DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Records Management
Records Managers Face Uphill Battle Against Paper<@VM>Intelligent Agents, Analytic Tools Help Research Managers<@VM>PERMS: An Exception to the Rule
By Ed McKenna
Poised uneasily between paper and digital worlds, military records managers are in an unenviable position. While still filing reams of paper, they also must manage a deluge of electronic documents using systems and policies designed to maintain, index and track strictly paper records. And, of course, they must do this with smaller staffs.
It is not a new situation, and the Defense Department already has launched initiatives to define standards and identify systems to help modernize the process. However, implementation has lagged as record managers have had to battle internal resistance and compete for funds with other information technology priorities, such as year 2000 and security needs.
As a result, records managers are left to make due with outdated legacy systems or build their own temporary systems.
In its new draft strategic plan released this summer, the National Archives and Records Administration offered little hope of relief, noting that agencies will continue to generate large volumes of paper and digital documents for the foreseeable future. While the former strains an agency's physical resources, the latter poses policy and technical challenges, such as how to deal with electronic mail.
"The current standards for records keeping also apply to e-mail. They have to be pulled into an official records keeping system and classified and maintained," said Carol Brock, chairwoman of the Federal Information and Records Managers and records manager for the Overseas Private Investment Corp. For many government agencies today, this means printing the documents and filing them, she added.
This is not only a wasteful exercise, but by "converting it to paper, you lose something, because you can't bring it back to e-mail and attach it and forward it to somebody else. You lose the advantages of having it in an automated system," said Steve Matsura, senior engineer at the Defense Department's Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC), Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
Responsible for certifying electronic records management programs for use by Defense Department organizations, JITC in a way stands at the leading edge of the department's efforts to maintain those advantages.
This test center and its mission grew out of a four-year Defense Department effort that started in 1993 and involves two special task forces. These first established functional requirements and then, with the assistance of the National Archives and Records Administration, a department standard for electronic records systems.
Adopted in November 1997, the Design Criteria Standard for Electronic Records Management Software Applications, DoD 5015.2-STD as it was called, was generally praised by industry observers and quickly embraced by not only the Defense Department, but by all federal agencies and a large segment of the private sector.
"To get a standard, particularly at the federal level, is a major undertaking," said Frank McGovern, president of Tower Software Corp., Reston, Va. The standard has been translated into other languages, and many governments in Europe are asking vendors to comply with it.
In general terms, the standard addresses critical functions of records keeping, namely identification, classification, scheduling and disposition for digital records.
The Defense Department standard also provides a mechanism for certifying software, said Marilyn Wright, vice president of strategic planning for the Association for Information and Image Management. "If you are going to sell the records management software to DoD, you have to be compliant," she said.
That is where JITC fits in. The testing center oversees the certification process and posts a list of compliant systems at its Web site (jitc.fhu.disa.mil/recmgt/). There are 27 compliant products now listed at that site.
The process is straightforward. Companies apply and pay $20,000 to cover test costs for two-year product certification, and then about half that amount when they return to have product updates certified, said Matsura.
"We try to ensure they will pass," he said. "We ask them to send information ahead of time, because we don't want them to waste their time and resources and money and not pass."
For example, test procedures are posted on the JITC Web site. "We ask them to download them and run their systems through them beforehand," he said. In all, about 127 core functional requirements are in the test.
"We were the first commercial organization to be certified, and helped set the stage for the process guidelines," said Tim Shinkle, chief technical officer at Provenance Systems, noting the company's software is being used by the National Imagery and Mapping Agency and offices within the Air Force, Army and Navy.
There are two types of tests: One examines a single product; and the other, called paired certification, looks at more than one product used together to satisfy the requirements, he said.
While numbers are hard to come by in this market, three companies are generally acknowledged to be the top tier of vendors of records management software. They are Tower Software, which is owned mostly by its Australian parent company, Tower Software Engineering, Canberra; Provenance Systems Inc., Ottawa; and Open Text Corp., Waterloo, Canada.
These companies have qualified their products alone and have partnered with other companies, such as Unisys Corp., Blue Bell, Pa., and Filenet Corp., Costa Mesa, Calif., which are looking to add standards-based records keeping functionality to their portfolios.
The list of compliant software systems "has a phenomenal market force," said Richard Medina, a senior analyst at Doculabs, Chicago. The vendors on the JITC list are going to be the ones on the short lists of not only government but also some private-sector buys, especially those of heavily regulated industries, such as petrochemicals, he added.
