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Electronic Records Program 1994-1995 Report

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Issues Affecting the Management and Preservation of State Electronic Information and Records

Program staff gained considerable knowledge while meeting the first year goals. Working with state agencies in the areas of data management and administration, as well as providing educational support, has helped program staff identify several areas that present challenges for ensuring that the state's electronic information and records are identified, preserved, and made accessible. These areas can be viewed within the framework of Policies and Procedures, Information Management, and Technology.

Policies and Procedures

The state lacks a coherent, centralized information management policy

The state is moving to establish an enterprise approach to managing information technology. To accomplish the goal of "providing better government service at reduced cost" state agencies must also develop, implement, and manage electronic systems appropriately. A state information management policy is crucial to ensure that state agencies have clear guidance on how the state's information and records assets are to be managed, preserved, and made accessible. This policy must also include functional requirements for developing, managing, and preserving electronic information and records.

There continues to be confusion regarding the status of electronic data as public records

Is the content of an automated system a public record and therefore subject to state laws, rules, and legal precedent? Program staff noted varying points of view on this issue ranging from "no electronic records are public records" to "all electronic records are public records." Unfortunately, the answer to this question is somewhere in between and frequently dependent on the knowledge and experience of the state agency that creates and manages the automated system. There currently are no clear policies, rules, or guidelines to help agencies determine the public record status of data in electronic systems. Furthermore, agencies lack a central information resource that can provide guidance and tools to manage electronic data in accordance with state and federal record keeping requirements.

Information Management

The programs established to help manage public records have failed to prevent the loss of important electronic information and records

State agency heads, program managers, legal counsels, records and forms officers, information technology professionals, the Public Records Board, and the State Archives all play important roles in ensuring that public information and records are properly managed and preserved. A failure of any part of this shared responsibility places important records in jeopardy. The methods used today to ensure the proper management and preservation of public information and records are seriously flawed and need to be reevaluated. In the first year of the program, staff found that:

  • Agencies have failed to assign responsibility for long term management of electronic information,
  • 59% of agency automated systems scheduled for permanent retention in the agency or State Archives no longer exist in their entirety (See Appendix 2.),
  • Agency staff lack the training to properly manage electronic records that have long term administrative value, and
  • Agencies have not maintained electronic records according to state record keeping requirements.


Preserving Electronic Information and Records Requires the Preservation of the Medium, Technology, and Intellectual Content

State agencies have a greater risk of loss when valuable records are kept in electronic form. Preserving electronic records requires the preservation of the medium, technology, and intellectual content. Medium preservation refers to issues of proper storage of the media on which electronic records are stored. Technology preservation refers to the issue of technological obsolescence. Preservation of intellectual content refers to ensuring that the electronic record is authentic, reliable, and understandable over time.

Imaging Does Not Ensure the Preservation of the State's Important Records

Wisconsin faces significant challenges to managing electronic information and records in document imaging systems. It is a growing technology that lacks standards and is dependent on proprietary software. However, in specific situations, imaging technology does significantly reduce the costs of retrieval and storage of public information and records. The state currently has laws and administrative rules governing the development and implementation of imaging systems by state agencies. However, the program's experience with one agency's imaging system pointed out several problems. First, the State Archives will no longer be able to take custody of the paper records because the records will no longer be maintained in an accessible form. Second, the imaging system does not have the capability to export the images and index to a standard format; and third, the State Archives does not have the resources to take custody of and provide access to public records on proprietary or specialized technology.

The State Lacks a Clear Policy Regarding the Public Record Status of Electronic Mail Communications Created in the Course of State Business

Wisconsin lacks any clear legal opinion, precedent or law that resolves the confusion of whether an e-mail communication is a public record. This area must be clarified so that a management solution can be identified and implemented. Currently, the state is moving in the direction of improving interagency e-mail capabilities and towards a single e-mail standard. This standard is being developed without consideration of the state's needs for managing e-mail in compliance with state record keeping laws.

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