The digital reality – optimising government business in a digital world

A presentation by the Director-General David Fricker at Objective Collaborate in Sydney on 11 October 2012.


First, I wish to acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Since I joined the National Archives as Director-General in January this year, I have had the opportunity to meet with many representatives of various parts of the industry and the profession and I am very pleased to be with you here today as this Collaborate 2012 conference comes to a close.

Value of conference – opportunity to share information

A conference such as this is a great opportunity to share ideas and experiences and, most importantly, information.

As information and records managers – whether we are in government, in business, or the not-for-profit sector – information is our currency, our stock in trade.

Growth of information, expectations and demands

Information, as we know, is continuing to grow at an astonishing rate, as is the technology that we use to create and share it. Together these are leading to increased expectations and demands for access to information – especially government information.

To meet these expectations we need to know what information there is; and have the technical solutions which enable access to it. This requires a collaborative effort.

Information demands and open government

We are in an era of online and open government characterised by openness, transparency and a pro-disclosure culture. We are expected to deliver services to citizens 'the way they want it' as opposed to the way that government departments are organised.

This move to a more inclusive, open government is matched by increasing levels of scrutiny upon the actions of organisations – particularly government organisations. People are less tolerant of poor governance. They are not afraid to challenge, through legal frameworks, when they feel their rights have been abused or ignored. Across Australia, we are seeing more and more resources directed to responding to Freedom of Information requests, to subpoenas, to discovery orders and other inquiries.

Expectation of easy access to information

There is also an expectation of easy access to all information, whether official records or not, in an age where information is available 24/7 from myriad sources.

Open culture

Former Special Minister of State John Faulkner – a member of the Archives' Advisory Council and our previous Minister – described a new culture of accessibility and accountability that's aimed at, '... increasing scrutiny, discussion, comment and review of the Government's activities and increasing recognition that information held by the Government is to be managed for public purposes and is a national resource.

It's a culture where information held by government is regarded as a truly national resource; where the citizen's right to know is carefully balanced against confidentiality, privacy and security. '

This is a globalised information marketplace, that's not being shaped by government institutions like mine – it's being shaped by market forces.

Technology is already here, but...

Digital information and records management technology has moved beyond the domain of the innovators and early adopters, and even the early majority. The technology has been available for decades. For example, Objective is now a quarter of a century old; the Objective Solution is now in its seventh iteration.

The tools already exist to improve accountability, to store, access and disseminate information more efficiently, to audit access to data, and more importantly for me as custodian of the nation's archival resources, to ensure its authenticity and validity over time.

But, even though there is no question that technology is here, and is readily available, the frenetic pace of change continues.

Technologies considered as cutting-edge a decade ago are now, in the idiom of my 16 year old son - 'so last century'.

Next generation – seamless integration

Looking ahead to the next generation of records and information management systems, the opportunities are boundless and we must ensure that we exploit them fully.

Imagine a system seamlessly integrated with the way people work - capturing information at the point of creation, automatically identifying where it needs to be stored and locking it away securely and in context - all as a natural by-product of business activity. We talk of this often at the Archives.

Imagine an improved, more intuitive way of finding information - indeed where information presents itself in response to your particular requirement.

Two factors today – information availability & evolving technology

Back to the reality of today – the two factors of the growing assumption of information availability and the rapidly evolving technology to accommodate it – complement each other. Yet there isn't a seamless partnership between them. This is where collaboration is so crucial – in building the bridge between the two.

Where once the information we collected was tangible and countable, we operate now in a global, digital environment with a bewildering range of technologies available to create, disseminate and manage information.

We are increasingly hyper-connected with the result that people and businesses can communicate with each other instantly and systems are equally connected.

Finding the balance

The growth of mobile devices, volumes of data and social media are all drivers of a process that has redefined relationships between individuals, consumers, enterprises and citizens. But this abundance of information needs to be stored and managed to be of longer term benefit to us.

In this exciting and dynamic environment it is important to find that balance between freely available and content rich information and information that can be relied upon as reliable and authentic.

Digital transition – linking the technology to the demand – it's time

Having the technology is clearly not enough. In 2009, less than 30 per cent of Australian Government agencies managed the majority of their records digitally, even though more than half reported having an EDRMS and using other electronic business systems to manage records. Many other electronic business systems that were used by the agencies to create, capture and manage records did not meet the requirements relating to the management of records.


This highlights some sort of 'disconnect' – a nominal adoption of technology without genuinely exploiting its full potential to actually manage information – which is, after all, its actual purpose. While technology continues to change and public attitudes evolve, there is a risk that some parts of government will fall behind.

Digital Transition Policy

That is why the National Archives is leading the implementation of the Digital Transition Policy.

The purpose of this policy is to move government agencies to a comprehensive digital information and records management regime.

This is necessary to reduce costs, including those of storage, searching and retrieving records; as well the costs of legal discovery and freedom of information requests. It is an essential part of effective and efficient government and good governance.

