Finance takes a new path to digital recordkeeping nirvana

More than three years into its multi-million dollar quest to revolutionise digital record-keeping practices across Federal government, Australia’s Department of Finance has announced another shift in direction and a “review” of the current moratorium on new investment in records management solutions.

Finance is still keen to migrate to as-yet-undefined next-generation technology platform to automate the practice of keeping records, an initiative initially announced in 2015, but is now asking for vendors to submit to a “co-design process” to achieve its aims.

At an industry briefing in July 2018, Kayelle Drinkwater, Finance Assistant Secretary, Accountability and Reporting, announced that a Request for Proposal (RFP) would be made available in October 2018 leading to a panel of qualified vendors to be established in 2019.

Ms Drinkwater has since left the Department and the RFP has now transformed into a Request for Feedback (RFF?).

According to a new Discussion Paper: “Before we begin to establish requirements and a sourcing approach, Finance is seeking feedback on:

1. the use of a co-design approach with industry and entities to determine the most appropriate sourcing arrangements and a statement of requirements; and

2. whether the capability maturity approach is a useful way to pursue modernisation of Australian Government records management.”

Finance has also asked that all proposed digital record-keeping solutions are compatible with the Australian Government Records Interoperability Framework (AGRIF), a new standard that it is developing but is yet to be completed.

According the new Finance Discussion Paper, “In early 2018, Finance undertook a 12-week Demonstration of Concept (the Demonstration) to test the concept of automating records capture and categorisation via machine learning and semantic data technologies. Through the Demonstration, it was concluded that while the Government is best placed to describe its functions, industry is working towards automation and would be best placed to provide digital records management systems that would be compatible with the government developed Australian Government Records Interoperability Framework (AGRIF).

One industry vendor responded, “I think this means they have decided it is all too hard and could one or more of you vendors do it for us at your cost but to our theoretical and incomplete design?

“I guess it will be one of those government projects that goes on for years and years costing a fortune and then is finally cancelled because technology has passed it by.”

There is also industry concern that the co-design approach (and this whole project overall) puts a disproportionately heavy burden on SMEs.

“It’s a much heavier burden for SMEs to jump through these ever-changing hoops than it is for the majors. This approach will produce a heavy bias toward larger players and multinationals and will further hurt local records management technology providers/vendors/suppliers,” noted one Solution Provider.

“This is especially so when SMEs are already suffering as this project continues to shift its plans and approach, and the (in)famous moratorium continues (in theory) even though Finance seems shy about it:

Another commented, “This document is not a lot to show for 2.5 years of spending, and deliberate lockout of any competition from the scene. They’re still trying to solve a problem they created.

“It’s not like they needed to urgently prevent any more agencies spending millions on new EDRMS implementations – there are only a few large agencies that don’t already have them. The latest paper still doesn’t really explain what the problem was, and how they are trying to solve it – and especially doesn’t explain how this 3+ year moratorium is actually helping anyone.”