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6. Assessing the current and future recordkeeping environment

Key messages in this chapter

  • Agencies that have a comprehensive awareness of their business and regulatory environments can prioritise recordkeeping attention on activities that pose the greatest level of risk.
  • Agencies can assess their current recordkeeping capability against internationally recognised benchmarks by using tools developed by the National Archives.
  • If business systems have recordkeeping functionality, they can provide a recordkeeping solution.
  • Recent research shows that higher quality recordkeeping is achieved when the recordkeeping burden is lifted from general employees.
  • Understanding the impediments to the practice of recordkeeping is critical in identifying effective strategies to enable good recordkeeping.31
  • Records management needs to more effectively integrate with IT, and records and IT managers must remain up-to-date with developments in recordkeeping technologies, especially those which can automate the recordkeeping process.

Factors that impact on recordkeeping

Before recordkeeping systems are implemented or improved, agencies need to assess the factors that impact on their recordkeeping and their current and future capabilities including strategic focus, policies and processes, employee skills and systems.

To improve recordkeeping, agencies must first understand the context in which they operate so they can identify the major factors that influence the need to create and maintain records.

This can be done by identifying the role, purpose and structure of an agency, and its legal, regulatory, business and political environment.

The first step in the National Archives’ DIRKS methodology (Step A—Preliminary Investigation) is designed to help agencies undertake this assessment. With this understanding, an agency can articulate its approach to recordkeeping and recognise the areas of business that attract the highest risk if records are not available when required.

Assessing business activities on a risk basis will identify the high risk areas of business that should receive priority recordkeeping attention. This includes analysing what records need to be created for business purposes, where they should be captured, how they should be managed, and how long they need to be kept.

Recordkeeping capability

The International Recordkeeping Standard provides a descriptive benchmark against which agencies can assess the capability of their recordkeeping systems (people, policies and processes, technology and records) and identify areas of strength and vulnerability.

The National Archives has developed a new product, Check-up, to assist agencies assess their current recordkeeping capability against the better practice established in the International Records Management Standard (ISO 15489).

Check-up is an interactive tool for agencies to use in assessing:

  • if they meet the minimum requirements for basic records management
  • if they meet the higher standards required for records of importance and high risk business functions
  • how they can improve their business information and records management.

Check-up can be used to prepare a ‘traffic-light’ report which will highlight an agency’s relevant risk areas. It will help to identify and develop tailored records management solutions to mitigate business risks.

Existing business systems

Nearly all information created and used in government administration today is in electronic form.

It exists as structured or unstructured information in the many business applications we have, the productivity tools we use for developing information ‘products’ (documents, spreadsheets and publications) and in the output of our various communication tools (email and messaging).

Structured data is a record created from data that has been collated and managed in a structured environment, often in database-type line-of-business information systems. The data captured is highly structured, predictive and repetitive. Recordkeeping capability can be designed and implemented as a feature of line-of-business systems.

Unstructured data is data not usually managed in a structured database. It is narrative and contextually structured such as Word documents, emails, presentations, web pages.

Information in structured or unstructured forms requires different management. The Management Advisory Committee considers the most effective current strategy for managing information in structured business systems is to extend recordkeeping functionality to these systems. To be managed as a record, unstructured data needs to be captured into a system with recordkeeping functionality.


Business systems that are used to manage sensitive information are required to comply with the Protective Security Manual and the Australian Government Information and Communications Technology Security Manual, ASCII 33.

Records with a security classification above the security level of an agency’s electronic network and other electronic systems need to be maintained and stored securely in paper form to meet Australian Government security requirements. For most agencies, such records represent only a small proportion of their total record population.

Lifting the recordkeeping burden

Records are an inevitable output of business but effective recordkeeping requires decisions about when and how to create, capture and control records in relation to workflow processes.

Recent research shows that higher quality recordkeeping is achieved when the recordkeeping burden is lifted from general employees.32

This can be achieved by analysing work processes to identify the points where records need to be created. The results can be made available as common processes or templates at a work group, whole-of-agency or even whole-of-APS level, as appropriate.

Expert records managers can further improve this analysis by identifying the form records should take, when and how they are captured into a recordkeeping-capable system and how they are controlled.

Good systems design can then enable the automatic creation, capture and control of records.

Effective records management is not a goal to be attained at the expense of agency outcomes. Rather, it is a necessary component of the business that achieves those outcomes.

When successful outcomes are well documented, they can be sustained within an agency over time, accurately reported and potentially reapplied across the agency. When outcomes are not well documented, however, the agency can neither leverage past successes nor avoid repeating past failures.

