Sep 28 2020

NARA Compliance: What Is an Electronic Document Management System?

Federal agencies need to comply with the National Archives and Records Administration’s mandate to shift to electric record keeping.

For federal agencies, the clock is ticking. By Dec. 31, 2022, agencies need to transition their business processes and record keeping to a fully electronic environment. After that date, the National Archives and Records Administration will no longer accept paper records.

The direction, in an Office of Management and Budget memo, is that agencies ensure all federal records are created, retained and managed in electronic formats with appropriate metadata, NARA’s Laurence Brewer, the chief records officer for the U.S. government, tells FedTech.

That makes the adoption of electronic document management systems all the more important. In June, NARA released its Digital Preservation Framework, which spells out 16 electronic record categories and how agencies can best protect them.

Each agency is required to have a records management staff to ensure their records are properly managed, Brewer says. “This staff must be involved in agency procurement activities to ensure that systems acquired for agency mission-related work meet the agency requirements for records management,” he says. “This includes email systems, which, through efforts like NARA’s Capstone initiative, have made considerable progress over the last five years.”

Electronic document management systems can help agencies meet these requirements. As North Dakota’s state government notes, such systems are a “collection of technologies that work together to provide a comprehensive solution for managing the creation, capture, indexing, storage, retrieval, and disposition of records and information assets of the organization.”

“Over the past decade, NARA has continually been encouraging and in some cases requiring agencies to move towards fully electronic record keeping,” Brewer says. “The traditional records management model of thinking about records only as paper documents is part of the last century. The government creates nearly all of its records in electronic formats; therefore, it makes sense to capture and eventually make available the permanent records coming to NARA as electronic records.”

What Is NARA Compliance?

The OMB memo is a continuation of guidance NARA has been giving agencies for the past decade. “Agencies also must develop plans, consistent with regulations and records management policies, to transfer their analog records to NARA by Dec. 31, 2022, so we can proceed with complete focus on realizing fully electronic government,” Brewer notes.

The Office of the Chief Records Officer publishes an annual “Federal Agency Records Management” report. The report includes agency-reported data on their compliance with records management requirements and their progress toward meeting milestones for electronic record keeping.

The report covering 2019 data shows that agencies are making clear progress on electronic document management.

The report shows, according to Brewer, that 97 percent of agencies believe they will meet the Dec. 31, 2022, deadline to manage permanent records in electronic format with appropriate metadata. The report shows that 93 percent of agencies indicate they will be able to manage temporary records in electronic format.

Many agencies indicated that their records are already created and maintained electronically, according to Brewer.

“Email management is more mature than electronic records management for all records,” Brewer says. “Under 70 percent of agencies met the goal to manage permanent electronic records in electronic format by Dec. 31, 2019.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: Discover how agencies are embracing document digitization with gusto.

What Is an Electronic Document Management System?

Document management is how agencies and other organizations store, manage and track electronic documents. Document management allows agencies to “capture, track and store electronic documents such as PDFs, word processing files and digital images of paper-based content,” IBM’s website notes.

Document management involves the “use of a computer system and software to store, manage and track electronic documents and electronic images of paper based information captured through the use of a document scanner, ” according to the Association for Intelligent Information Management.

An electronic document management system lets agencies store, access, index, search, retrieve, archive and delete documents. An EDMS is designed to let agencies convert physical documents into electronic forms that can be stored and accessed quickly.

NARA’s Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI) has developed Universal Electronic Records Management requirements that identify high-level business needs for managing electronic records, Brewer says, which are baseline ERM program requirements derived from existing statutes, standards, NARA regulations, policy and guidance.

Another aspect of FERMI has been NARA’s work with the General Services Administration to make it easier for agencies to acquire the services and solutions needed to manage electronic records.

NARA worked with the GSA to create an Electronic Records Management Solutions category as part of the GSA consolidated schedule. Vendors in that category have all self-certified that they are able to meet NARA’s Universal ERM requirements.

READ MORE: See how agencies are moving toward digital records.

How Do Document Management Systems Work?

A document management system (DMS) is software that controls and organizes documents throughout the agency, and, as AIIM notes, it “incorporates document and content capture, workflow, document repositories … output systems, and information retrieval systems. Also, the processes used to track, store and control documents.”

As IBM notes, most DMSes today include the following components:

  • Metadata is usually provided for each document and includes the date a document is stored, its title and a description.
  • Indexing, retrieval and search lets users find documents based on document identifiers, metadata and content.
  • Security features protect documents, control access and support compliance.
  • Workflow lets administrators control the way documents move through the agencies.
  • Collaboration tools allow users to edit documents at the same time and track and monitor changes.
  • Versioning tools let users retrieve previous versions of documents.

What Is Document Control?

Document control software incorporates the functions of electronic document management systems but specifically helps organizations “manage information, automate records management policies to help monitor who has access to which documents, and remain compliant with standards” such as HIPAA, according to Business News Daily.

As Capterra notes, document control software helps organizations “manage their documents in a way that is compliant with government and industry regulations.”

What Is the Best Document Management System for You?

There are numerous electronic document management system vendors available for agencies to work with. The GSA lists 67 vendors in its Electronic Records Management Solution category. Among them are IBM, which provides document management tools through its FileNet and Content Collector software.

Canon also offers document management capabilities through its Therefore software.

There are several other leading EDMS vendors, including GoCanvas.

“All federal agencies are required to implement records management systems and practices that ensure NARA requirements are implemented in work processes,” Brewer says. “Agencies have the flexibility to develop or procure compliant solutions that ensure all agency records are managed in accordance with NARA-approved records schedules and policies.”

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