Steve Russell provides invaluable insight into the benefits and challenges of digitized local government processes such as digital records management
Open Access Government speaks with Steve Russell, Chief Technology Officer at GovOS to find out more about the digital transformation of local authorities.
Russell discusses the specific types of digital services available and the pros and cons of these digital solutions.
As more local and state governments undergo digital transformations, what types of operations are going digital first?
With the surge in demand for digital government services in recent years, many agencies are turning to software solutions to bring their community’s most essential services online. Lately, we have seen growing interest in transitioning the marriage licensing process to a digital service allowing citizens to apply for and receive a marriage certificate online. In states that allow it, many counties also intend to no longer require couples to appear in person to complete the process.
Other examples include a range of licensing services such as business licensing, short term rental licensing, alcohol licensing etc. as well as local and national tax rebate operations.
As the transition to digital services continues to gain traction, governments are moving steadily but purposefully from on-premises storage solutions to cloud-based solutions. This is largely due to efforts to address growing concerns about disaster preparedness, cyberattacks, and the general need to do more with fewer resources.
What are the benefits of digitized government processes, such as document management?
The first and arguably most impactful benefit is the cloud service providers’ security and encryption features. Moving recordings to servers hosted by AWS, for example, means they are now protected by the same level of security provided to the federal government. In addition to the functionality provided, governments benefit from the continued investment and reinvestment in backing up these systems, as well as the staff they employ to protect your data. Essentially, local governments improve every aspect of their system without having to invest more time, money and resources.
The second advantage is to make document management accessible. Given the number of documents that governments are responsible for creating, managing and distributing, and the speed with which citizens can expect their requests for documents to be met, it is not difficult to imagine how difficult it is for governments to make records management accessible.
Digital recordings can be viewed on any device at any time and can be shared with multiple recipients at the same time (as opposed to a hard copy that has to be passed back and forth). Additionally, digital records allow governments to apply metadata that makes records instantly searchable by record type, reducing the time spent searching for a specific record to seconds. Digital records can also be searched faster by using saved searches to locate the most wanted records.
The third benefit is audit readiness. With digital records, governments can monitor system events, such as when documents are created or deleted, password changes, and when users log in and out. They can use this information to generate audit reports that detail which users changed in a system and when.
The last benefit I will mention is document retention. Governments are constantly wrestling with how long specific records should be kept and what to do with them once they reach that point. Should they be moved to a new folder, recategorized, disposed of, or something else? There is a wide range of records retention schedules for different types of records, making it difficult to keep track of what needs to be done with which records and when.
A digital records management system can enforce consistent policies across the entire records system and can automatically categorize newly created records, set schedules for records retention, transfer, archiving, or destruction, and group records together. records according to their retention schedule. This saves time and eliminates much of the human error that can lead to inconsistent retention application.
Could you give an example of a government that has successfully transitioned to digital records management?
We are continually blown away by the work Bexar County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark and her team are doing in Texas. Last year, they received the 2021 Innovator of the Year award from the International Association of Government Officials (iGO) for their “Records on the Run” program, which combines GovOS software along with the services of preservation, imaging and indexing of Kofile. This is a truly unique program that reduces foot traffic in government offices while making data more accessible using a mobile unit to bring these services directly to citizens. This is an initiative that both improves people’s lives and ensures their safety and well-being.
The mobile recording unit, which was the first in the state of Texas, allows almost anything that can be done inside the county courthouse with the clerk’s office from the truck. This means people can do business with local government, even if government buildings have to close, and it could help help the county through the next major natural disaster or pandemic.
The Mobile Records Unit offers its mobile services throughout the City of San Antonio, suburban towns and Bexar County communities. Mobile Unit services that will be offered include Military Discharge Record Registration (DD-214), Deemed Business Name/DBA Registration, and Real Estate Records Search, among many other services.
What are the challenges of transitioning to digital document management?
The first biggest challenge is to make the information stored in the records publicly available. It’s great to have all of your vital records and/or land records dating back to the 1700s digitized and indexed and available in the cloud. But that information is worthless if the people who need it can’t find what they’re looking for.
The second biggest challenge is agreeing on internal access to stored documents. Digital recordings can be easily overwritten or altered by employees if the government agency does not identify the person responsible for the recording it produced. Governments need to define their access hierarchy or cybersecurity procedure, which requires significant groundwork to be accountable to all stakeholders in the organization.
The third and perhaps biggest challenge is the lack of consistent guidelines provided to agencies regarding procedures to guide the creation of digital documents. Too often, the documentation used to guide digitization focuses more on how an app should be installed and less on how records are collected, stored, and shared. Going digital is a chance to embed good recordkeeping practices into new systems and set up an agency for long-term records management success. Unfortunately, many systems are designed without any record keeping requirements, resulting in the loss of valuable records that protect citizens’ rights, provide evidence of government accountability, and document specific and significant historical government events.
How can local and state governments overcome these challenges? What are the best practices ?
Solving accessibility can be as simple as choosing a software provider with a powerful search engine, ideally capable of searching text strings as well as scanned images.
Resolving access to records again can be boiled down to choosing a platform with an internal audit module, version control, and user tracking.
For better archival procedures, local governments should involve the archival manager and other key stakeholders early in the process and give them a seat at the decision-making table. This will help ensure the creation of long-term systems and rules that will dictate how records are captured and maintained, and who will have access to them both internally and externally.
Interview with Steve Russell, Chief Technology Officer, GovOS
Steve brings over 30 years of experience in software development and technology innovation to GovOS. Prior to joining the company in 2015, Steve led development and product teams for OpenText, Lucent Technologies, Global360, Mosaix and IBM where he started his career. He is passionate about technology and how to use it to address the challenges and seize the opportunities facing local governments. Originally from Massachusetts, Steve, his wife and two boys currently reside on the West Coast.