It’s often seen as one of governments’ thankless achievements, despite helping build civilisations. Records management, the tool helping drive so many services for the community, has taken another battering — on this occasion because widespread gaps have exposed the Victorian government to potential fraud, or worse crimes.
Building upon the recent corruption findings in the state, the Victorian Auditor General Andrew Greaves has published a new report into records management oversight from the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) and the practices at the departments of Education and Training (DET) and Health and Human Services (DHHS). There was uniform agreement with the aim of modernising and lifting, not merely the ICT, but the practices and standards agencies are held to.
Gaps in the state’s records and poor controls give staff the opportunity to destroy or alter records without drawing alarm, warned Greaves. Both DET and DHHS have begun work to address these issues in their portfolio.
DET in particular has serious issues with even knowing how many records it holds and where they are. Across the agency, more than 50 different locations are being used for records storage, but the records management unit has no control of them or access to them. There is also a large but unknown number of storage units, storerooms, filing cabinets and other storage repositories spread across the agency in undocumented locations, the report reveals, containing potentially many thousands of boxes of records.
It is perhaps unsurprising record keeping is a big challenge in both departments — DET employs nearly 60,000 people and DHHS over 10,000, each with multiple locations.
TRIM wait sparks fear
Digital locations were also a problem, even for the more advanced setup at DHHS which has moved over to TRIM. An estimated 16,800 files out of 7 million are recorded missing in its TRIM system, but a further 100 million electronic documents are flowing around its network drives and shadow systems. Nobody could tell how many recorded were held in email systems.
Perhaps most worryingly, 622 child protection files were among those known to be missing.
Its historical records and information management has previously been criticised in relation to investigations around child sex abuse and wards of the state, with poor management having rendered evidence irretrievable, potentially protecting offenders.
A core reason for so many documents not being captured within DHHS’s endorsed electronic document and records management system, TRIM, may be because it has only been deployed to 20% of the workforce, argued Greaves.
“However, where staff are choosing to manage their records outside of TRIM, in breach of the Capture specification, the records management unit does not have the authority to compel them to lawfully manage their records.”
“DHHS’s central records management unit has worked hard to establish a system that supports effective records management. However, with so many documents sitting outside of TRIM, this work is not being used effectively throughout the agency. As a result, DHHS is not fully realising the potential benefits of its records management system or managing its risks.”
Greaves was concerned that staff aren’t receiving the training they need. Though many public servants find dealing with their agency’s electronic documents and records management system a drag, is it both essential and invaluable.
However, there isn’t enough money for comprehensive records management training for all Victorian public sector users covered by legislative requirements drafted in 1973. Justine Heazlewood, the state’s Keeper of Public Records flagged the enormity of such a scope: “PROV’s Act covers state and local government, government health bodies, primary, secondary, and tertiary education bodies, and public utilities. Further research into the costs and mechanisms for skills improvement will be undertaken in 2017/18 in order to determine the most cost efficient and effective way of meeting the objective of this recommendation; which is improved records management skills in the public sector.”
There is already an online e-learning PROV course, free of charge to all public sector workers, “to ensure staff in your agency have a common understanding of basic recordkeeping concepts and the recordkeeping standards.” There is also a Records Management Network run by PROV to facilitate peer education.
The Department of Premier and Cabinet is reviewing the legislation, in part to address the complexities and risks for records management arising from increased outsourcing arrangements and advances in technology since the Public Records Act 1973 was first drafted.
Improved access for wards and carers
Records management isn’t merely a bureaucratic or criminal concern, as many records have very real community public value. VAGO noted DHHS’s recent achievement with the completion of the Ward Records Plan. DHHS secretary Kym Peake noted the improved access:
“This includes the indexing of more than one million historical paper-based records relating to Victorian children, young people and adults placed in a range of institutions, including former wards of the state and care leavers. The project’s concluding milestone was the 1 December 2016 publication of the website, www.findingrecords.dhhs.vic.gov.au, which provides care leavers with access to more than 200 guides to the department’s collections of historic archival records.”
Lessons for EDRMS
Past experience show there are a few key lessons that can help your agency get the most out of its EDRMS.
The records management experts at the National Archives point to 10 key lessons for agencies implementing an EDRMS:
- The justification for an EDRMS is best driven by business needs, rather than a belief that technology can solve all issues and challenges.
- The agency should expect significant change — implementing a new system should be treated as a change management project.
- Senior management leadership, commitment and ongoing support are crucial.
- Encourage user involvement to gain buy-in and ownership.
- Ensure your project team includes, or has access to, a range of skills and experience.
- Invest in getting your agency’s information management right.
- Allow time for migration, integration and conversion issues that affect other systems and processes.
- Design the EDRMS implementation approach to suit your agency’s environment.
- Make sure training meets the needs of end users and is available immediately before the EDRMS implementation.
- Ensure ongoing resources are in place to monitor the quality of data input, train new staff and provide system support.
Having a plan to encourage user acceptance can help with uptake of the EDRMS — Geoscience Australia boosted acceptance of its upgraded system with an incentive where staff would receive an additional pay rise for the period if a certain quota of documents were correctly registered within the system. Visible support from senior levels also helped bolster efforts to roll it out.
The Department of Parliamentary Services’ experience rolling out a new EDRMS demonstrates the importance of post-implementation review. By going back and checking how things were panning out, the department was able to work out that although it had reached its overall objectives, there were still issues to be ironed out, such as problems with integration with other applications, remote access, limited use of workflow technologies and restrictive document controls.