Rise of the records “Super Container”

Geoscience Australia has spent over 12 years implementing EDRMS and has come a long way since installing its first version of TRIM in 2001. As Australia's national agency for geoscience research and geospatial information, Geoscience Australia plays a key role in assisting mining and oil & gas exploration in Australia and improving Australia's ability to deal with natural disasters. Some of the Agency’s recent activity includes developing flood maps to analyse how to prevent future disasters such as the Brisbane Floods of 2012, and analysing the devastating impact of Cyclone Yasi.

Of the 750+ staff, many  are scientists. based in a  purpose-built geoscientific research facility in Canberra, where they generate and consume masses and masses of GIS data. They also don't muck around when it comes to the unstructured stuff, and the central TRIM repository now hosts over 1,000,000 registered documents in the system,  with about 3,000,000 to 3,500,000 documents in the document’s store itself, and the same number again of emails. The Confluence tool from Atlassian is used for collaboration.

Ben Miller, a Manager within the Agency’s Information Management Section, explains, “The record-keeping environment at Geoscience Australia has evolved from simple hierarchical file shares to what Geoscience Australia refers to as a "Super Container." This is essentially  a single record but one which  nests files and documents underneath in a taxonomic way, mimicking Windows file structure in a way that makes it easier for users to understand.  

"Initially we had a fairly flat file structure and a lot of people didn’t like it. The feedback we were getting was it doesn’t look like Windows it’s too hard, I have to remember too many numbers," said Miller.

"So we developed the Super Container structure which a number of agencies now are using as well.  And we noticed straight away that people started to invest a little bit more time in learning the system and also trusting the system."

In the Super Container taxonomic structure are three levels. The Super Container level is usually aligned to a business group or a business area, the next level down is an administrative function such as HR or something specific to the business unit.  "Underneath that then we have a number of containers called activities which breaks it down further and then underneath that is actually where we have the file, and then under that is the document. “

Evolving policy

Over that time the strategy has evolved from a process of transferring everything that could be considered a record into TRIM as the sole end repository to building record-keeping compliance into its line of business systems, 

 "Rather than just having TRIM as the sort of end point solution, for all those major system that are managing large swathes  of information, we’re trying to build record keeping compliance into those systems which means that we don’t have to be transferring absolutely everything to TRIM."

"We’re using the ISO 16175 standard and we’re currently trying to develop a checklist for our business systems that we can check off to make sure that it is compliant to the standard," said Miller.

"Instead of thinking "one system to rule them all" we are trying to build compliance across a number of systems. It also reduces overhead in terms of training because finance staff are working regularly in a financial system, for instance, and if that system has record keeping compliance, do we then need to invest a lot in training in a system that they’re essentially not going to use a lot?  So there are some potential overhead savings there in the longer term."

"If so we can step back a little bit in terms of saying to the users of those systems, oh you have to extract it and put it into TRIM.  If we can manage it there for at least the short active life cycle of the record and then once it comes time for archiving then we can look to export that information out and put it in TRIM for long term preservation.  Or if it is only a short term record then we can look to dispose of it out of the system if it had that functionality.”

Digital deadline

Like other Australian federal government agencies, Geoscience Australia is facing a 2015 deadline to hand over all permanent records to the National Archives in digital format, at least those that originated digitally.

As this represents over 95% of information created by the organisation it should not be a big issue. 

The only analogue documents are some legacy materials and documents such as contracts that need to be printed to obtain a physical signature.

"As far as digital readiness is concerned for Geoscience Australia as an agency, we are a long way down the track," said Miller.