Addressing impediments to effective recordkeeping

Studies show that highly effective agencies tend not to dismiss the importance of information and records management in maintaining integrity and accountability.33

Understanding the impediments or challenges and issues surrounding effective recordkeeping is a critical step in identifying effective strategies to enable good recordkeeping.

These impediments and issues can be strategic, resource, cultural or technical in nature, or a combination.

The following key challenges to effective recordkeeping have been identified in APS agencies.34

Records and information are not managed strategically as agency business assets

Agencies should recognise that records and information are important business assets.

Recordkeeping often has a low profile and records management is not perceived as supporting agency business

Agencies need to view recordkeeping as part of their broader information and risk management frameworks. It is recommended that entities should, within the context of a broader information or knowledge management framework, develop strategies which address agency-wide recordkeeping responsibilities and identify all systems which contain records that need to be managed.35

Support for records management is lacking

Agencies must acknowledge that recordkeeping is an integral part of ‘doing business’ and that they have legal and other obligations to create records. Not doing so affects the profile of recordkeeping in the agency as well as raising the level of risk. To be effective, recordkeeping regimes require sustained commitment from senior management.36

The business case for employees to keep good records has not been explained well enough

While the business case for commercial/government agencies to keep good records is self-evident and well accepted, the business case (incentives) for individual APS employees to be good records managers needs to be better explained and promoted (see Chapter 4).

Agency processes don’t support records and information management

The transition from centrally-managed records and information management systems to devolved responsibility for information and records management to the desktop has created problems for identifying, managing and preserving agencies’ information assets. Every employee remains a record creator but often there are not supporting systems or tools to manage the records and information even if they are created effectively. As a consequence, assets are often difficult to locate, cannot easily be shared, and are at risk of being lost. This undermines the agency knowledge base and effective decision-making.

Maintaining up-to-date awareness is challenging

Related to this is the task of maintaining the timely development of advice and guidance for agencies and employees on how to manage agency information assets created using new technologies. Because of the rapid pace of technological change, and the proliferation of electronic formats and technologies, it is difficult to keep advice, policies and procedures current.

The scale or volume of records and information that agencies need to manage in a digital environment can be overwhelming

Agencies need to focus on the corporate management of valuable and important records, and low-value records should not be allowed to ‘clog up’ finite IT systems.

Technological obsolescence can restrict access to records

The pace of technological evolution is an issue for electronic records and information that need to be available for long periods of time (e.g. more than seven years). In many cases, agencies need electronic records and information for longer periods in order to conduct ongoing business or preserve rights. At the broader level, records may need to be retained and transferred as part of the national collection.

There are challenges in maintaining and keeping electronic records and information in usable formats. In the most recent State of the Service report only 18 per cent of APS agencies indicated they had a digital preservation plan in place to ensure that corporate data remains accessible.37

Managing records in a digital environment is complex

A general lack of awareness of the unique characteristics of electronic records (and information) affects continued access. Critical issues include hardware and software dependency, indexing requirements for retrieval, formats, and requirements for migrating and refreshing the storage media.

Records management and information technology are poorly integrated

As information technology has extended its reach beyond hardware and file management into document management, there has been a convergence of responsibilities between records management and information technology. It is recommended that entities establish administrative arrangements that facilitate a collaborative approach between records and information management, information and communication technology and other related functions.38

Usability issues can impact on record creation

Evidence from the State of the Service reports indicates that it is the design efficiency of electronic tools and software for recordkeeping that most often frustrates employees.39 Poor usability impacts on productivity and contribution of content. The general need to make it much easier for users to create and broadly disseminate information should also be extended to usability of the recordkeeping aspects of systems and processes.

Ineffective implementation can undermine records management processes

When records and information management processes and procedures are not integrated into agency business processes, their implementation fails. There are risks in not defining records and information management responsibilities for employees, and in not communicating them to employees. It must also be recognised that different agencies have different missions, different levels of technological sophistication, and different needs based on the size of the agency or the culture of the workforce. These differences can also exist within agencies, particularly those which regularly undergo machinery of government changes.

Assuring the authenticity, reliability and integrity of electronic records can be difficult

The unique features of electronic records complicate agency efforts to create and maintain authentic and reliable records that support agency business processes.

Because it is easier to duplicate and disseminate electronic information, agencies typically create more of it, in multiple copies, and send it to multiple users who maintain it in various locations. This makes it difficult to identify the essential records, or versions of those records, that document the activities of the agency, and more broadly, of the government.

There is a capability/skills shortage

There is a shortage of skilled professional records management personnel, especially those who have successfully managed or worked in a digital recordkeeping environment. This is impacting on the effective transition from paper to electronic recordkeeping, especially as recent research indicates that professional records management staff can play a key role in freeing up general employee productivity.40

Emerging approaches to records management archItectures

The Management Advisory Committee notes that recordkeeping technologies are changing and that this presents opportunities for the future, particularly for smaller agencies that have not yet implemented electronic recordkeeping systems.

