Records management capability at Health

28 September 2016

Thank you to Daniel for inviting me to speak to your senior executives today.

It’s a great opportunity to reflect on your progress towards Digital Transition, and reinforce the importance of continuing to develop strategies and governance that will support best practice information management into the future.


I understand that over the last 12 months, the Health Executive has made Information and Records management a priority. Commitment has been demonstrated through undertaking and resourcing key projects. Digital transition requirements are being actively addressed.

To do this the Department of Health and Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) are currently managing a program of work aims to address recommendations made by the ANAO in its Records Management in Health December 2015 report and aligns with the Australian government's digital transformation initiatives – which are to fully realise the benefits of digital assets, to deliver better and more efficient service to Australians.

Although you have initiated a number of steps towards addressing records management goals, in your responses to the Archives' Check-up Digital survey in 2015, you rated many of your capabilities at initial or developing stages which – means low information management maturity – and this corroborates with the findings of the ANAO audit report.  So there's still work that needs to be done implement best practice information management.

Role of Archives

I want to briefly describe what the Archives does and why we exist. Our core role is to keep, describe, preserve and promote the significant information of government and its interactions with the community. We're effectively the collective memory of governments over time. And we must be able to provide access to this information in 10, 20, 100, 200 years from now, or in some cases, forever.

Information central to business

In today's digital environment, something notable I've seen through my interactions with other senior managers of various agencies, is that information, and how it's used and accessed within the agency is now on the minds of executive. The old model of information being viewed as a bi-product of a business process, or as a last step to meet compliance requirements is changing. More and more, systems and technologies, and products and services are being based around the information.

The APS is right now seizing the opportunities of the digital disruption through major initiatives such as the Government's Digital Transformation agenda and the Public Sector Data Management program, which also underpins Australia's plans to join the Open Government Partnership.

These are important developments that will re-engineer the processes of government; bringing a step change to the services provided by government agencies and releasing more government datasets to uphold accountability and to fuel the digital economy. But these benefits will be short-lived and the processes unsustainable if we adopt a wholly process-centric approach – this time it needs to be different. It needs to be info-centric . To make changes that not only redesign transactions but also accumulate information assets that create value well into the future.

We know with absolute certainty that the technology we use today will be obsolete probably even five years from now, let alone ten years from now. We know that processes come and go, even whole Departments split and merge with periodic Machinery of Government changes – you will have first-hand experience of these changes and the challenges they create.

We also know with equal certainty that the information we create today absolutely will be needed.

Challenge for Information as an Asset

Before going further - let me now challenge how you think about your information. Do you know what information you have? Where it is? How much it costs to keep and move around? How do you know its value? What's your criteria for keeping, or not keeping it? Sharing or not sharing it? Do you use government information? If so, how do you obtain it and how do you use it? Finally, how important is information to your business?

Now I'm not expecting you to have the answers to all these questions at your fingertips. But think about your balance sheet for a second - I'm sure you would know approximately how much budget you have to meet your liabilities, and approximately how much your property and other assets are worth. So if information is important, why wouldn't we know its approximate value, as we do for our other assets?

This highlights a fundamental issue. In today's fast paced environment, organisations have demands placed on how their information can work better to bring benefits, such as strategic advantage. Meeting these demands and realising both the possibilities and transformation that well managed information can bring, is not straightforward. But it's a worthwhile investment, and one that starts with harnessing information as an asset within the organisation.

Working out high value and at risk information is the basis for an effective information governance regime and is a key action identified for assessing information. It focuses on the value of information as a business asset, rather than on the technology used to capture or manage the information.

Digital Transition and Check-up Digital

Back in July 2011, the Archives realised that agencies were continuing to stockpile paper, much of which would come to the Archives for permanent storage, and for which we were running out of room. We developed the Digital Transition Policy which aimed to move agencies to digital information management for efficiency purposes. We set a target that all information created in a digital format must be kept in digital.

Part of the Digital Transition Policy, is the requirement for all agencies to complete the Archives' annual Check-up online survey. We report whole-of government progress each year to our Minister. Check-up Digital was developed in 2014 and helps your business areas to gauge your digital information management maturity and set clear direction for improved digital. It supports the Government's priorities of 'digital by default', digital transformation and improved efficiency. It reflects a risk-based approach to information management so investment matches business risks and the value of information assets.

Completion of Check-up Digital will help you to:

  • improve awareness of what mature practice information management looks like
  • identify pathways to improve your agency's digital information management
  • set priorities for next steps to increase digital information management maturity
  • measure improvements and progress against the Digital Continuity 2020 targets
  • build a business case for resources to improve business outcomes

Digital Continuity Policy 2020

Moving forward with the lessons learned from Check-up Digital results, the Archives developed the Digital Continuity 2020 Policy. The Policy was launched by the Secretary of the Department of Finance Jane Halton in Oct 2015, promoting a consistent approach to information governance across the Australian Government for the next 5 years.

It applies to all Australian Government agencies and relates to government information, data and records, including systems, services and processes as well as information created by other parties on behalf of agencies.

The policy's three key principles require agencies to manage their information like an asset and to keep information in an accessible digital form for as long as it is required. Information systems and processes must also be interoperable where information can be found, managed, shared and reused easily and efficiently. It also uses a series of targets and pathways.

The DC2020 principles and targets

Principle 1 – Information is valued

One of the first targets, which we commenced with the Digital Transition Policy of 2011 – and consider so important, it remains as part DC2020, is that Agency senior management need to drive change to digital information management.

Your role as senior executives is to build a culture which values effective information management practices and invests in staff awareness and training. This is critical to promoting a strong digital culture.

