TransAccessDM-Crucial-Reporting-Capabilities-for-Federal-Records-ManagementIn our guide to evaluating electronic records management (ERM) systems we mentioned that “all records should be discoverable.” Specifically, we noted that any ERM should enable users to perform advanced searches and create custom reports. Today, we’re going to take a deeper look at this idea and explore why reporting functionality is so critical to effective records management.

At heart, the issue is that Federal agencies need more visibility into their records management process than they have today. All too often, agencies struggle to answer even basic questions about the state of their records – sometimes unable to even find a given record– much less be able to get an accurate bird’s eye view of the state of their record-keeping.

Any ERM system should render what could otherwise be an opaque and impenetrable process into a fully transparent system that enables authorized users to get instant answers and to see the state of record-keeping at their agency with just a few clicks. In fact, this is partly what makes electronic records management good for agencies. Specifically, the ERM should be able to produce reports at will that answer questions like the following:

Where do our records management processes stand?

Today’s agencies are scrambling to meet a NARA-mandated deadline this year to be managing all permanent records in electronic format. How close is the agency to meeting that goal? Without informative reports, that can be an impossible question to answer. As a baseline, reports should give users a high-level view into the state of their records management.

What does the inventory of records look like?

Similarly, agencies should be able to get an overview of all records in the system. Further, users should be able to perform searches or use filter functions to drill down into specific sub-groups of records, e.g. find all records designated with a particular disposition or find records awaiting disposition.

What records are awaiting action?

When users are ready to act on a set of records, they need to be able to generate a report that identifies all records in the system that meets their criteria. For example, if users want to review all records up for imminent destruction, or records awaiting some form of approval, they should be able to generate a report that lists them.

What’s the history of a given record or user?

During audits or litigation, it may be important to understand the history of a given record or set of records. When were they created? Edited? By whom? What information was added, removed, or changed? Users should be able to generate and review such a history quickly and easily. Similarly, individual user histories may need to be reviewed if there are concerns an unauthorized user has inappropriately accessed – or, worse, altered or destroyed – records.

Where is any given record?

Poor records management can mean records falling into a black hole from which they’ll never be recovered. By contrast, a successful records management system ensures that all records remain searchable, find able, and discoverable, if only through reporting functions. Users may not know where a specific record is, but they should be able to find it by running a report based on any relevant record attributes they wish to investigate.

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