"It has had an exceptionally positive effect on our business," said Colleen Francis, director of sales iRIMS at Open Text. The Web site is the first place government organizations go when they decide to overhaul their records systems, she said.
The company's iRIMs and Livelink records management systems are being implemented at the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, said Francis. The Joint Chiefs of Staff is conducting a pilot of the systems at its headquarters at Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla., and the Army Reserve Corp. at Fort Dix, N.J. The Air Force also tapped Open Text as its preferred supplier of records management systems.
JITC's role is not to promote products, Matsura said. However, "in our detailed reports, we try to bring out the differences," between the products, such as "the number of steps it takes to do something [or] whether it is complicated to get certain functions done," he added.
The standard has some shortcomings, said Medina, adding "it is not supposed to do everything."
For example, the standard is concerned with compliance and not with litigation, risk and cost reduction, "so it does not help you out if you are trying to keep yourself from being sued," he said.
It also is primarily concerned with office productivity documents, such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint, and to a secondary degree with e-mail, but not dynamic Web content and enterprise resource planning system data, which are the primary delivery contexts in the new economy, Medina said.
Even with these shortcomings, most observers agree the standard has advanced the cause of electronic records.
However, it has not yet sparked a lot of buying of records management systems in the Defense Department.
"It is a major cultural change," said Brock. With new automated systems in place, there will be no support staff; the people who create records will have to know how to administer them, said Brock.
"If we only had to click a few points of metadata to classify a record, it would go much smoother, [but] some of the profiles require extensive thought and knowledge of the major structure of a whole agency," she said.
Lack of funding also is a problem. Over the years, the implementation of records management systems has had to compete for dollars with other more prominent priorities, such as year 2000 fixes. In the current budget, it takes a back seat to tackling information security, said Brock.
A records management system can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000 for 25 seats and up, company officials said.
"These things are not cheap and ... the amount of money for the hardware and the license and all that is roughly 50 percent of what it is going to cost to actually implement it," said Michael Miller, director of the modern records program at the National Archives and Records Administration.
"It is not sexy. If records management were sexy, we'd have the money," said Wanda Craft, records manager for Air Force Materiel Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
Records management systems have been validated as legitimate requirements by the Air Force's chief information officer council and CIO support working groups, but still "the only approved Air Force record keeping system is file cabinets and paper," she said.
"We have not made a systematic effort [at the materiel command] to do interim solutions to manage electronic records," Craft said. She said she expects to receive funding for a commandwide solution and did not want to force people to learn two different solutions.
"We've had a bunch of prototypes and pilots, but nothing has lived past a certain time frame," she said. In fact, she started trying Provenance's Foremost product six years ago, several years before the Defense Department standard was conceived.
"We still have not gotten to the point where we're going to say this is the solution for the command," she said. However, "we have a lot of efforts under way and continue to encourage people to look at different products." A number of pilots going on at Wright Patterson and Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., are trying out the Tower Trims product.
In the Seattle district office of the Army Corps of Engineers, records manager Leslie Malek is still using the records management system she developed and implemented in 1991. Her system, which is built on Oracle database and now uses Microsoft Access interface, manages records for about 500 users in her office.
"The rest of the corps is still struggling along with manual or semi-automated systems," she said.
"I designed the system out of desperation, because at the time there was no records management software on the market that could do what I needed done," said Malek, who served on the Defense Department task force that issued functional requirements that served as the basis for the records management standard.
Since that time, the corps explored using her system as a basis for an organizationwide solution called the Corps of Engineers Electronic Recordkeeping Information System, or CEERIS. But it was shelved before it was fully implemented last year, she said.
Taking a different tack, the corps hired Xerox Corp. in August to help it define requirements and devise an architecture for an enterprisewide document and records management system, said Chris Kelly, a principal in the federal practice at Xerox Connect, McLean, Va,
In assessing a potential system, the company studies an organization's business processes, including retention policies and, where necessary, helps that organization to devise policies, he said. He noted, however, "we can't do that for them."
Valued at about $3 million, Kelly said he expects the engagement to last about two and half years.
By Ed McKenna
Records managers are looking to emerging technologies to help automate records keeping processes and make productive use of their stored information.
Chief among these technologies are so-called intelligent agents that automatically can identify and classify records and analytic tools that make resourceful use of archival information.
When it launched its Autorecords product earlier this year, Provenance Systems Inc. became the first major record management software vendor to incorporate an intelligent agent technology into its records management product. With this new technology, the product focuses on understanding information to the point where it can determine whether something is a record or not, said Tim Shinkle, chief technical officer at Provenance Systems.