Emerging approaches provide options to better integrate recordkeeping technologies with other IT developments, purchases and outsourcing arrangements. They should also improve automation, usability and ‘friendliness’ of recordkeeping systems, helping to lift the recordkeeping burden from staff.

Emerging in-place solutions

Records management technology is transitioning from separate ‘independent’ records repository solutions to ‘in-place’ records management solutions for several reasons including:

  • the increased focus on compliance and discovery in some countries
  • greater interest in the records management market by mainstream software solution vendors
  • acknowledgement of the scale and complexity of modern recordkeeping
  • merging of records management functionalities into Enterprise Content Management (ECM) applications and the parallel development of message archive solutions
  • more recently, the embedding of recordkeeping capability directly into mainstream collaborative and desktop applications.

Advantages of in-place solutions

Properly implemented in-place records management solutions have the potential to:

  • better support management of risk
  • significantly lift the recordkeeping burden from employees by automating the process of capturing records and business workflow
  • reduce purchase, configuration and ongoing maintenance costs by removing the need to maintain separate content infrastructure
  • improve the ability to retrieve records through better maintenance of context and better support of search
  • support interoperability and better long-term migration options.

Approaches that characterise the developing in-place solutions market include:


Platform solutions directly integrate records management functionality into a content or messaging archive application. Most solutions are based on ECM applications— collecting desktop, communication, publishing and business process content under a single storage infrastructure. ECM vendors believe organisations accomplish compliance and other recordkeeping objectives by managing and retaining content.

Message archives are a more recent development and have emerged out of discovery, compliance and security requirements. These solutions tend to be less sophisticated than ECM solutions, with records captured centrally and usually independently, of the context in which they have been created.


This approach is metadata driven, applying links to control and manage content and business processes in their original locations. A centralised console extends records management functionality across repositories, applications and workflow in a federated model.


More recently, one of the major desktop application vendors announced that it is embedding basic records management functionality into its desktop and collaboration server infrastructure. This represents a ‘light’ approach to records management architecture but there are plans to extend the capability to incorporate content from other business systems as required.

This approach is likely to be attractive to agencies that are predominately desktop- based and have a minimum number of separate major business systems—providing a less complex, yet extendable, recordkeeping solution.

Short, medium to long-term future

Analysts are predicting that in the short to medium-term, platform and linked-in solutions will dominate existing independent records management solutions. Both of these emerging approaches offer a more comprehensive management solution to managing the complexity of modern recordkeeping.

The embedding of records management capability as a standard feature in desktop productivity tools (i.e. email, chat, document authoring and collaboration tools) has considerable potential in the medium-term to long-term and is likely to become the predominant recordkeeping architecture in future.

31 Impediments are defined as challenges that adversely affect the effective management of government information and records.

32 J.T. Sprehe & C.R. McClure, 2005, ‘Lifting the Burden’, Information Management Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4.

33 Public Service Commissioners’ Conference, September 2006, ‘Identifying Underperforming Agencies’.

34 Impediments were identified by, amongst others, the MAC Project Team and Reference Group established to study and report on recordkeeping in the APS; Australian National Audit Office 2006, Recordkeeping including the Management of Electronic Records, Audit Report No. 6, 2006–07, <http://www.anao.gov.au/director/publications/auditreports/2006-2007.cfm>; and Australian Public Service Commission 2006, State of the Service Report 2005–06, www.apsc.gov.au/stateoftheservice/0506/ and previous reports.

35 Australian National Audit Office 2006, Recordkeeping including the Management of Electronic Records, Audit Report No. 6, 2006–07, recommendations no. 2(a), 3(a) and (b) and 5, p. 27.

36 Australian National Audit Office 2006, Recordkeeping including the Management of Electronic Records, Audit Report No. 6, 2006–07.

37 Australian Public Service Commission 2006, State of the Service Report 2005–06, Table 8.3, p. 188.

38 Australian National Audit Office 2006, Recordkeeping including the Management of Electronic Records, Audit Report No. 6, 2006–2007, recommendation no. 2(c) p. 27.

39 Evidence from comments made by APS employees in response to the recordkeeping questions in the APS State of the Service employee surveys for 2003–2006 show that ‘time available to record keep’ and the ‘usability of recordkeeping’ systems are the two key issues for APS staff.

40 J.T. Sprehe & C.R. McClure, 2005, ‘Lifting the Burden’, Information Management Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4.

Last reviewed: 
16 May 2018