Like many governments, the State of Oregon is legally required to capture and store any paper-based and digital material considered to be a ‘public record.’ These records are as diverse as contracts, transcripts of government proceedings, personnel records and emails relating to the operation of government agencies. They can be documents, images, audio and video recordings, or older formats such as microfiches and films.
With a population of around 4 million people, Oregon is a mid-sized state. Even so, more than 8 million records are already stored in its centralized records management system—with millions more in other storage systems—and more are created every year. At the same time, many records taking up physical and electronic storage space do not need to be kept—either because they do not meet the definition of a public record or because they have been held longer than required. This is a significant cost to the state and can present legal risks and other liabilities.
The State of Oregon recently saw a clear example of the need to retain public records. In February 2015, the Federal Government issued a subpoena demanding a wide range of records and communications relating to allegations involving Oregon’s then Governor John Kitzhaber. While some agencies could deliver this information quickly due to their robust records management practices, others struggled.
The crisis led to Governor Kitzhaber’s resignation and the introduction of a number of ethical reforms by the state’s new governor and former Secretary of State, Kate Brown. Under the first of these, Oregon will audit public records practices in state agencies as part of reviewing the state’s public records laws.
“I think the outcome of that audit is going to really be eye opening for the record management community and the understanding that information does need to be managed, because if it’s not managed, it directly affects the access to that information,” says Mary Beth Herkert, Director of the State Archives Division, State of Oregon.
She adds that the public now expects to be able to search online for government records as quickly and easily as they can other information. “The expectation is very high,” she says. “It’s a Google society—they want to Google it and they can’t understand why you can’t get them anything instantaneously.”
In addition, governments are receiving increasingly-broad requests for information. For example, an individual once requested all emails sent and received by Kate Brown from her appointment as Secretary of State to the date of the request—a period of around three years, which led to her office providing more than 80,000 emails.
For all the above reasons, the State of Oregon was committed to introducing better electronic records management tools and processes to improve public records management. However, it wanted to do so in a way that made it possible for all levels of government and all agencies to access the same capabilities. This meant finding a solution that could be implemented at the same low cost per user, whether a group had a few users or hundreds.
To address the challenges of burgeoning information, greater public expectations and cost control, the State of Oregon created the Oregon Records Management Solution (ORMS). The system was piloted in 2013, then launched in 2014, and is now being used by over 2,000 users in more than 40 public sector organizations state-wide.
ORMS enables state agencies, cities, countries, schools, and special districts to access Content Manager as a cloud-based Solution as a Service (SaaS) for an affordable peruser fee, and to start with a limited number of users and records. Content Manager is a scalable electronic document and records management solution (EDRMS) that allows organizations to securely manage physical and electronic records from creation through to disposal.
Oregon was the first US state to make Content Manager available as a cloud based EDRMS solution. It achieved this by forming a unique public–private partnership with Chaves Consulting Incorporated and Arikkan Incorporated, which are both major suppliers to government and key Records Management Services providers.
According to Herkert, the state chose Content Manager because it complied with Department of Defense (DoD) security requirements, could be delivered as a multi-tenancy service, and, most importantly, was fast and easy to use. “I wanted the least intrusive piece of software to manage because if it’s going to take more than five seconds to put a record into the system, no one is going to do it,” she says. “‘We just drag and drop records into the folder and that’s the end of it.”
She adds that user organizations have been especially interested in using ORMS to define their workflows from document retention through to disposal. “It’s really picking up speed. Everybody realizes you need an electronic management system because you can’t manage electronic records outside one,” Herkert says.
The rapid adoption of ORMS is a result of the benefits being realized by those groups that have already moved to the electronic document and records management system. “It has brought this whole idea of being able to manage public information in a very efficient and cost-effective manner to the forefront,” says Herkert. “It really makes the management of information from creation to final disposition a reality instead of just a wishful thought.”
The first key benefit is the speed with which agencies can locate records. For example, it took only 90 seconds to fulfil the request for three years of Kate Brown’s emails because every message was stored and categorized in ORMS. Out of all the messages retrieved, only about 250 had to be manually reviewed before release.
