Benefits of digital information and records management

The government requires all agencies to move to digital records management. This will provide a number of efficiency and other benefits including improved corporate governance, improved business processes and reduced costs.





What is digital records management?

Digital records management means that most of your agency’s records are created, stored and managed digitally. Where possible, incoming paper records are digitised so that new paper files are not created.

Anything created and captured as evidence of your agency’s business activities is a record. Digital records may include email, social media, databases, websites or content in mobile devices, business systems or other digital technologies.

Digital records must be proactively managed to ensure that they remain accessible and usable over time and through periods of organisational and technological change.

For more on managing digital information and records, see the digital continuity plan.

Why move to digital information and records management?

Government information is a valuable national resource. It is also a key corporate asset. To get the most from your agency’s information it must be managed in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Almost all information is now created in digital form. It is wasteful to convert digital information to paper to store and manage it. It will also become increasingly impractical as agency business becomes more reliant on digital technologies. Persisting with paper practices in a digital world is not only costly but also stifles innovation.

  • Under government policy agencies must report annually on their progress towards digital information and records management.
  • Information is a key corporate asset and needs to be managed well to realise its greatest value. Digital management is the most efficient and effective way to achieve this.
  • Your agency has a legal obligation to manage its records and must be able to account for its actions and expenditure of resources appropriated by the government on behalf of the community.
  • Almost all information is created digitally. It makes good business sense to also store and manage the information digitally.
  • Digital management of records will enable your agency to make the best use of new technologies and innovative ways of doing business.
  • It will enable your agency to implement the government’s information reforms more efficiently and effectively.

What benefits can you expect?

  • improved business processes;
  • better-informed decision making;
  • better service delivery;
  • less staff time spent looking for information, fewer information silos;
  • better information sharing across the agency and between agencies, and potential for re-use of information by government and the Australian community;
  • lower compliance costs and enhanced ability to provide accurate, timely and transparent responses to legislative and regulatory requirements;
  • mitigation of business and reputational risk and improved business continuity;
  • cost savings through reduced storage, retrieval and handling of paper records.

Improved corporate governance

Australian Government agencies need to meet a range of legislative, regulatory and governance requirements. Managing records digitally strengthens corporate governance by helping agencies meet legal obligations and regulatory and governance requirements in an efficient and cost-effective way.

Legislative obligations

Well-managed digital records support transparent, accurate and timely responses to applications under information access legislation or under subpoena.

  • Under freedom of information reforms charges must be waived if a statutory time frame is not met, so quickly locating the right records can avoid a cost penalty.
  • It is easier to publish digital information on websites, in keeping with Information Publication Scheme requirements, in formats that allow use and re-use.

Transparency and accountability

Authoritative records provide evidence of, justify or explain actions or decisions. They substantiate responses to audit, official inquiry or other types of investigation. Records also protect the democratic rights and entitlements of individuals and provide evidence of interactions between the people of Australia and their elected governments. Good digital management means not only that records can be easily identified and located but also that they are trustworthy, authoritative and able to withstand scrutiny.

Digital management provides accountability benefits that are difficult to duplicate in paper systems. Comprehensive and accurate audit trails not only help an understanding of communications, decisions and actions that have been carried out but also show when a record was created, accessed or amended and by whom.

Risk management

A well-managed digital information and records management program is a risk mitigation strategy. The ability to demonstrate what and why decisions and actions were taken and how they were carried out reduces the risk of non-compliance due to incomplete or inaccurate records. Reputational risks that can result when information cannot be found are also reduced.

Business continuity

Digital records management will better support disaster recovery and business continuity. Managing your information digitally allows off-site back-up of records which a paper-based system cannot easily offer. It also safeguards vital corporate information from loss, misuse, tampering and physical damage.

In our 2010 survey Records management practices and arrangements in Australian Government agencies, agencies reported that digital information and records management provided:

  • more effective and efficient retrieval of information, including reduced time and cost to service legal discovery and FOI requests
  • greater protection of information from damage or loss
  • improved compliance with legislative requirements and records best practice
  • reduced risk of information being lost, misplaced or inappropriately accessed.

Improved business processes

Managing your agency’s information digitally allows you to maximise the value of this asset. Access to well-managed, trusted and accessible digital information is a valuable resource for staff over time.

Access, retrieval and information sharing

Well-managed digital information enables faster access to and better control over records that support your agency’s business. Benefits include:

  • the ability to locate and retrieve information in a fraction of the time required for paper documents
  • the ability to save once and then share documents easily with colleagues anywhere, encouraging and facilitating new approaches to work
  • avoiding ‘reinventing the wheel’, that is, easy access to past work that can be re-used to support current tasks
  • reduced duplication of time and effort – in our 2010 survey Records management practices and arrangements in Australian Government agencies, agencies reported that approximately 40 per cent of the records they store in digital format were duplicated in physical format.

In the survey, reported benefits of digital information and records management included:

  • save once, share many times
  • greater flexibility in where and when staff locate and collaborate on work-related documents
  • improved access for staff to corporate information.

Informed decision making

Digital information and records management supports faster evidence-based decision making.

Ready access to information helps staff make the right decisions at the right time. Well managed digital information supports corporate memory and helps staff understand past decisions, processes and activities.

Agencies told us in the 2010 survey that digital information and records management provided:

  • greater collaboration, information sharing and information re-use across the agency
  • reduced information silos, improved intelligence capability, and better knowledge management.

Improved service delivery

Workflows and processes benefit from better access to and faster retrieval of information. Service delivery improves when staff can quickly locate the right information when it is needed.

Well-managed digital information means business information is available and usable now and in the future. Assured continuing information access is vital to continuous improvement of services, outputs and operational effectiveness.

The 2010 survey reported that digital information and records management:

  • improved customer service through faster access to and retrieval of important customer information.

Reduced costs

Transitioning to digital records management will lead to cost benefits in the long term. Agencies that have adopted elements of digital records management report measurable benefits.

Savings in staff time

A well-managed digital records regime frees staff time for core tasks rather than wasteful activities associated with paper records or poorly managed digital ones. Time savings include:

  • reduced registry activity directed to paper files, including creating new physical files, managing physical files and disposing of documents
  • reduced time searching for and accessing paper files stored on or off site or issued to other staff
  • reduced time searching for and accessing digital files stored where they cannot be accessed by others, such as desktops or personal drives
  • reduced time searching for previous work that cannot be found or trying to access and determine the status of work that cannot be authenticated because of poor metadata.

Storage savings

Managing information digitally requires less storage space and reduces the rate at which storage needs increase. It will reduce the costs that you would otherwise incur for storing, retrieving and handling new paper records.

It will also reduce stationery costs associated with creating paper records, such as paper, file jackets, labels and printer cartridges.

Benefits reported in the 2010 survey include:

  • improved staff productivity – less time spent searching for documents or trying to find the current version
  • reduced cost of outsourced storage/management of paper file holdings
  • reduced retrieval times and costs when accessing records – storage costs reduced, requests for off-site records reduced.
Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019