Records Management & Information Management, Perth and Western Australia

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Born Digital - May 2003

Call in the Lawyers!

Which is the original? My Microsoft word version with links to other documents, the corporate Intranet and the WWW or the paper copy sent to the recipient without all of the metadata? Welcome to 2002 when 98% or more of correspondence is generated electronically by word processing software.

But first, a history lesson!

Word Processing.

The term was first used in IBM's marketing of the MT/ST (Magnetic Tape/Selectric Typewriter), as a "word processing" machine. It was a translation of the German word textverabeitung, coined in the late 1950s by Ulrich Steinhilper, an IBM engineer. 1*

The story of the Wang Laboratories Inc. from America is a classic example of the history of word processing. Dr. An Wang, the company founder of Chinese origin, initially enjoyed success with storage components and universal computers. Finally, in the 1970s, he helped word processors to make the breakthrough and made Wang Laboratories one of the most successful computer companies in the USA. Wang introduced its dedicated word processing system in 1976, and by 1978 it had become the leader in what was then a niche with 50,000 users. 2*

Then came the computer software revolution with the released in 1979 by Micropro International Inc., WordStar was the first commercially successful word processing software program produced for microcomputers and the best selling software program of the early eighties. 3*

In or around 1986 Microsoft entered that word processing software market with Word and a 6% market share, WordStar 13% and WordPerfect 14%. By 1997 Microsoft Word held 70% of the market, the rest of the story is now history.

Now born digital or electronic!

The question that is posed by the extensive use of born digital or electronic is, which is the legal original? Not being a legal mind, I vote for the digital or electronically created document. Others will argue that the digital or electronic version is not a legal entity as it has no signature and that only the signed printed document mailed or faxed or electronically copy sent after the signature is attached is the legal entity.

Bring on the Queens Councillors [QC’s].

What is the situation now? Federally and at least in some of the states with New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland and Victoria, where electronic transaction Acts have been passed some 2 years ago electronic version may be the original. Other states have such as WA are still awaiting passage of their legislation. The following legislation as Acts applies nationally:

Electronic Transaction legislation

Bills of Exchange Act 1909 (Australian Federal Government); Cheques and Payment Orders Act 1986 (Australian Federal Government); Payment Systems (Regulation) Act 1998 (Australian Federal Government); Electronic Transactions Act 1999 (Australian Federal Government); Electronic Transactions (Victoria) Act 2000 (Victoria); Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (Tasmania); Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (New South Wales); Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (South Australia); Electronic Transactions (Queensland) Act 2001 (Queensland); Electronic Transactions Act 2001 (Australian Capital Territory); Electronic Transactions Act 2003 (Western Australa) NOTE: I HAVE INSERTED THIS AS OF TODAY 2003-05-18

When one refers to the term Born Digital or Electronic in a Records Management environment we tend to restrict our vision to those documents that we create every day in a business environment e.g. Microsoft Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, emails and PowerPoint presentations. With the possible exception of the PowerPoint presentations and maybe the excel spreadsheets all are utilised in a paper environment at some stage of there distribution and access.

With electronic transactions occurring by the millions per minute, plus web pages and other Internet, W3, Extranet and Intranet activities which will never see their printing to paper we in the records management profession are struggling against the mighty and overwhelming tide of electronic activities that we are not even aware have been created, transacted and finalised let alone recorded and maintained as proof of any transaction ever occurring and for legal, moral and historical purposes.

The Western Australian Department of Industry and Technology have put together an excellent document titled “Guidelines for State Government web sites”. Details are available @ Guidelines for State Government web sites and the web page advises the following:

The Government of Western Australia has also recognised this need and has released a set of Guidelines for State Government Web Sites, (July 2002), which were approved by State Cabinet in June 2002.

I read the draft copy but have yet to set aside the time to address the final version which if the draft was any guide will be a must read by anyone locally, nationally and internationally if they have a web site, manage a web site or are legally responsible for the information posted to the world via the Internet or an Extranet or internally via an Intranet.

Another body that have realised that they have not had a good grip on the born digital environment is NARA, the USA National Archives and Records Administration who have released a 40 page document titled "Proposal for a Redesign of Federal Records Management" in July 2002 in which the observation is made that for the last several decades or so electronic records have not been managed in such a way as to preserver their content, let alone their context for the present, let alone the future as archives. Details of the document can be obtained @ MEMORANDUM TO AGENCY RECORDS OFFICERS AND INFORMATION RESOURCE MANAGERS: Federal Register notices relating to electronic records

This is an enlightening document and worthy of a read and possibly a comment back to the originators requesting input.

The whole issue of the management of born digital is becoming bogged down in the whys and how’s and the standards applicable to the situation.

Why should we care?

Does it hit our bottom line if we do not do it properly?

Do we miss a turn on the Monopoly Board of reality and do not pass go, do not collect $200.00 and end up in jail?

What are the real or potential costs involved if we neglect to manage our born electronic data?

