Feb 13 2020

How Agencies Are Transitioning to Electronic Archives

Printers, scanners and other products made by companies such as Brother International can ease the migration.

Federal agencies are nearing the end of a 10-year project to go paperless, and they’re about to begin the most challenging part of the process.

By 2022, they must comply with a 2019 directive from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Office of Management and Budget that requires all permanent records to be “in an electronic format and with appropriate metadata.” 

The government has been working to develop “a 21st-century framework for the management of Government records,” notes a 2012 memorandum from NARA and OMB, and agencies have made solid progress since then.

For those that need to take the final steps, many companies, including Brother International, a leading maker of printers and scanners, have solutions that can help agencies save and share documents in accordance with the NARA/OMB directive.

Focus on 4 Key Areas to Achieve a Paperless System

NARA doesn’t tell agencies exactly how to set up their operations, or which tools to buy that best comply with directives, but does regularly supply agencies with training, support and increased oversight to help agencies move forward. In addition, the organization offers guidance, including NARA’s success criteria for managing permanent electronic records.

“Our success criteria communicate NARA’s thinking about how to meet the directive targets,” says Haralampus. “Unlike most policy, this guidance is very operationally focused and talks about the things agencies should consider.”

Transitioning to an entirely paperless system can be daunting. According to Brewer, agencies need to focus on four key areas:

  • Ensuring electronic record policies are in place
  • Establishing systems to support ongoing management and preservation of electronic records
  • Providing access to those records over time
  • Creating the capability to handle the disposition of those records, whether they’re for disposal or for direct transfer to the National Archives

“We have big goals, but that also means big challenges and big opportunities,” says Brewer. “We have records management SAOs who are senior people in agencies who can get the resources to make change happen. However, a lot of agencies need the staff — not just numbers of staff, but the right staff members.”

Staff members who know how to manage paper records aren’t necessarily the right candidates to manage the technology requirements for e-records management. But that demand for a new skill set also will provide new opportunities for workforce development in government agencies.

“We’re looking for people we can train or who have a real focus on electronics management as a key competency,” says Brewer. “It’s all evolving. Since 2012, we’ve been building step by step, and we’ll keep making progress.”

DISCOVER: Agencies need to move to a world of digital records. See which solutions can help you get there. 

Archiving Paper Records Is the Next Big Challenge

The 2012 memorandum set an initial major deadline for agencies to manage all permanent electronic records in electronic format by the end of 2019. The most recent annual report available from NARA, published in September 2019, shows excellent progress. About 98 percent of senior agency officials for records management (SAORMs) were confident that they would meet the deadline. Many had already completed objectives such as implementing an electronic records management system.

“If you walk back through time, we wanted agencies to move away from a print-and-file process, such as getting an email, printing it out, and putting it in a folder,” says Laurence Brewer, chief records officer at NARA. “The goal of the 2012 directive was to take records that were already digital and keep them digital, which required a transition and a redesign process around workflows.” 

Lisa Haralampus, director of records management policy and outreach at NARA, says that the next step — electronic management of all records, not just those that were born digitally — is a much bigger stretch.

“Agencies still have a lot of legacy paper that needs to be managed,” says Haralampus. “They need a system to transfer that paper to us electronically after 2022.”

Brother is among the companies that can provide those systems to the federal government, and that is equipped to meet the government’s unusual regulatory needs.

For example, many of Brother’s all-in-one printer/scanner/copier products are compliant with the Trade Agreements Act (TAA) and are listed on several governmentwide acquisition contracts

In addition to fast printing for day-to-day operations, the products can be integrated into overall electronic records management workflows. Features include two-sided scanning and the ability to directly upload scanned files to either network or cloud-based destinations.

Once scanned, Brother devices add a layer of much-needed security. Scanners secure any new PDF files with a four-digit PIN that can only be opened by designated users; files are transmitted to a server or network using security protocols that protects all data traveling to and from the device.

Organizations can further enhance their security by ensuring that all devices using the printer — laptops, tablet and smartphones — are all properly authenticated on the agency’s network.

Jorge Villalba/Getty Images