Finance puts industry off-side with EDRMS lockout

Australia’s Department of Finance has put EDRMS adoption by non-corporate Commonwealth agencies on hold until 30 June 2019 while it completes a pilot rollout of its own in-house cloud records management solution.The decision has upset the vendor community and seemingly jeopardises The Digital Continuity 2020 policy championed by the National Archives of Australia (NAA).

Those agencies who wish to embark on an EDRMS rollout must now seek a specific exemption from the Australian Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann.

For some years, Finance has been quietly building towards its solution known internally as the Whole of Government Records Management as a Service (WoG RMaaS) project. It was allocated $A9.1M in the 2016-17 Budget to further development, and says this will be sufficient to test the concept of automated record keeping with a small number of agencies.

According to the NAA Web site, the rollout of this platform is due to commence in 2020 following a pilot phase.

“The Platform will ensure information is categorised, indexed, managed and disposed of in accordance with Australian Government records management obligations using technologies such as cognitive computing, keyword extraction, machine learning and auto-indexing.

“The Platform will use RESTful micro-services architecture – records management functions will be implemented as a single set of shared micro-services to which business applications will connect to push records.”

“The solution will:

  • increase the productivity of all APS workers by removing the need for ‘end user filing’ — smart technology will automatically extract and categorise information held within common business systems such as Word, Outlook, SharePoint;
  • eliminate the need for staff to move and store information in a separate records management system — items can be kept in their current location, for example, a shared drive or SharePoint, while still meeting their records management obligation.”

There are almost 100 non-corporate Commonwealth Agencies in Australia. In 2016 Finance surveyed 80 of them and found a bit over ¾ already had an EDRMS in place.

In October 2016 Finance published set of requirements for its whole of government solution in which it set out four separate options for the future:

  1. Traditional EDRMS – where each agency hosts their own EDRMS instance. Costs are managed through a central panel arrangement where the whole of government purchasing power can benefit the smaller agencies;
  2. SaaS Hosted EDRMS – where a single hosted EDRMS instance is shared by all agencies. User licenses will be similar to option 1 but implementation costs are reduced through a single shared deployment;
  3. Embedded RM – where records management functions are embedded in each business application that is a source of records. This option provides higher quality records and a much better user experience, but is likely to be the most costly; and
  4. RMaaS Microservices – where records management functions are implemented as a single set of shared Microservices to which business applications will connect to push records. This option provides the benefits of options 3 (high quality records and the best user experience) at the lowest cost of all options.

It concluded: “The remaining agencies without any EDRMS would enjoy WoFG (Whole of federal Government) purchasing power with regard to software license costs. However, implementation costs are likely to present agencies with a challenging business case. Furthermore, this option will not improve the generally negative user experience of the traditional EDRMS.”

In September 2017, Finance hosted a series of Market Days to investigate the records management industry’s capabilities to provide a whole of government platform based on a Position Paper released in August 2017 via AusTender. Submissions were received from 28 competing vendors and solution providers.

Rina Bruinsma, First Assistant Secretary Efficiency and Assurance Division Department of Finance, wrote a letter on January 18, 2018 to inform all who took part in the Market Days that their submissions had been reviewed by The Department of Finance (Finance) and panel members from partner agencies.

“ … the panel determined that no single potential supplier possessed an existing off-the-shelf (OTS) offering that could address all of the elements at the maturity capabilities required by the proposed approach. However, a large number of interested parties were able to demonstrate partial maturity against most of the elements.”

“After careful consideration of the Market Day findings, Finance and its Program governance committee, have decided to proceed with demonstrating the requirements for the intended solution. This work is intended to test whether the automation of recordkeeping, as envisaged in the Position Paper, is possible,”

Lisa Read White, a director of Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia (RIMPA), queries “If several vendors demonstrated "partial maturity" towards the elements why wouldn't Finance work with the vendor reps to develop those elements further and speed up the maturity?

“What benefit is there to a Govt agency charged with servicing the Country and its citizens embarking on a software development exercise, which is my understanding of "demonstrating the requirements of the intended solution". Surely software development is not a Finance function?” 

Finance claims it will not be developing the solution and “Any solution will be provided to Government by the market.”

One Canberra insider noted, “Crazily, the Digital Records Transformation Team operate out of Finance, not Archives. So, we have Archives pushing this comprehensive 2020 roadmap while Finance say “you can’t spend money on record-keeping” until we’re done.”

A group called the International Digital Information & Technology Advisory Council (iDITAC), representing a number of the 28 competing vendors, solution providers and individuals who were present at the 2017 Market Day, has written to Mathias Cormann, Minister for Finance, asking for a review of the department’s decision.

“The result of this decision impacts all of the information management industry which includes vendors/suppliers, partners, employees, consultants, trainers, recruiters, contractors and the industry as a whole. This decision for Finance to proceed on a 6 to 18 months journey to demonstrate the requirements for the intended solution [while] the Investment Moratorium on new investment in records management solutions will remain in place, has the potential to destroy the industry.”

The iDITAC group has proposed the introduction of a new Digital Information Management Act separate from the current Archives Act (1983), as well as urging the Federal Government to place Digital Information Management into a Ministerial portfolio other than Finance.

The Australian Institute of Information Management (IIM) has expressed concerned about the impact of this decision on Agencies, achievement of the Digital Continuity 2020 targets and their staff, many of whom are record and information management professionals. 

“IIM therefore strongly urges the Australian Government to work with the iDITAC group to review the implications and the inequalities of the Department of Finance’s decision to proceed with Option 4 - RMaaS Microservices to the industry to alleviate the anxiety and concerns of the industry.”

Frank McKenna, founder and CEO of Australian ECM vendor Knowledgeone Corporation, said, “We all know that the Australian government does not have a good record with major projects, particularly complex software projects.

“This time we are asked to believe that the bureaucrats (and numerous contractors) in Finance have magically ingested all of the expertise accumulated by the numerous content management vendors over 30 years or so and now know better how to build a state of the art content management system.

“Sounds to me like some clever consultant or bureaucrat out to make a reputation has sold top management in Finance on something that top management don’t understand. I believe it happens a lot in government.

“The Minister of course will be an expert at least until he is reassigned and passes it on to another minister and then another minister as the government changes. Blame will shift (NBN, anyone?) as the project struggles over time.

“Let me make some brave predictions:

  • It won’t be ready on time.
  • It will cost many times the initial budget cost.
  • They won’t be able to convert and ingest data from the operating legacy systems.
  • After delay after delay many agencies will force Finance to give them exemptions.
  • End users will suffer for years from bugs and a poor user interface.
  • By the time it is finished it will be using out-of-date technology.


“Check with me again during 2020,” said McKenna.