Maybe the Western Australian Government could answer this question based on a real live situation.

In March and May of 2001 two tenders were let to Diskcovery Information Management for the processing of information so that that information could be presented to the Inquiry carried out into the activities of the King Edward Memorial Hospital.

My understanding of the two tenders to a value of $1.877985 MILLION “figures obtained from the Health Department of WA web site” was to convert electronic and other data held at King Edward Memorial Hospital and with the Health Department to a format which could be used to present to the Inquiry.

I am unaware of the exact number of documents in question as I can no longer access the tender document on the WA Government web site, but I believe that the average cost per document to be around the $1.00 each.

What benefit did the King Edward Memorial Hospital and with the Health Department obtain from the expenditure of $1.877985 MILLION? Did this expenditure provide the King Edward Memorial Hospital and the Health Department with an infrastructure so that the management of electronic and other records would be managed in such a way that in the future if another inquiry were carried out that similar expenditure would be unnecessary?

I would dearly wish that to be the case, but I have my doubts.

No matter where we live in the Corporate or Government environment and we have a role that makes us responsible of information capture, creation and or dissemination internally or externally how would our organisation fare, if tomorrow it was required to present all of it physical and electronic records to a Court of Law or an Inquiry on a particular issue or a wider ranging situation?

My inclination is that we would in a similar or worse situation than that listed above. If you have any doubts have your IT people have a look at the number of emails you have stored on you system, this would include the main server plus all local hard drives. Then have a look at all word, excel, PowerPoint data and Access and other databases on the system and all local hard drives and then total the finding. Then check and see what percentage of that information is recorded in or on your records official management system.

You will either have a heart attack on the spot or go out and buy a gun to either shoot yourself or someone else in the organisation.

When I ask records managers of an organisation what percentage of the corporate information that they have under control they invariably quote me a figure of somewhere between 80 to 98% with the majority indicating the upper level. When I do an audit I get the impression [as it is difficult to be exact] that the actual percentage would be in the 50% or less under their management.

Physical documents move around the enterprise and are never seen by the records section, contracts are entered into via email and the only copy goes when the user is forced to clear his or her inbox or the IT section does it for them. The catastrophe grows with each revelation.

You get responses like “you are going to tell me that emails are records aren’t you”, yes I am. And “how would I know that an email is a Record?” My reply, the policy, procedures and practices manual in respect to the management of emails is posted on your Intranet and has been there since 1997.

The response “OH!”

We live in a wonderful world were we can receive information, images and sound from anywhere In the world instantly plus create them in return.

We have yet to appreciate the current and future value of this resource which is evidenced by the lack of investment and interest our leaders, politically and corporate place on the management of such a wonderful resource and capability.

Until records management becomes a core subject in Business Management courses at Universities and the likes of the Australian Institute of Management and for that matter the Harvard Business School we at the professional end will always struggle for the resources essential to maintain the organisation and society at large.

My belief of what records management is, and that relates to born electronic information as well is as follows:

So, what is Records Management?

It is a core business activity [and I mean business in the broadest sense] without which no organisation, however large or small, can meet its operational activities, its moral responsibilities, or can document proof of meeting it’s statutory, legal, financial or shareholder responsibilities, or provide for its history.

Records Management is the foundation stone on which all organisations are built and which, without they cannot operate effectively or efficiently. It is a, or the core business activity and not an add-on, which we are forced to implement by threat of penalties or embarrassment.

Records Management is good management practice and should be in the forefront of any executive mindset as a strategy for best practice to provide efficient, effective and cost minimisation initiatives. Without effective Records Management, inefficient and ineffective decision-making will be made and remade with mistakes repeated without a reliable decision-making information base from which to start to appropriately manage any situation. Effective Records Management will provide returns in proportion to the effectiveness of the Records Management system in place.

Records Management is not a cost centre. It is a strategic investment from which all organisations will benefit greatly.

1* Munday, Marianne Forrester. Opportunities in Word Processing. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Company, 1985.

2* Heinz Nixdorf Museums Forum!

3* Inventors of the Modern Computer A Rising WordStar - Seymour Rubenstein & Rob Barnaby By Mary Bellis

Laurie Varendorff ARMA

The Author

Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president and national director, has been involved in records management for 30 years. He has his own consulting and training business near Perth, Western Australia, and has tutored in recordkeeping and archival storage and preservation at Perth’s Edith Cowan University. Phone: +61 (0)8 9291 6925; mobile: 0417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff

The author, Laurie Varendorff of the Varendorff Records Management Consultancy - TVC - Helping clients manage their e-World gives permission for the redistribution or republishing of this article by individuals and non profit professional organisations without cost based on the condition that he as well as the URL of the article are recognised at the introduction of the article when redistributed or republished.

SPECIAL NOTE: Use of this article by publishers, commercial, government, or educational organisations requires a financial agreement to be negotiated with Laurie as the copyright holder for this work.