You are the ones that can champion the importance of managing information as a key strategic asset and economic resource as important as money, property and equipment. When information is accountably created, managed, described and stored the potential future value of information increases.

You are also best placed to create energy and commitment to information governance by building it into procedures, policies, standards, controls and metrics.

Building IM capability

Another key priority of DC2020 is building capability for all staff so that they understand their roles and responsibilities. I understand that Health provides both online (The Archives' Keep the knowledge) and face-to-face training on information management, but this needs to be monitored to ensure that training is completed and skills learned are applied in the workplace.

Part of the solution is having the qualified and skilled professionals who can provide an information management leadership role.

The Archives is currently developing different roles and responsibilities across WoG to assist information management workforce planning and capability development, and to provide pathways to meet professionalism targets.

One of our first targets is to have a Chief Information Governance Officer in every agency.

Again from the 2016 survey, Health (you) indicated that

  • all IM staff are in the APS 1-4 levels;
  • contractors have no Records Management qualifications and
  • 6 of the 10 APS 5-6 staff have no Records Management qualifications.

Setting and achieving targets towards suitability qualified staff will enable Health to gain appropriately skilled information management staff, employees and third parties acting on behalf of the agency to meet their needs.

Principle 2 - Digital assets and processes

Reviewing and challenging current work processes to develop end to end digital work processes will provide your business area and your agency opportunities to establish more mature and efficient procedures and services that engage the public directly and effectively, while providing opportunities for process improvements.

MyHealth is a great example of this and the successful implementation of digital health records offers scope to improve the efficiency of health care delivery and patient safety. It is also part of the Government's Digital First policy, aimed at making government more efficient and responsive to citizens' needs.

Digital information kept in paper and other analogue forms can result in inefficiencies such as unnecessary duplication (particularly when being stored in shared drives as well as TRIM), increased storage costs, and unreliable or inaccessible information that cannot be easily found and cost-effectively shared or backed up for business continuity.

Line managers can easily identify where paper is still a part of normal business processing. By observing and documenting processes the steps requiring paper as an input or producing paper as an output can be identified and measures can be established to quantify the impacts. Performance audits can also be used to identify business processes in need of improvement. While they do not specifically target reliance on paper, the findings can identify opportunities for change. Recommendations from the process review can also form the basis of the business case for change.

Dispose of records that are due for destruction or transfer

Effective information and records management includes regularly disposing of information and records that are no longer needed and legally can be destroyed or transferred.

Funding sentencing and appraisal projects could lead to reductions in your significant internal and external storage costs and make digital records more accessible, usable and findable. It might also identify areas where there is a real benefit in digitising, as records are more findable, sharable and re-usable.

However, holistic disposal programs should rely on making whatever disposal decisions you can, as early as possible and automating whenever possible. The traditional approach of disposal as a project is less effective with the increasing volume of digital records. Sentencing on creation by mapping retention periods to records using keyword mapping, combined criteria etc, is much more efficient over time.

Having a current Normal Administrative Policy (NAP) is also very important as under the normal administrative practice provision of the Archives Act, records that are duplicates, unimportant or of a short-term and facilitative nature can be destroyed routinely without further permission from the Archives.

If your agency has records relating to functions that have been transferred to another agency, you could consider transferring those records to that agency. See our advice on handling administrative change for more information.

Selectively scan existing paper records

If there is a business need to access older paper-based information, there may be a case to digitise the information, incorporate it into current business information systems and use it in place of the paper originals. This should only be done after a risk assessment and analysis of the costs and benefits have been completed. In many cases, the original documents can be destroyed after scanning, With initiatives such MyHealth more business interactions, decisions and authorisations will be recorded digitally by default.

Principle 3 – Information, systems and processes are interoperable

Transformation initiatives will be enabled by interoperable information, systems and processes that make it less costly and easier to share information, improve information quality, reduce unnecessary duplication and reduce the impact of structural changes in government.

Achieving interoperable information, systems and processes takes time and requires interoperability to be planned, designed and integrated from the initial stages. At a minimum, business system should assessed against minimum metadata standard and be evaluated against the business systems assessment framework (BSAF).

The Business Systems Assessment Framework provides a streamlined, risk-based approach to the assessment of information management functionality in business systems. It can be used for your more than 205 separate computer systems that deliver 10 business outcomes.

While undertaking the business systems assessment, it's essential to identify:

  • high value long-term information;
  • records of archival value;
  • records at risk or suitable for digitisation;
  • records that can be transferred to the Archives and
  • records that can be destroyed.

This would allow you to focus your attention on system and records that contain high value records or one where you can reduce holdings and reduce costs.

Challenge of digital

As the Director-General of the National Archives, I am responsible for the proper stewardship of Commonwealth information, I am delighted to be here today and be able to talk about the future of Government information with an optimistic outlook.

Fulfilling our role is both exciting and challenging, particularly given the impatient nature of the digital environment in which this information is now created. Digital information will naturally resist preservation. Without intervention it will quickly fade into obscurity or obsolescence. And this is part of the Archives' purpose – not only to preserve what we have in our collection, but to ensure government has the ability to preserve its own information and provide access for its future use.

Leadership needed to view information as an asset

Committed leadership is needed for information to be truly valued. Having information on the agenda of executive committee meetings and projects, and investing time and resourcing in consolidating and understanding, is essential. These activities all serve to raise the profile and place information holds in your agency.


We have the leadership, we have the strategies, we have the expertise and we have the technology. There is plenty of work ahead, but I believe if we keep to the task we are on track to achieve the benefits of a digital future.

Again thank you to all of you for inviting me here today.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019