“In the average agency, that would have meant going to all the backup tapes, pulling all of that email and then reviewing it to make sure that there is nothing exempt in it,” says Herkert. “That might have taken six days before.”
By using the WebDrawer feature within Content Manager, groups can also publish information—such as recordings of public meetings—directly to the web as they are entered into ORMS. Citizens can find this information through a simple web query, removing the need for them to formally request records and for agencies to spend time and effort finding them.
WebDrawer is also enabling Oregon to make historic material readily available to the public. For example, the Archives Division recently converted a series of important audio recordings of legislative proceedings from the 1960s to MP3 and used the feature to make them easily accessible through the State Archives website.
ORMS while Secretary of State and remains strongly committed to improving the quality of public record keeping and public access to information in the state. “The Governor understands the need for government to be transparent and she understands the need for government information to be accessible,” says Herkert. “Those are key pieces of her fundamental foundation of government.”
By creating ORMS, any Oregon government body can access sophisticated electronic records management capabilities for a low monthly cost per user and—most importantly—without needing to make a substantial upfront investment in capital equipment. Instead, agencies pay a low, flat monthly fee of less than $40 per user per month, and can start using ORMS and gain access to related services such as helpdesk support and training with only a few registered users. This per-user pricing model has meant that smaller groups in Oregon, such as the City of Dundee with around 10 staff, have been able to implement sophisticated electronic records management capabilities without a large upfront investment. Another example is the City of Milwaukie, which has 76 staff using ORMS and maintains more than 100,000 records from across 15 internal departments ranging from its planning and city management groups to finance, human resources, and engineering. Previously such cities would have needed to spend upwards of $500,000 of hardware, software licenses, and professional services to gain an electronic records management capability.
“Not only are we able to provide public records quickly and at a low cost, we are also able to do internal business more efficiently by making records easily accessible to staff,” says Pat DuVal, City Recorder at the City of Milwaukie. “The cost per employee is minimal when you factor in how much we save in staff time and storage.”
The pricing benefits will also accumulate for the State of Oregon as the number of government employees using ORMS grows. Under the sliding-scale pricing schedule, the price per user will continue to fall as the number of users rises. According to the President of Chaves Consulting, Richard Chaves, this dynamic pricing model is central to the partnership between his company and the state. “There is financial motivation for the private company and the public sector to make it successful because the price goes down as the number of users go up,” he says.
The ability to schedule the destruction of documents within ORMS is also enabling Oregon to significantly reduce the number of public records it maintains, and in turn the associated data storage costs legal risks and other liabilities. “Our electronic servers were like the worst episode of Hoarders multiplied exponentially,” says Herkert, adding that the Secretary of State’s office alone now routinely destroys blocks of about 25,000 public records at scheduled intervals.
The next key step for the State of Oregon is to maximize the value of ORMS by implementing it across more public sector agencies. For example, it has recently deployed ORMS to a number of school districts in the state. Oregon is also advising other U.S. states and foreign governments, reflecting the high level of interest in the benefits of using a SaaS approach for records management. In addition, Oregon is exploring using more Micro Focus tools, including Micro Focus ControlPoint and Structured Data Manager, to intelligently identify and migrate data into ORMS, and to better access, understand and manage unstructured data in systems such as Microsoft SharePoint.
“We have some agencies that really get hamstrung by the backlog of data that they need to get into the records management solution, but it takes hours and hours to get that information in,” says Herkert. “So, if there are ways to automate that then that’s where I think we’re going to see these products come into play.”
Oregon is also developing policies for capturing documents and communications held in third-party cloud services such as Google Docs, Gmail and Microsoft Office 365, and considering the potential for cloud-based backup for smaller agencies.
Finally, Herkert’s team is standardizing and reducing the number of document formats used for permanent records stored in ORMS to make the future migration of obsolete formats easier.
This will typically see documents held as PDFs, images stored as JPEGs or TIFFs, audio held as MP3 files, and video held as MP4 files.
The portfolio of software will help Oregon deliver a comprehensive and integrated information governance platform to all agencies, allowing the state to proactively capture and manage business information while simultaneously remediating valuable historic information. This will in turn help ensure that the state’s information is secure and readily available to the public and government when it is needed.