For the Record

It’s not your granddad’s government. The days of unlimited resources and foolish expenditures have passed. Federal, state and local governments are now under more of a microscope of budget oversight and stewardship than ever in history. From processes to policies, the government mantra has become “do more with less, and do it under a spotlight.”

So, it’s no wonder that all the government bodies are starting to notice the multitude of problems they have to solve. We discovered, in compiling this White Paper, that there’s really no such thing as “the government market.” It’s a complicated matrix of information management, customer service, business process and reporting. Depending on how you look at it, it takes many forms. That’s why this opening essay, usually a “summary,” has been divided into two anecdotes from the marketplace—as different as they could be, yet part of the same grand matrix.

Six years ago or so I addressed the American Records Management Association (ARMA) at their big annual convention. I think it was in Atlanta. I was the “pre-keynote” ... the keynote being the guy who led the Apollo 13 Houston mission control operation to a safe conclusion, Gene Kranz. (If you ever get the chance to hear him, go! He’s a fascinating figure in history, played by Ed Harris in the movie, and his memoirs crackle with tension and greatness.)

As for me, my talk didn’t crackle with anything except the donut wrappers and coffee cups of the people filing in early to find good seats. I was the warm-up act for a man who needed no such thing.

But I remember at the time being really enthused that, for maybe the first time ever, the role of records manager could start to elicit some respect within the corporate framework. I argued that the role of the records managers in the audience—for so long relegated to the musty cellar of corporate irrelevance—might be rising to a forefront position within their companies. My reasoning, at the time, was that the corporate records repository would soon equal the corporate knowledge repository, and thus the person in charge of the records—the gatekeeper—would rightly rise to the role of information manager.

Well, I was right and wrong.

“Once you get out of heavily regulated industries, where they’ve been forced to comply with DoD and HIPAA rules, you don’t see any records management,” says Peter Auditore, VP Marketing USA for Hummingbird Corp. If you’ve been reading these white papers, you already know that Auditore is one of those fierce evangelist-types, who speaks plainly and is not afraid to share his opinion about the woeful lack of adequate document and records management in most businesses today. Usually it only means that some business is not performing up to snuff. But as we’ll see, there are other implications lurking beneath the relatively newfound attention that good ole records management has been receiving lately, on both sides of the business and government fence.

Playing the Other Guy’s Game

There’s an interesting cross-pollination going on. The private sector, accustomed to instituting technology for efficiency or value motives, is now beginning to feel the pressure of regulatory compliance and other government mandates. And the public sector, typically driven by rules and regulations, is now acting a lot more like a business, looking for ways to provide their services better and be more competitive and “citizen-oriented.”

With things like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act looming and threats against peace and security a new constant, new forces are altering the way we look at records and information processing in general. One thing is certain: the stakes are a lot higher. Suddenly you’ve got the real possibility of CEOs going to jail on the six o’clock news. And when you think about homeland security and intelligence ... well, I don’t even want to go there. I’ve become allergic to being scared, and that stuff scares me.

“If records managers had been given the funding they needed all along, we wouldn’t be in the place we’re in right now,” says Auditore. “But in the last three months, we’ve had more interest in records management than we’ve ever had, from every single market researcher and from our document management customers. And there is a great deal of confusion out there.” (And maybe a little panic, considering the handcuffs-on-NBC-Nightly-News thing.)

In addition to heavy pressure from above, there are also more mundane drivers for the newfound interest in records management. In the public sector, for instance, “there’s a major push to reduce costs,” says Auditore. “They’re looking at staffing and at simple things like postage and publishing.” Self-service Web-based customer service (or citizen service) systems are also popular as a means to automate certain repetitive and yet high-value functions. “All the public sector agencies are mandated to cut costs, comply to regulation and adopt organizational change and development ... these are the key factors right now.” And they’re all happening at the same time.

So in the public sector, the drivers for content management have historically been more or less forced upon them, but are now becoming more efficiency-, service- and value-focused. Likewise, the private sector is responding to the multiple impulses of regulation and revenue. “In the private sector, there is always the drive to become more competitive, and using document management to change and optimize a paper-based process is also a big part of that,” adds Auditore. “Like contract management, for example. That’s a hot one ... ” he adds wistfully. Companies like Geico (auto insurance) have learned that faster, more automated information processing without paper can increase their competitiveness within their vertical markets, and save money at the same time.

But in this converging world, where government is looking for savings and businesses are under a regulatory microscope, who’s doing the better job? Which works best, a carrot or a stick?

Tough Conclusion

I’m sure one can find highlights on both sides, but the current state of information management in Federal agencies should be carefully and thoughtfully examined. When the INS can approve a visa for Mohammed Atta six months after the September 11 attacks ... when 340,000 change-of-address forms from the SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) system are sitting in a box in a basement somewhere in Washington, un-processed ... when all IT implementations in Federal government are now being reviewed by the GAO ... when someone named Malvo can get five complaints in four states in the period of a year and nobody at the FBI gets an alarm ... it doesn’t look good for the Feds.

“I talk about this everywhere I go. We have paid a dear price for the failure to implement technology,” states Auditore flatly. Whether or not the woes of the world can be solved through document management is obviously up for debate, and beyond the scope of this article, for sure. But it seems hard to argue that it couldn’t help, in matters both great and small.

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