In the digital age, government records management teams must balance both physical, paper copies of documents and electronic copies. Because of how much falls under the umbrella of records management, there are a variety of challenges that records administrators face when it comes to managing records.
The three most common problems that arise—making records more accessible, effectively safeguarding records and back-office modernization.
Finding an organizational system that makes documents easily and quickly accessible has always been one of the main challenges of managing records, whether paper or digital. Governments struggle with records management due in large part to the sheer volume of records they are responsible for creating, managing, and distributing. The challenge is also compounded by how long agencies must keep records on file.
For example, Lucy Adame-Clark, a county clerk doing records work in Bexar County, Texas, is in the middle of a two-year project to preserve, protect and digitize county records that date back to the Spanish colonial era. The oldest local document is a Spanish land grant that dates back to 1736.
Governments and other organizations looking for ways to simplify access to their systems without compromising security can do so in four ways:
Making records more accessible is more than just a best practice for government agencies—it may even have life-changing results for your citizens and businesses like it did for Karen Jackson, the Register of Deeds for Isabella County, Mich.
After her county digitized records, some of the local Native American tribes were able to locate their family names on the Native American rolls and could begin receiving per capita checks from the tribe. She owes the success of her digital records system to having OCR scanning capabilities, and the ability to perform “wildcard” searches of both scanned and written/typed data.
Once governments have records stored online, they must understand that the stewardship of those records is the responsibility of the entire organization.
A clerk cannot simply hand off the cybersecurity protocols to IT and assume that someone more tech-savvy will handle it. With the recent rise in cybersecurity threats, especially to local governments, every department head that is tasked with keeping records must have some level of understanding of the technology they’re using to store and encrypt data.
In a recent conversation with John Warren, the county clerk in Dallas County, Texas, he told me that cybersecurity is a major concern because local governments have been a popular target for perpetrators in recent years. He likened the challenge of maintaining records to a chess game.
“What are they going to do, and how are we going to respond?” Warren asked. “One of the most efficient ways is to use cloud services, and all the built-in security features they provide, to store records.
Cloud-based solutions like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud have made it easier for any government agency to adhere to the highest-level security protocols. That means data will be housed in secure data centers that are certified to the national standards published by the federal government. However, it’s still good practice to stay aligned with interoffice security protocols too.
Additionally, for data that falls into the category of controlled unclassified information, government agencies should look for vendors who have passed a SOC 2 audit, conducted by a reputable source. This will confirm that the vendor meets the applicable Trust Services Principles criteria with no exceptions listed. This thorough review will confirm that a software provider’s internal controls do not have a negative impact on the security, confidentiality and availability of the systems it uses to process users’ data.
Getting records online is only half the challenge. The other half is modernizing entire back-office systems and processes that are outdated and doing so with fewer resources. This means making records more accessible to the public, as I mentioned, but also making systems more approachable and navigable for employees.
The pandemic challenged a lot of the standard processes in two ways: working from home forced governments to develop new systems to let employees manage records remotely; and federal funding gave governments a blank check for innovation.
Pickens County, Ga., is a great example of modernizing back-office functionality. During the pandemic, they made well over $300,000 in revenue by making their records available online while their office was shut down. When it was announced that the county would receive CARES Act funding, they used that proof point to obtain additional funding to index their deeds and generate even more revenue.
If they hadn’t enabled online payments in the first place, none of this would have been possible. Online payments, modern search functionality, automated workflows for email notifications, legally binding eSignatures—all these modern features can help streamline records management processes.
By focusing initial efforts on tackling these three challenges, local governments can make the process of capturing, organizing and managing records far more efficient while also ensuring public records are more accessible to the public.
Setting the (government) records straight – American City & County