Case Study – The Repatriation Medical Authority
Case study for the transition to digital information management practices
The agency transitioned from largely paper-based to digital information management practices in just over 12 months without funding supplementation. Access to an EDRMS, digitising legacy paper records and developing support tools and guidance for staff to create records in digital format resulted in reduced storage space; facilitation of home-based work; savings in staff time and more accessible records.
The Repatriation Medical Authority (RMA) is an independent statutory authority responsible to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. It comprises a panel of five part-time Statutory Officers, eminent in fields of medical science. The RMA is supported in its functions by a Secretariat composed of 11 administrative and medical research staff. Their role is to produce Statements of Principles (SOPs) which are legislative instruments setting out all possible causes for any disease, injury or death that could be related to military service, based on sound medical-scientific evidence.
Since establishment in 1994, the RMA maintained a records management system for its physical records that met most legislative requirements, although without a formal Records Management Policy or well documented procedures. Systems and controls were based on paper records, rather than electronic records. A range of incomplete electronic records were retained by individual staff and stored on a DVA-provided Y drive in an ad-hoc manner which failed to meet any records management criteria.
The project was driven by the need for the RMA to:
- comply with the Australian Government's Digital Transition Policy objectives;
- ensure the integrity and security of its records; and
- enable users to efficiently identify, access and manage records.
Until 2013, the RMA records were held in paper files, notwithstanding some haphazard retention of a number of internally generated documents in digital form. This was despite annual business plans from 2003 identifying the need for electronic document storage and handling. Completion of NAA's Check-Up in 2011 highlighted the RMA's lack of electronic record-keeping policies, practices and systems.
The objectives of the project were to:
- review the RMA records management policy, procedures and practices, with a particular focus on electronic records;
- prepare recommendations to ensure compliance with the Australian Government's Digital Transition Policy; and
- identify records management developmental or training needs of staff.
A consultant, with records management expertise and familiarity with the electronic document records management system utilised in the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA), was employed to provide advice on the development of an over-arching Records Management Strategy which the RMA adopted. Negotiation with DVA gained access to the DVA TRIM electronic document records management system without charge, avoiding the inevitable delays associated with funding requests. TRIM supports information and records management processes such as creation and capture, storage, protection of integrity and authenticity, security, access and retention, destruction and transfer. Appropriate security and accessibility controls were developed, restricting access to and use of RMA records to RMA staff.
An Information and Records Management Policy was developed in consultation with staff. The policy provided high level direction to staff on records management, identified roles and responsibilities and provided the framework for creation, management, maintenance and disposal of records.
A comprehensive titling protocol for consistency in the creation of containers and documents was developed, refined and issued. This facilitated the searching for records.
All staff were provided with training to develop an understanding of sound records management practices and specific skills in use of TRIM. This training ensured all staff had a practical understanding of why and how they should meet their records management responsibilities. Training was supplemented by a wide range of procedural documentation and focused on-the-job coaching for staff as needed.
An electronic file storage structure was developed and refined, and set up with the assistance of DVA records management staff. It covered the core RMA business – investigating the causes of injuries, diseases and deaths – as well as the administrative information and records produced by all organisations to support their operations.
A staged implementation approach was adopted, with initial prioritisation of prospective records relating to the RMA's core business, shortly thereafter followed by prospective administrative records (including incoming correspondence).
A program to back-capture outstanding existing paper records not previously digitised remains ongoing. Scanning of the source documentation used for the RMA's core business (including more than 60,000 medical-scientific articles) was undertaken by a company specialising in scanning and data warehousing services and storage of the digitised files into the appropriate TRIM containers (and sub-containers) was undertaken over several months. It is estimated that less than 5% of the agency's records remain outstanding.
The project has delivered a Records Management environment that meets the needs of the RMA as well as the expectations of timely and accurate provision of records to stakeholders who may be entitled to access particular RMA records.
The project has ensured that the RMA's recordkeeping meets the Government's Digital Transition Policy and Digital Continuity Principles, with a system allowing efficient retrieval and storage of electronic records, facilitating compliance with a range of legislative obligations. Records are more accessible, and allow shared access simultaneously.
The project's success in the transition to digital record keeping is reflected in the RMA's significantly improved Check-up ratings.
There have been a wide range of additional benefits, some unexpected:
- the physical office environment is enhanced, with a significant reduction in files, documents and general clutter;
- home-based work is facilitated;
- growth in the space required for storage has ceased, and once back-capture is complete and paper records disposed of in accordance with GRA31, space required for records storage will be minimised;
- the volumes of paper required and need for printers has reduced significantly, with further savings possible once iPads and a long-mooted E-board portal solution are available;
- significant savings in staff time in copying and attaching documents to (multiple) files and in identifying and locating required records; and
- a sense of achievement in what has been accomplished, relative to other areas of the portfolio and APS generally. For a micro agency to progress from having no digital records system or records, to exclusive use of digital records in little more than 12 months without funding supplementation, is an inspiring achievement and an example for other agencies to emulate.
It was mandated that all records be retained in digital form only. Whilst there is provision for the Registrar to agree to specific exceptions if business needs or legal reasons are clearly demonstrated, not one exemption has been approved since D (digital) day on 16 April 2013. Ongoing monitoring ensures compliance of all staff with the principles and strategies that have been developed, and fosters a culture of best records management practice.
A TRIM Steering Committee meets regularly to monitor progress and address issues arising from the agency's transition to a totally digitised records environment. Use of the former Y drive is limited to temporary storage of files required for processes incompatible with TRIM (such as website uploading or document lodgement with the FRLI).