of technical expertise, careful planning
and execution, and a commitment from the senior management of the local

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16   Electronic Records Management

government to operate mission-critical record-keeping systems to the highest stan-
dards of professionalism.

1 Fred Moore, “Data Growth Outruns Ability to Manage It,” Computer Technology Review 22, February 2002.
2 Paul Wang, “Understanding Online Archiving,” Storage Management Solutions 5, no. 11, 2000.
3 David O. Stephens and Roderick C. Wallace, Electronic Records Retention: New Strategies for Data Life Cycle
  Management (Lenexa, Kans.: ARMA International, 2003).
4 Svanhildur Boggadottir, e-mail message to David O. Stephens, January 9, 1999.
5 Edith Gaylord Allen, “After the Records Inventory and Retention Decisions: Implementation Issues in
  Electronic Records Management,” in Proceedings of the 46th Annual Conference, ARMA International, Montreal,
  Quebec, September 30–October 3, 2001 (Lenexa, Kans.: ARMA International, 2001).

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