Australian Government Digital Records Platform: Key Considerations for Success

by Nicholas Delaveris, Alliances & Partner Director for M-Files

This summer, Australia’s Department of Finance started the process of developing a strategy for its new “Whole of Government Digital Records Platform” by soliciting ideas from the technology industry on how to fix what a recent report found was an inefficient and “unsustainable” system for managing records and information.

The plan is to implement a government-wide digital records management platform that will be used across the entire federal government to deliver better efficiency, as well as smarter, more modern online services to citizens. The Finance Department is now vetting solutions that will not only make more effective use of government records, but also make it easier to find, manage and share data across different entities and reduce duplicate efforts across government departments and operations.

A Feasibility Study published by the Australian government's Finance Department in May 2016 documented that current records management practices are not sustainable due to the rapid growth of government data. According to the study, “traditional records management practices that require users to undertake electronic filing in separate records management systems are not working … this results in mismanagement of government information, which poses a risk to government business, e.g. loss of evidentiary material from email and lost productivity or high costs associated with discoverability of poorly managed information.”

Indeed, managing government information today is more complex and difficult than ever. We’re in the midst of a digital revolution. Data is growing exponentially. In addition to the sheer volume of information to be managed, there’s a growing amount of unstructured data. What’s more, records and files often reside with different and disconnected applications, network file folders, emails and other content repositories. Government employees must spend their time navigating these systems and repositories to find what they're looking for, as well as verifying that the document or file they find is the accurate version. These challenges will only increase if government continues to rely on outdated approaches and legacy content management systems that were designed for an era of the past.

A Future Fraught with Opportunities & Challenges

Imagine if all government agencies and departments could easily search and find data in any format across multiple content repositories and systems. Better yet, what if information systems could automatically and intelligently categorize, manage and retrieve information based on context? The information could then be easily aggregated and analyzed to help leaders make more informed decisions, develop better programs and identify new opportunities for growth, innovation and more. That’s the vision Finance has for its new platform.

Finance says it wants to “facilitate sharing between agencies and other entities involved in collaborative work, improve efficiency during times of administrative change, and minimize costly duplicated effort.” The idea is to leverage technologies such as artificial intelligence to “modernize” record keeping for the 21st Century.

The proposed time frame for implementing the new platform is ambitious, and there will be numerous obstacles to overcome. Following are three key considerations to help the Australian government accomplish its goal.

1: Resist the tendency to make your current approach work

Government leaders are looking to fundamentally change the way their agencies have been working with records and information for decades. But it will be hard for people to see things from a different perspective. After all, what we know comes from what we’ve done. Having the government open its mind to fresh voices and creative ideas is a critical puzzle piece, as the best ideas often come from those not wedded to the way things have always been worked. Plus, once the decision to move forward with a new approach is made, there remains the daunting task of shifting internal mindsets.  

Don’t underestimate the need to invest in the change management process. No matter which solution is deployed, be sure to allocate time and resources into training to help drive user adoption. With this in mind, one of the top criteria government leaders should look for when evaluating and selecting technology solutions is ease of use. It’s been well established that the user experience (UX) is more important now than ever. Information workers today expect the technology solutions they use at work to be as intuitive and simple to use as the solutions they use in their personal lives. For government, that means a solution that can deliver personalized, context aware information management with the ability to streamline any and all content that workers need, when and where they need it.

2:  Rethink How Information is Managed

Finance said it prefers cloud-based solutions capable of interfacing with existing solutions. A common mistake is to look for one monolithic system that can replace all different existing records management solutions and information management systems. But adding yet another repository could actually make things worse. How will the government migrate all the existing data? It’s difficult and time consuming. The IT landscape is littered with migration projects that have failed or exceed budget because unexpected challenges and obstacles arise as massive amounts of content is migrated into the new system.  

The Australian government should instead adopt a modern solution that was developed to manage information in the digital age and beyond. These solutions don’t require massive data migrations. They are designed to integrate with existing applications and repositories, enabling information to be accesses without having to move it into a new system. In other words, it creates a “repository neutral” approach in which the location of information isn’t a concern. A common interface would unify existing systems, repositories and applications – including Dropbox, Salesforce, SAP, etc. -- enabling departments and agencies to find what they need without disrupting existing processes. New artificial intelligence capabilities would also allow the system to adapt and improve over time based on user behavior.

3. Look for Quick Wins

Remember, transformation is a marathon, not a sprint. Australian government agencies are about to experience a paradigm shift in the way they manage information, and that level of change takes time. The 2020 timeline may be aspirational, but government also doesn’t have an unlimited window to make measurable progress. Establishing quick, early wins is essential for building momentum, driving change and getting long-term buy in.

Start small - focus in on key business pains or processes that need to be more efficient, and that will drive more productivity at less costs to government. The ‘big bang’ approach is rarely successful these days. Instead, implement news approaches and solutions in phases, and provide training at each step in the process. In the meantime, be transparent about what’s going on, communicate early and often, and reaffirm a shared sense of purpose by reinforcing the message that the new system will not only reduce costs, but improve processes and services for general public.  

This is indeed an exciting time of transformation. Australia is committed to finding new and innovative ways to manage the growing amount government records and information more effectively and efficiently.  The good news is that solutions are available that empower government organizations to better manage and unlock the value of information without disturbing existing systems and processes or requiring data migration. And when the pieces are in place, they will help propel Australia forward as a leader government in the new digital world.