E-records Solutions evolve ? as do the demands
- By S. Michael Gallagher
- Jul 01, 2005
As the business of government, like that of the rest of the
world, increasingly is done digitally, managing official records becomes more
important. It isn't only the volume of information that's changing;
oversight required to manage electronic records also is also increasing.
"Government records officers have a huge challenge,"
said L. Reynolds Cahoon, chief information officer for the National Archives and
Records Administration. "As more federal records are created electronically,
[records managers] need to work with analysts and business process designers to
build records management right into the business processes as they're being
It isn't solely a government problem. Increased oversight
and regulation of corporations in the post-Sarbanes-Oxley world are making
electronic records management a high-profile problem in the private sector.
Look no further than Morgan Stanley & Co. Inc. for a
lesson in the perils of poor records management. In May, the
investment bank was found guilty of fraud and slapped with a $1.5 billion
judgment ? primarily because it could not produce subpoenaed e-mail messages.
Under Securities and Exchange Com- mission regulations, financial companies are
required to retain e-mail and instant messages for three years. Morgan Stanley
already had been fined roughly $10 million five years ago for not having proper
e-mail retention policies.
Government agencies at all levels face a similar problem.
Financial accountability regulations, Privacy Act requirements and even
requirements for accessibility to government services under Section 508 of the
Americans with Disabilities Act are making not just retaining records but also
creating them an important architectural consideration. It's an issue that an
agency needs to consider in its enterprise architecture.
And records officers must adapt to these new requirements
without much hope of more hands coming to their aid.
"We don't see these organizations ramping up and hiring
more people to handle records management," said Frank McGovern, product
marketing specialist at FileNet Corp. of
, and a retired Air Force records officer. "You're starting to see
repositories with more than a billion objects. How do you manage that?"
is a leader in establishing best practices in government records management. It
is the managing partner of the Electronic Records Management e-Government
initiative. As part of the initiative, the Environmental Protection Agency is
working on a process for evaluating commercial solutions.
No longer standalone
The software industry has moved away from standalone tools
for records capture and is now creating records management platforms that
integrate into the very fabric of enterprise systems.
Vendors are crafting their records management systems into
components so that they can be more deeply embedded, Cahoon said.
The move to integrate records management with enterprise
architecture is consistent across the public and private sectors.
"Instead of buying a records management software package,
[organizations] are looking to buy a suite of software that does Web
collaboration, team forms and basic document management," McGovern said.
Kathleen Kummer, head of the government business unit at
Open Text Corp. of
, said she sees it much the same way.
suites are kind of the trend," she said. "We still also offer a standalone
product, but from a technical architecture perspective, we're moving toward a
service-oriented architecture based on reusable components."
Open Text is one of the earliest adopters of JSR 170, a
Java Community Process proposed standard for accessing content repositories in
Java 2 Enterprise Edition, independent of system type. The standard API will
help Open Text and other records management platforms integrate directly with
applications based on J2EE, including major enterprise software platforms such
as PeopleSoft, Oracle Applications Server, SAP and IBM's WebSphere and Domino
Making records management as automatic as possible is the
key, McGovern said.
"We use workflow to automate a lot of records management
tasks. National Archives puts out a lot of requirements for vital records
programs," he said. "If you depend on the records officer to occasionally
remind people of those policies, how effective can that be? But you can automate
those policies through workflow. When you depend on end users to decide what's
a record, they make mistakes."
FileNet's software uses a "zero-click" approach to
capturing records, based on a combination of application events, metadata within
documents and integration with enterprise processes to capture records with no
additional work on the end user's part. E-mails, for example, are retained
automatically based on rules at the server level, so users are not required to
drag them to an archive folder.
Systems can be configured to automatically notify record
owners when documents are slated for destruction. E-mails can be automatically
captured, based on metadata in their headers or on where they are addressed, and
stored in the repository. Business transaction documents created by enterprise
resource planning systems can be captured as part of the business process.
Lubor Ptacek, director of product marketing for Hopkinton,
Mass.-based EMC Corp.'s Documentum division, said Documentum's platform goes
even further with automation. Its system also can be trained to automatically
classify content, indexing it based on an organization's record taxonomy.
"We support both automatic and aided classification,"
he said. "The aided portion is important, because it usually takes a year to
get to full automation [and] to tune the rules."
Retention format issues
In most modern electronic records management and enterprise
content management systems ? the heart of most records platforms ? metadata
is collected on records either from their tags or from other information
collected at the time they are created. It is then stored in a relational or
Extensible Markup Language database.
Most systems store records in their original format or in a
specified archival format such as Portable Document Format. But the longevity of
file formats is a major issue for federal records.
Many federal records must be retained permanently, but the
technologies tied to their creation are ephemeral. There are more than 14,000
different file formats in use today in the federal government, according to
Cahoon. And agencies are digitizing literally
billions of paper records.
is building the Electronic Records Archive under a contract awarded last August
to Harris Corp. of
, and Lockheed Martin Corp. The challenge is this: The new system must be able
to present documents without relying on the applications in which they were
Delivery of the system is at least three years away, and
what platform-independent format it will use remains to be seen. One candidate
is the Portable Document Format/Archive, a standard recently ratified by the
International Organization for Standardization.
PDF/A is a bare-bones, platform-independent version of PDF
based on Version 1.4 of Adobe Systems Inc.'s public-domain specification.
PDF/A was developed with help from government agencies that have large-scale
document retention needs, such as the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S.
The courts moved to PDF/A as their preferred electronic
archiving format after discovering that older PDFs were no longer readable by
many Acrobat Readers because of the proprietary LZWDecode compression they used.
But because it is a stripped-down version of PDF, PDF/A may
not meet everyone's needs all the time. And according to
officials, although PDF/A might be fine for agency storage, it doesn't meet
's standards for transmitting records to the archives.
"The stuff they had to take out of Adobe to guarantee
readability removed a lot of functionality," said Paul Chan, vice president of
marketing at PureEdge Solutions Inc., an XML electronic forms vendor in
The Army and Air Force are using PureEdge's software to
create forms for their business processes. The functionality and business logic
behind the forms are written into them with a declarative programming language.
Because the forms are pure XML, it is easier to search on the metadata in them.
hasn't yet endorsed an archival format, but agencies should keep an eye on
the agency's work in formulating e-record guidelines. Without such help,
according to Cahoon, records officers might find themselves overwhelmed by the
size of their management task. n
S. Michael Gallagher is an independent technology