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Guidelines for the Management of Electronic Information

Background Information

Why should state agencies be concerned about the management of electronic information?

Information is vital to the operation of state government. All state agencies depend on electronically generated data to accomplish their basic functions.

Information is among the most valuable assets that state agencies have at their daily disposal. It is the basis for decision making, justification of resources, determination of benefits, as well as a variety of other routine government operations.

Information is expensive to create and maintain. The September 21, 1990 Information Technology Strategic Planning Initiative Consultant Report stated that the Stateþs annual investment in information technology was $200 million and growing. At that time, over 1,400 State employees were directly involved in the delivery of technology. The report also noted that most other state employees were dependent upon information technology in some way to carry out their responsibilities. In addition to the technology itself, other components of information management, i.e. data input, data maintenance, storage, data distribution, etc., add significantly to the costs associated with the production of information. Especially in times of limited resources, state agencies need to manage their information resources to achieve the greatest benefit possible.

Information has value to the State. Many contemporary issues facing government will be of ongoing concern, and information on the issues will be critical to decision making and problem solving. The State has an obligation to protect the publicþs interest in vital information resources and preserve them for future generations.

The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has an interest in recordkeeping and information management practices as they relate to financial and program evaluation audits. LABþs standard audit procedures include evaluating computer system documentation standards, computer security, back-up procedures, and disaster recovery plans. State agencies need to be prepared to demonstrate that their information systems are adequate in all these areas.

While technology gives State agencies the capability to respond to the growing demand for information, it also presents a number of challenges. In today's rapidly changing information technology environment, security and access, data maintenance and compatibility, accidental loss by machine and human error, and numerous other issues require constant monitoring to insure the quality of information is retained.

Finally, agencies must insure that government records, in any format, are managed in compliance with a number of records laws and requirements. They all apply to electronic records:

  • Records Retention Scheduling and Disposition, s. 16.61
  • Public Records; Property Transfer of Records, s. 19.21
  • Access to Records (Open Records Law), s. 19.31, 19.39
  • Rules of Evidence, Federal and State
  • Confidentiality of particular records, specific Federal and State laws and processes
  • Privacy laws relating to identifying personally identifiable information, Subchapter IV Personal Information Practices, ss. 19.62, 19.80.

Can computer tapes, floppy disks, diskettes, optical disks and other electronic storage devices contain records?

Yes, Wisconsin's two statutory definitions of records clearly encompass records and information of all types, including electronically produced and/or stored records. As part of the 1990-91 Budget Bill, the Statutes were revised to incorporate optical disk technology in Wisconsin's Public Records Law.

Chapter 16.61(2)(b) defines records as "all books, papers, maps, photographs, films, recordings, optical disks or other documentary materials or any copy thereof, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by any state agency or its officers or employees in connection with the transaction of public business..."

Chapter 19.32(2) defines record as "any material on which written, drawn, printed, spoken, visual or electromagnetic information is recorded or preserved, regardless of physical form or characteristics, which has been created or is being kept by an authority. Record includes, but is not limited to, handwritten, typed or printed pages, maps, charts, photographs, films, recordings, tapes (including computer tapes), computer printouts and optical disks."

State agency personnel need to view electronic information systems as more than strictly processors of and/or storage mechanisms for information. It is not sufficient to treat only the printed products as records that are subject to statutory provisions relating to records retention, disposition and preservation. All records þregardless of physical form or characteristics are included in statutory definitions.

Discussion of electronic records frequently focuses on their technological nature, but it is the information stored in them that is the focus of this document.

What is meant by the term electronic records?

The term electronic records in this document is meant to be broadly inclusive of data and information input to, manipulated by or output from computers or computerized systems, and not readable without mechanical aid. Roughly equivalent terms are computer records, electronic data, and machine readable records.

Another term that is frequently used in discussing electronic records is information system or automated information system. An information system is the organized collection, processing, transmission, and dissemination of information whether manual or automated in accordance with defined procedures. The importance of this term relates to records scheduling, discussed in Part II of this document. In designing a records retention policy for an information system, all component parts of it must be analyzed and appraised in relationship with each other.

The term record is used generically and not in the specific computer science usage referring to a group of related data fields. The intent is to distinguish from the more familiar paper and photographic records, data which can readily be used only through the mediation of computer equipment. However, constant progress in information science creates varying record media in which the distinction may not be perfectly clear. Optical disks and computer output microfilm are cases in point.

Another concept that needs to be addressed when examining an information system is record series. A record series is some group of logically related records with the same retention and disposition value. An electronic records series may support one or more operations within an organization. The records series concept is important in that records are normally scheduled at this level. In an information system, agencies may identify one or more records series which need to be scheduled.

Electronic records are part of complicated record keeping systems which must be analyzed in total. Electronically-produced records deserve special attention because they are relatively new, easily altered and erased, and their status as valuable parts of the public record is still unclear to many people.

A further distinction is that the particular medium (magnetic tape, optical disk, paper) in which information may be carried or embodied is NOT the record. The information carried on that medium is the record. This is why record preservation and disposition decisions must be made in terms of the entire system in which records are used, so that the most valuable form or medium of the records may be preserved and redundant copies discarded.

What is the records management concept of "life cycle of records", and how does it apply to electronic records management?

The life cycle of records is a management concept that all records and information pass through three stages: creation, maintenance and use, and disposition. Within the framework of an information system, these stages are not always distinct. Program and/or policy shifts can trigger modifications and the creation of subsets of information quite rapidly. Data fields of major importance in one application can be of limited significance in another, and programming changes can make previous data irretrievable. However, agencies should track all user informational needs and determine records/data retention requirements throughout the life of the system to as great an extent as possible.

Whenever agency staff create purge criteria for data in information systems, they are setting retention and disposition policy for the record or parts of it. Agencies need to be aware that established purge criteria should reflect retention and disposition policies approved by the Public Records and Forms Board. See Part II of this document.

Application of the life cycle concept to an information system may follow the stages listed below:

  • Identify policy or program needs for a new systems development or modification to an existing system. Gather data from existing systems and/or new data to input to the system.
  • Maintain currently active records in primary storage, on-line or immediately available.
  • Migrate semi-active or inactive records to less expensive, slower storage media.
  • Identify records/data that are eligible for disposition or deletion, erasure or transfer to an archives.

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