Despite the obvious benefits, and although most government business is now done digitally, agencies continue to convert digital records to paper for management and preservation.

Defeats the purpose, you'd have to say.

Limiting the creation of paper – 2015 target

To this end the National Archives, in consultation with other Australian Government agencies, intends to set a target to limit the creation of paper records.

Our expectation is that, by 2015, information that is 'born digital' – that is, information that is created using computers or other digital devices – will be stored and managed digitally and subsequently transferred in digital formats to the National Archives.

While the idea of the paperless office has been anticipated for decades, the value of working in a fully digital environment is only now becoming a reality. It's important for the government sector to take advantage of the technology that enables more efficient interactions with clients, better business outcomes, improved accountability and more effective information storage and retrieval. This will go a long way towards optimising government business in the digital world.

Better understanding and use of existing technology

However, it is important to note that digital transition doesn't necessarily require investment in new technology. There are significant achievements to be made through improved understanding and use of existing technology.

For example, we know of one agency that saved $150,000 in just one year by reviewing their business processes, and making better use of the technology they already had.

We also know that a number of digital records management processes can be up to 15 times cheaper than the same processes for paper-based records.

Despite these good news stories, more needs to be done.

Avoiding the digital dump – Check-up and digital continuity

Many of you who work in the Australian Government will be aware of Check-up 2.0 - a secure, web-based application for agencies to assess their records and information management capability and practices.

The Digital Transition Policy requires that all agencies complete a whole-of-agency Check-up 2.0 assessment annually for three years, and to submit those assessments to the Archives. These assessments give the Archives a snapshot of information and records management capability across the Commonwealth so we can identify and address hotspots, and enable us to see how digital transition is progressing.

The assessment criteria are based on National Archives standards, policies and guidelines as well as guidance and policies from other Australian Government bodies.

Completing their assessment gives agencies tangible evidence to leverage support for additional resources to improve information and records management practices in line with these standards and policies.

Digital Continuity Plan

Through the Archives' Digital Continuity Plan, we are working to ensure that business information in agencies remains authentic, usable, discoverable and accessible over time.

A survey conducted by the Archives in 2010 showed that by 2014 the total volume of electronic records which agencies expect to create will be more than 10.7 million gigabytes – and that's just the new records, not the overall amount of information that needs to be managed.

This explosion in digital information provides new opportunities to redefine the way business is done - boosting productivity by generating new products and services and improving the way services are delivered.

The flipside is that having created this huge volume of information it potentially needs to be stored and managed to be of longer term benefit to us.

If we don't take steps now to ensure that all that digital information is managed appropriately, we may well end up with a digital dump.

Supporting transition and best practice

I'm sure we'd all agree that making the transition to meet the demand for more accessible information is complex.

It requires a stronger connection between information technology and information management so that information management is integrated into all business systems and processes.

Audit report

The 2012 Australian National Audit Office Report No. 53 on records management in the Australian public service looks closely at the integration of information management into IT systems.

It found that Australian Government agencies create a substantial amount of digital information and records as part of their normal operations. Establishing effective records management, particularly digital records management, represents a significant business issue for many agencies.

The report recommends that records management needs and functionality should be a top priority when agencies select, develop or upgrade any of their business systems.

Agencies ignore this advice at their own peril.

Clearly it's in everyone's interests to establish and maintain best practice standards in records management.

Systems without appropriate records management functionality create the risk that reliable information will not be available when needed or that inaccurate or incomplete information will be accessed and used when decisions are made.

They can also compromise the handling of legal and policy requirements including responding to freedom of information requests.

ISO 16175 and vendors' opportunities

The Archives is taking an active and hands on role in establishing world class standards.

For example, there are a number of standards that address records management functionality in electronic systems such as International Standard 16175 - functional requirements for records in electronic business environments (ISO 16175).

Much of the early work on the development of this standard was done by the National Archives and we have now endorsed its use in Australian Government agencies to specify the functional requirements for systems that contain records.

This is good news for vendors as it means a consistent specification to guide refinement of current solutions or the development of new systems across international boundaries.

We particularly encourage vendors to use this standard to undertake independent assessments of their own systems.

For information and records managers, IT developers and system owners, ISO 16175 can help to define the records management functionality they need whether reviewing existing systems; or building, upgrading or purchasing business and records management systems.

Conclusion – working together for optimum results

I want to finish by stressing the importance of partnerships and collaboration as we continue to navigate a rapidly changing information management environment.

All of us operating in this space have a critical role to play.

At the Archives, we will continue to work with vendors and their clients in the Australian Government to emphasise the importance of developing and implementing new solutions to meet the challenges we face.

For all of us to meet our obligations and responsibilities it is vital that we drive the research and development that can lead to better practice, improved solutions and greater innovation.

This is certainly a top priority for the Archives.

By collaborating we are in a strong position to innovate, influence and change business and government practices.

Working in consultation with information and records managers, the wider profession and IT vendors we will achieve the Digital Reality, and optimise government business in the digital world. The same benefits of course can be realised in the private sector.

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

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