Records Managers

Benchmarking Report on
Business Process Analysis and Systems Design
for Electronic Recordkeeping - Section 2.2

2.2     Center for Technology in Government. Practical Tools for Electronic Records Management and Preservation (AKA Models for Action Tool). http://www.ctg.albany.edu/publications/guides/practical_tools_for_ermp

Organization

The Center for Technology in Government (CTG). CTG is an applied research center in Albany, New York dedicated to improving government through the development of innovative tools and resources for policy, management and technology in digital government. CTG's funding comes from the State of New York through the University of Albany's budget and from grants and awards from foundations and Federal agencies. For the electronic records project NARA benchmarked, CTG received funding from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and conducted the project in collaboration with the New York State Archives. Because of its role as a research center, CTG develops and provides tools and guidance but does not enforce or monitor their use.

Methodology

Models for Action Tool. CTG and the New York State Archives conceived of the Models for Action project as a way to bring records management concerns to the center of business process design and analysis projects which were happening anyway. In this way, the Models for Action developers hoped to improve the records captured in information systems and the records' subsequent management. They found that the guidance available on electronic records management was written from an academic perspective and did not provide practical steps that IT professionals could understand and implement. Practical Tools for Electronic Records Management and Preservation lists six electronic records management goals that the tool helps achieve: "1. Bring the record to the forefront of system design activities. 2. Identify electronic records functionality as part of system design. 3. Create electronic records that support legal and evidentiary needs. 4. Create electronic records that are accessible and usable over time. 5. Integrate diverse document forms and formats into records. 6. Identify need for internal and external primary and secondary access to records."

The tool is based on a concise list of three basic functional requirements for electronic records management and preservation developed to communicate recordkeeping needs to IT and program managers in language they understand. The three functional requirements are Records Capture, Records Maintenance and Accessibility, and System Reliability. Each requirement includes several more detailed system requirements. In addition to the functional requirements, the Models for Action tool consists of components for Records Requirements Elicitation and a Records Requirements Implementation. Building on the three functional requirements, the Elicitation Component provides sets of questions for identifying the requirements associated with each functional requirement: the Business Process Level questions elicit requirements associated with records capture, the Record Level questions elicit requirements associated with records maintenance and accessibility, and the System Level questions elicit requirements associated with system reliability. Each level's question set comes with a description of that level's objectives and guidance on the questions' use. The last step in the guidance for each set of questions is "Translate the requirements into system specifications." The Business Process Level questions rely on a detailed process map; participants answer the questions for each subtask of the process in question. The Implementation Component simply asks, for each requirement identified by the elicitation component, if it can be addressed with technology. If it can, it asks if policies or management practices will need to be developed or changed, and if it cannot, what policies and management strategies will allow the organization to meet the requirement.

Records management task supported

The Models for Action tool supports business process analysis from a records management perspective. The tools are written with the assumption that they will usually be used to gather requirements for new information systems, although they can be used for other process improvement projects as well.

Audience

The Models for Action tool is written for any governmental organization to use, and the guidance is universal enough to be used by any organization, governmental or not. The broad Functional Requirements which form the basis for the tool are designed to be easy for records, program, and technical staff to understand. The tool's focus on the business process allows for effective communication between program and records management staff. The primary goal of the questions in the Business Process and Systems levels of the requirements elicitation tool is to translate records management requirements into user and system requirements that can be easily communicated to systems developers in terms of technical specifications.

Benefits and Strengths

The CTG's Models for Action tool's focus on the business process provides a common language for discussing records issues that is meaningful to program, IT, and records managers. Users of the tool have found it easy to integrate records concerns with the business process analysis because important transactions or subtasks in the process naturally generate or modify information that needs to be stored. Use of the tool results in clear, usable system specifications and strategies for ensuring that all recordkeeping requirements are met through a combination of people, processes, and technology. The tool addresses policy and management processes outside the automated system and points out that not all recordkeeping requirements can be met by technology. The tool leads to a thorough elucidation and documentation of the recordkeeping needs of the process under review. It explicitly guides the analyst in thinking about areas of the current process that might not add value and could be streamlined. This is the only process we benchmarked that addresses process improvement in addition to analysis. According to the tool, subtasks that are candidates for streamlining include those that do not create or alter the record of the transaction in any way.

Limitations

Because the Models for Action tool was developed for use by any organization, it starts the process of analysis from scratch each time and relies on each set of process owners to correctly identify all the recordkeeping requirements applicable to their situation. Because of its scope, this methodology does not provide any explicit help in managing the systems development life cycle or ensuring that the identified requirements actually get built into the system. A limitation to this methodology noted by one of its developers is that it does not provide any solution to the problem of long term preservation of electronic records. The Records Maintenance and Accessibility functional requirement does specify that the system must provide the capability for records and metadata to be migrated to another system, but this alone does not guarantee that archival records will endure indefinitely. The number of unfamiliar acronyms in Practical Tools for Electronic Records Management and Preservation may also slow comprehension of this otherwise intuitive tool.

Environment for which it is suited

The Models for Action Tool could be used in the context of any business process analysis project and Practical Tools for Electronic Records Management and Preservation itself "strongly recommend[s] that the Business Process Level questions be answered in the context of a business process analysis or improvement activity." (p.14) Since ITMRA requires Federal agencies to perform business process analysis and reengineering before requesting money for large IT projects, this process should already be happening throughout the Federal government. The Models for Action tool could easily be integrated into an agency's procedures for carrying out the business process reengineering that is already taking place. It is possible, however, that many agencies do not have standard procedures in place for conducting these activities; many agencies hire contractors to manage reengineering projects and the contractors bring their own methodologies. In the absence of preexisting standard procedures, it would be more difficult to integrate recordkeeping questions into the business process analysis, but the best practice would be to establish standard guidelines for conducting analysis and reengineering and integrate recordkeeping into those guidelines. Until that could be done, records managers could publicize the existence of the tool and exert their influence to encourage IT and program managers to include the tool in the projects they undertake.

The Models for Action tool is most effective when the process owner understands the importance of records in the business process, is interested in conducting a business process analysis because of a significant commitment to implementing change, and has the necessary resources to conduct the business process analysis.

Significance to NARA

In the Models for Action, CTG has provided a simple, practical, flexible tool for integrating records management concerns into the very earliest stages of new systems design. Some form of business process analysis or business process reengineering should be happening anyway; records managers need to influence the way this activity is carried out to ensure that records concerns are addressed in new systems design. The recordkeeping requirements that are elicited by the Models for Action questions include critical process-specific needs, such as the components of the record and necessary meta data created, modified, or used at each stage of the process, who is authorized to create or modify a record, and whether any proofs of authenticity are associated with the content of the record. In the Record Level of the requirements elicitation tool, the questions prompt for information about characteristics of adequate evidence of a transaction, access restrictions, retention periods, and information needs of secondary users. Many of these recordkeeping requirements may be built into system specifications, but the tool also encourages its users to address policy and management processes that may also be necessary to ensure that all requirements are met. The kinds of process-specific requirements that this tool elicits are necessary information for all recordkeeping system development projects. All Federal agencies would benefit from a methodology such as CTG's to systematically identify requirements that describe the content, characteristics, and retention period of a complete record for every automated business process.

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