Managing the Digital Assets of State Government

The growing volume and variety of digital content in state government present unique challenges to public organizations steeped in a tradition of paper. With an explosion of electronic reports, documents, e-mail and Web sites, state technology leaders are seeking efficient management solutions that meet administrative requirements and support citizen services.

However, several barriers impede progress. States in general lack an enterprise view of electronic content management, an overall strategy, integrated systems and resources. What’s more, electronic records, digital preservation and legal implications have typically not been agenda items receiving serious time and attention.

But the business drivers are changing. Why has this subject become so important and why now? New considerations in laws, regulations, organizational issues and technology options have pushed this topic onto the priority list of many state CIOs.

Current Challenges

Effectively managing electronic records has certainly challenged state governments; however, recent changes in the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure have brought a new sense of urgency. These revisions emphasize that digital records can be retrieved and searched as evidentiary material in federal civil cases. This e-discovery includes e-mails, databases, audit logs, digital media — virtually any media or type of record. What this means for the states is new responsibilities, accountability and heightened risk of exposure to litigation.

Instances of Web page content as well as other digital records constitute referential information and the basis for many decisions. Part of the challenge is maintaining the traceability that forms the basis of decision making when the referential information is dynamic. The state digital record carries with it a certain fragility that precludes waiting too long to establish and apply standards and best practices. As well, there is a limit on what can and should be captured from dynamically updated Web sites — that is, on how far down the decision path automated tools can trace content.

The advent of “born digital” brings with it the parallel issues of authenticity, authority and official record status. These concepts are well founded in the world of paper records, but now many state public records exist only in electronic form. In some cases, states have eliminated printed official legal resources — replacing them with online official legal resources. Citizens are looking for the official status of such records. The state must be able to present what could be termed the “official digital record” and ensure permanent public access to that record. Citizens will need reasonable assurances regarding the official unaltered digital record. Courts of law will certainly demand it.

Valuable knowledge and history are at risk of loss because of technology obsolescence and inadequate attention to knowledge management and records management principles in capital investments, projects and commercial software. Events such as Hurricane Katrina have highlighted the vulnerabilities of paper records and the advantages of electronic records management and backup capabilities. Without proper continuity of operations planning, critical records essential to maintaining operations are often not managed and retrievable separately from marginally important information.

Too often, the long-term value of generated knowledge assets has not been adequately addressed in project and investment planning. The cost-benefit equation for managing electronic records has not been included in the business case for business process design and reinvention, or in the cost of a supporting system. Historical records must be maintained as long as they have value for the enterprise — and in this case, the citizen.

Crucial Collaboration

As presented in the National Association of State CIOs’(NASCIO) recent series on electronic records management and digital preservation, cross-boundary relationships and operating discipline are the necessary ingredients for properly managing these knowledge assets of state government. The partners in this scenario are the state CIO, enterprise architects, records managers, archivists and librarians. Each brings certain expertise into play and perspective on what is desirable for collaboration. A framework for formal interaction and discussions is essential.

Enterprise architecture provides an enterprisewide perspective for continual transformation and should include disciplines for strategic planning, capability management and traceability to ensure that programs, projects and management initiatives provide the means to support the strategic plan. Managing the digital assets of the state touches every aspect of the state enterprise architecture. For example, the security and data domains of enterprise architecture deliver the security and proper metadata tagging for managing authenticity, integrity and permanent public access to official records.

The anticipated result is proper and consistent management of the knowledge assets across the state enterprise, across all agencies. Records management principles and best practices are integrated with capital planning and business case development, project definition, project execution and continuity of operations planning, including the identification of critical information.

Records management requirements are part and parcel of the business requirements for any new business process or system implementation. Born digital content is recognized for its value and possible historical significance before it is lost. Through an enterprise architecture governance model, records management and archival professionals have a seat at the table in the discussion and deliberation process. This includes determining the technology and data standards, assessing marketplace solutions, guiding the procurement process and proper acquisition.

Through the state enterprise architecture program, records management and digital archiving is not only a consideration but also an enabler of continual transformation and innovation. Enterprise architects evaluate technology innovations that will enable proper management and preservation of the state knowledge assets. This approach positions the state for internal collaboration and the multistate collaborations that are necessary to share digital resources across jurisdictions.

Looking Ahead

In our digital world, many would still argue that “content is king.” In today’s complex and increasingly digital state governments, we would argue that “collaboration is king.” The framework, structure and discipline offered by enterprise architecture offer the opportunity for a collaborative process of debate, deliberation and decisions. State agencies can go it alone; however, the best interests of the taxpayers are served when technology investments are considered in light of the architectural direction. State CIOs can convene these discussions, but it requires active engagement by the experts to actually move forward. To effectively manage this vast digital universe and preserve important digital assets, the enterprise direction and potential solutions must be crafted in collaboration.

Sep 19 2007