The Consequences of Underfunded Records Management

We recently undertook a survey of records and information management professionals across Australia, who found only 5% of them said they have sufficient budget. If you think your department is underfunded, one of the contributing factors could be that your understanding of records and information management is very different from that of your senior managers.

Different understanding leads to different expectations, so it’s important to be able to explain to your leaders what records and information management is, and what value it brings to your business.

To do this, it is important to distinguish between document-based and information-based projects. These terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a key distinction between them.

For example, a records management project may be solely focused on bringing an organization into compliance and have very little return on investment in the short term. An information management project, however, can involve making information more searchable and discoverable, which can have an immediate impact on staff productivity and return on investment.

When considering funding for a project, it’s important to define the purpose of the project and the expected business outcomes in order to be on the same page as your leaders. It is also imperative to effectively communicate the potential dangers of underfunding records and information management, which we will discuss in more detail.

Underfunded records management will cost more in the long run

It should be obvious that the long-term costs of an under-resourced and underfunded records management service will often far outweigh the short-term savings.

A problem that many archival professionals face is that as the volume of organizational information increases, so does the amount of work they are required to do, but their funding and staff numbers do not increase commensurately. This means that they have no choice but to take shortcuts in their work, which leads to a reduction in the quality of work, as key elements of the document management process are ignored.

If corners are cut and records management processes aren’t up to snuff, costs can quickly skyrocket when responding to access to information requests. Last year the Department of Defense was criticized when he claimed that it would take 142 hours to process a standard FOI request, with 45 hours spent on research and discovery.

The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) ​​has released Data last year, showing a 13% increase in staff hours spent processing access to information requests, as well as a 15% increase in processing costs in 2018-2019 compared to 2017-2018 .

Inability to quickly adapt to technological and regulatory changes

The records and information management industry is constantly evolving as new technologies emerge. However, in order to keep up with 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 evolves, state and federal regulations have also seen changes. The National Archives of Australia (NAA) along with several state agencies recently relaxed their restrictions on retention and disposal requirements, opening up new ways organizations can manage their records in compliance.

For example, in response to these regulatory changes, we have seen some government agencies migrate from a traditional eDRMS to SharePoint managing their records entirely using the Office 365 Security & Compliance Center.

Of course, this solution won’t work for all agencies, but as technology and regulations evolve, so do the different approaches organizations can take to manage their records. However, without the proper funding and resources, organizations will not have the flexibility to modify their approach in response to these changes.

More time and money spent on research and discovery

As we briefly mentioned earlier, without proper records and information management processes in place, costs can quickly add up when searching and discovering information. This is not just the case when it comes to responding to access to information requests, as the ease with which end users can search and locate information will have a direct impact on their productivity and the results of a business.

A common problem we see in government agencies with underfunded archives is choosing to retain archives in perpetuity instead of properly disposing of them when they are disposed of.

This is due to a lack of trust in their system and recording processes, which creates a significant problem when seeking and discovering information during an audit, or simply during standard business operations. Additionally, without proper records management, information can be lost or deleted or take a long time to discover or assemble from incomplete records.

There are many examples of this, one of the most important being the Home Office which was reported as having poor record-keeping and reporting practices by Auditor General Grant Hehir, which date back more than 10 years to before the customs and immigration agencies merged.

Problems that have plagued the agency over the years include the inability to locate key documents and files that are part of a series. An Action Plan for Records and Information Management had been proposed to address these issues, requiring an investment of two additional staff and A$320,000. However, these proposals were ignored and problems for the agency continued. This should serve as a case study of how poor and underfunded records management can create serious long-term problems for organizations.

More stressful audit process

If you’re stressed out during an audit, chances are your document management processes aren’t up to snuff. You scramble at the last minute trying to find important documents or piece together complete records from incomplete information because you haven’t invested enough in having quality records management processes in place.

If your record keeping is up to snuff, going through an audit shouldn’t be a scary or intimidating experience. You will be able to search and quickly discover the completed files to give to your auditor.

Key points to tell your leaders

If you are seeking funding for your department or project, here are the key takeaways to communicate to your executives.

  1. There is a difference between information-based and record-based projects. Document-driven projects can often have little return on investment in the short term, unlike information-driven projects.
  2. The long-term costs of underfunded records management far outweigh the short-term savings. The inability to locate documents and assemble complete records has a cost not only during an audit or Freedom of Information request, but also during day-to-day business operations.
  3. You must be able to adapt quickly to regulatory changes. As regulations change, organizations need agility to be able to quickly modify their document management processes to respond. Without adequate funding and resources, you will not be able to adapt to these changes.

If you’re struggling with a lack of internal resources in your records and information management team, or if you’re considering embarking on a new project, our consultants are here to help. We will be happy to to respond any questions you may have.

Michael Schloman is Co-Founder and Executive Director at Records and Information Management Specialist Miktych