"If it determines the document is a record, Autorecords then can put it into the appropriate records subject category," he said.
At the heart of the system is technology from San Francisco-based Autonomy Inc., which uses complex mathematical algorithms and probability theory to find and analyze patterns in electronic documents and determine their relative importance and category.
For records management purposes, the technology can determine within a probability of about 85 percent what needs to be saved vs. what needs to be tossed or placed in other categories, such as save for two or five years, said David Appelbaum, general manager of Autonomy.
The new system has gained the attention of records managers.
"That autonomy is a real smart thing," said Wanda Craft, records manager for Air Force Materiel Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. She said she already has recommended that the Command expand its records management requirements to include this type of capability.
There are, however, some doubters.
"In the records business, it is absolutely essential to do three things: preserve content, structure and context," said Frank McGovern, president of Tower Software Corp. "We have concerns about autoclassification in terms of its ability to preserve context," he said, adding, though, that Tower is developing its own autoclassification product.
"It is the wave of the future, but it is still too early to depend on it yet," said Richard Medina, a senior analyst at Doculabs.
At the other end of the process, organizations are using analytic technologies, such as Ottawa-based Cognos Inc.'s business intelligence tools, to extract useful data sets from their growing information repositories.
Science Applications International Corp., San Diego, used Cognos tools to help build the Total Force Data Warehouse for the Marine Corps Manpower Plans and Policy Division in Quantico, Va., The division sets the service's recruiting and training budgets and goals.
The warehouses include the personnel records of all active duty, reserve and retired Marines going back to 1988 ? some 853,000 records, said Greg Dicks, director of Cognos Federal.
Begun in 1998, the Total Force Data Warehouse mission has been to take records that were offline in archival storage and reorganize them into a homogeneous structure and make them accessible online, said Kevin Ikeda, assistant vice president and program manger of the project at SAIC. The company has earned about $3 million from the contract, which is currently being rebid, he said.
Limited now to 20 official users, it will expand to 100 in the coming year, and eventually could grow to 700, Ikeda said.
The Marine Corps uses Cognos tools to help it make critical recruitment decisions by providing analyses of the historical data to project the number of troops and specialty skills that will be needed.
The organization uses the system to carry out legislatively mandated reporting, including a tally of the number of people in different categories that are on active duty, said Capt. John America, an operations analyst with the integration and analysis section of the Marine Corps Manpower Plans and Policy Division.
America said he has used the system for numerous special assignments. Responding to a recent request from the general in charge of his division, for example, he assembled detailed analysis of physical fitness scores for officers by rank and military occupational specialty. The whole task took 15 minutes, he said, noting that in the past it would have taken at least a week.By Ed McKenna
Despite the Defense Department stipulation that records management systems must be certified compliant with its departmentwide standard, there are some notable exceptions to the rule.
One such program is the Army's Personal Records Management System. Begun in 1991 and located at four sites around the country, the system images, stores and manages records for nearly 2.2 million Army active duty, retired and reserve personnel.
Since the system creates and stores its own data, the standard does not apply to it "unless they decide to take the records out of PERMS and put them into [a records management system such as] Foremost to store," said Michael Miller, director of the modern records program at the National Archives and Records Administration.
While it does not fall under the standard, the vendor did have to adhere to the military's disposition requirements mandating the digital records be held for 70 years, said Dale Browne, executive manager for defense infrastructure system at Litton-PRC Inc. of McLean, Va., which won the original contract to develop PERMS.
The Army also stipulated that the company use 12-inch write once read many, or Worm, media, he said, adding that the technology has been upgraded over the years.
"We've gone through no less than 150 engineering changes," he said. "PERMS was initially deployed as a closed system where the requirements were very, very well-defined, and the user base was well-known," said Browne. Recent technology changes have opened up the system some, providing the potential for all soldiers, wherever they are, to access their files, he said.
In 1997 and 1998, for example, the company Web-enabled PERMS so that users could access the records at their desktops with a browser. Just recently, the company introduced network-attached storage to speed up data access.
Browne said PERMS is looking at the Defense Department standard. "As we introduce a new commercial platform, they are considering [becoming] compliant with DoD 5015.2," which sets the Defense Department standard for electronic records systems, he said.
Since the project began, PRC has won all the follow-on contracts for the PERMS project. The latest award was made under the General Service Administration's Millennia contract in August 1999 and was valued at $22 million over five years. When added to earlier contracts, the PERMS project will be worth $70 million to build and maintain through 2003.