Next Generation Records Management Comes to the US Federal Government – Part II

profile-image-500In this post from last December, I commented on NARA’s release of their Universal Electronic Records Management Requirements and suggested that it was the beginning of the government’s steady march toward implementing next generation records management solutions across the Federal government.  

In January, NARA moved another step forward by creating its Electronic Records Management Federal Integrated Business Framework (ERM-FIBF), modeled on the Shared Solutions and Performance Improvement office’s Federal Integrated Business Framework.  The ERM-FIBF is designed to provide an end-to-end roadmap for agencies to move their records from on-premise repositories to a cloud-based infrastructure.    

And on March 22, NARA announced that it will soon host a market research day to encourage vendors and consultants to create electronic records management solutions based the Universal Electronic Records Management Requirements and the ERM-FIBF framework. 

These are all exciting, positive developments. But it is critical that Federal agencies – as well as commercial software and services providers – understand that these new services are not simply changes in technology.  Instead, these new solutions will be primarily policy and procedure driven solutions that simply leverage the most innovative technical tools available.    

Not only does this imply a completely new paradigm for agency enterprise records management, it also means that the biggest challenge agencies will face will not be the result of technical innovation.  It will be managing the resistance to change that these new solutions create.

Until agencies understand – and proactively manage – the cultural challenges that these new solutions will create, these new NARA developments will struggle to be effective.

2 thoughts on “Next Generation Records Management Comes to the US Federal Government – Part II

  1. I shared a reaction to your posted link to a records management listserv. Sharing the same comment here, as well. Thanks for your link to Part II of your blog series, “Next Generation Records Management Comes to the Federal Government.” As you know, I subscribe to your blog, and I read it and Part I with great interest.​ You mention that one of the biggest challenges will be managing the resistance to change that these new solutions will bring.

    Having seen officials struggle to sell change messages in a number of areas, some unrelated to RM, during my career, I’ve come to believe that giving people psychic space is an important part of managing this. One of the areas where I disagree with the William Bridges change model many Federal officials turned to 10-15 years ago is the rhetoric it used. Telling employees that a component in their “resistance to change” is fear or anxiety puts a negative focus on the listener. Rreframing that in a more positive way, to focus on the change agents (“what could we do differently to frame the purpose of this, so it resonates with more people?”), would have worked better back then, in my view. At least in some parts of Fedland, while some of the Bridges concepts are valid, the phrase has picked up a lot of baggage over the years.

    Many attempts in Fedland 10-15 years ago to resolve RM issues by rolling out electronic documents/electronic records management systems did not meet their goals, for a number of reasons. One was because people were too busy to focus on RM, which seemed like a “when I get to it” thing to many program officials. Another more profound impact was because some change agents overlooked the psychological impact on senior officials. Those officials had been accustomed to having secretaries and assistants file away their paper records, in locked cabinets, where appropriate. The most sensitive documents were close held, and if permanently valuable, stored away for decades.

    Manual declaration of records status by the recipients and senders of email placed them into constant view in the electronic environment in the mid-2000s. The immediacy of moving record material in messages and attachments into an ERMS required a RM change management step often overlooked. I say that based on what I heard or observed in talking to RM friends throughout Federal agencies back then. That is, the building first, by on-site agency and departmental RM practitioners and their workplace allies, of an empathetic foundation geared towards acknowledging and mitigation the psychological impact on senior officials.

    That inadvertent missing change management step from 10-15 years ago may be part of the emotional baggage some senior program officials still may carry. Change works best when you believe others see and understand you, as someone affected, in the situation. Worth keeping in mind as they now hear RMs sell them automated solutions to the handling of their recorded words, further changing how materials are handled.

    Beyond the workplace challenges for RMs, but one of interest to me as a user of records and as someone with many other historians among my friends, is the increasing need for human intervention at the very end of the records lifecycle. I understand the need for automated solutions and support their use in RM. But it means that at the very time as automation removes the human element in some RM work, researchers of the future will need increasingly to insert the human being into the online or physical research room.

    Which is to say, to intuit where and why knowledge gaps and archival silences exist. And, where it exists in contemporary records, what caused diminished candor and “pre-emptive sanitization,” to use a phase from a conversation I had 15 years ago with Air Force Historian Eduard Mark. And how what was recorded in preserved materials may have been affected in an era where some writers feared weaponization of their written words. Something automation cannot do for researchers, but their own intuition and humanistic outlook may help resolve, to some extent.

    Thanks again for your good blogging, Don. I greatly appreciate it and your work on the job.


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