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The Consequences of Underfunded Records Management
In a survey we ran to Records and Information Management Professionals across Australia, only 5% claimed they have enough budget. If you believe your department is underfunded one of the driving factors could be that you have a very different understanding of what records and information management is from your C-level executives.
A different understanding leads to different expectations, so it’s important to be able to communicate to your executives what records and information management is, and what value it brings to your business. To do this, it’s important to distinguish between records focused projects and information focused projects. These terms are often used interchangeably but there is a key distinction between them.
For example, a records management project may be purely focused on bringing an organisation into compliance and have very little short-term return on investment. An information management project however, may involve making information more searchable and discoverable, which can have an immediate impact on staff productivity and return on investment.
When you’re looking at getting funding for a project, it’s important to define what the focus of the project is and what the expected business outcomes are to be on the same page as your executives. It’s also imperative to effectively communicate what the potential hazards are of under-funding records and information management, which we’ll dive into.
Underfunded Records Management will be more expensive in the long run
This should be an obvious one, but the long-term costs of an inadequately resourced and underfunded records management department will often far outweigh the short-term savings. A problem that many records professionals deal with is as the volume of organisational information increases, so does the amount of work they are required to do, however their funding and headcount does not increase proportionately. This means that they are left with no choice but to cut corners in their work, leading to a reduced quality of work with key components in the records management process being ignored.
If corners are cut and records management processes are not up to scratch, costs can quickly blow out when responding to Freedom of Information Requests. Last year the Department of Defence came under fire when they claimed it would take 142 hours to process a standard FOI request, with 45 hours dedicated to search and discovery. The office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) released data last year showing a 13% increase in staff hours devoted to processing FOI requests, as well as a 15% increase in costs of processing in 2018-19 compared to 2017-18.
Inability to quickly adapt to changes in technology and regulations
The records and information management industry is constantly evolving as new technologies emerge making Records Managers lives easier. However, in order to keep on top of these trends and have the flexibility and resources to adapt records management processes and implement new technologies, records teams need adequate funding.
As technology rapidly changes, state and federal regulations have also seen shifts. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) as well as multiple state bodies have recently loosened their restrictions on retention and disposal requirements, opening up new ways in which organisations can compliantly manage their records. For example, in response to these regulatory changes we have seen some government agencies migrate from a traditional eDRMS to SharePoint and manage their records entirely using the Office 365 Security and Compliance Center. Of course this solution will not work for every agency, but as technology and regulations evolve so will the different approaches organisations can take to managing their records. However, without the right funding and resources organisations will not have the agility to shift their approach in response to these changes.
More time and money spent on search and discovery
As we briefly mentioned earlier, without proper records and information management processes in place, costs can scale rapidly when searching and discovering information. This isn’t just the case when responding to FOI requests, as how easily end-users can search and locate information will have a direct impact on their productivity and the bottom line of a business.
A common problem we see in government agencies with underfunded records departments, is choosing to keep records in perpetuity instead of correctly disposing of them at their disposition date. This is due to a lack of confidence in their records system and processes, which creates a significant problem when trying to search and discover information during an audit, or simply during standard business operations. Moreover, without proper records management, information may be lost or deleted or take a significant amount of time to discover or assemble from incomplete records.
There are many examples of this, one of the most prominent being the Department of Home Affairs which was reported as having poor records keeping and information practices by auditor-general Grant Hehir, which date back over 10 years since before the merger of customs and immigrations agencies.
The problems that have plagued the agency over the years include an inability to locate documents and key records forming part of a series. A records and information management action plan was previously posed to the agency to address these issues, which included an investment of two extra staff and $320,000. However, these proposals were ignored and the problems for the agency continued. This should serve as a case study in how poor and underfunded records management can create severe long-term problems for organisations.
More Stressful Audit Process
If you’re stressed during an audit, chances are your records management processes are not up to scratch. You’re scrambling at the last minute to try and find important documents or assemble complete records out of incomplete information, because you haven’t invested enough into establishing quality records management processes.
If you’re recordkeeping is up to scratch, undergoing an audit shouldn’t be a scary or daunting experience. You will be able to quickly search and discover completed records to give to your auditor.
Key Takeaways to Tell Your Executives
If you’re looking for funding for your department or project, here are the key takeaways to communicate to your executives.
- There is a difference between information and records focused projects. Records focused projects can often have little short-term return on investment, unlike information focused projects.
- The long-term costs of underfunded records management far outweigh the short-term savings. The inability to locate documents and assemble complete records comes at a cost not only during an audit or FOI request, but also during everyday business operations.
- You need to be able to quickly adapt to regulatory changes. As changes are made to regulations, organisations needs the agility to be able to quickly shift their records management processes to respond to this. Without adequate funding and resources, you will not be able to adapt to these changes.
If you are struggling with a lack of in-house resources in your records and information management team, or are looking at undergoing a new project, our consultants are here to help. We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
As co-founder and Executive Director at Miktysh, Michael oversees the organisation’s strategic direction. Michael is entrepreneurial by nature and has a proven track record of driving business growth. His passion for delivering results through relationships, collaboration and exceptional customer service is evident through the numerous accolades won by Miktysh. His education and years’ of experience have equipped Michael with a deep understanding of the IT & records and information management sectors, and what it takes to run a successful technology firm in Australia.
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