Digitising a business process to eliminate 'wet' signatures: National Archives of Australia


The National Archives of Australia is responsible for promoting the Government’s Digital Transition Policy, which requires the Australian Government to create and keep its records in digital form for efficiency purposes. Like other agencies, the Archives is facing the challenge of transitioning its business into digital processes. In 2012, the Archives adopted a risk-based approach when it digitised the authorisation of records authorities. This initiative enabled the Archives to eliminate the need for hard copies and 'wet' signatures.

The agency

The Archives has legislative responsibility for information and records management within the Australian Government. This includes providing direction to Australian Government agencies concerning the retention and disposal of their business information. The Archives also preserves, provides access to and encourages the use of the most valuable Commonwealth records.

The business case

The Archives issues legal instruments known as records authorities. These give Government agencies permission to legally destroy Commonwealth records once they are no longer needed. They also identify records of enduring value for transfer to the Archives. Until recently records authorities were authorised by the Archives’ Director-General with a 'wet' signature.

Continuing unnecessarily to use a paper-based process was inconsistent with the Archives' commitment to digital transition in the Australian Government. In addition, several practical advantages were identified in digitising this process. These included giving the Archives experience in digitising business processes to help it develop its advice and simplifying the publication of records authorities. The Archives' Director-General was also keen to make use of already available technology to digitise the authorisation process.

Risks and mitigation

The requirement for a physical signature is often cited as an obstacle to fully digitising work processes, and there was a perception that removing the 'wet' signature from a records authority could invalidate the authorisation. This risk was mitigated by reviewing relevant legislation to determine the legislative requirement for authorisations. The Electronic Transactions Act 1999 confirmed that authorisations could be provided digitally, subject to certain conditions and as long as the authorisation could be verified as coming from the appropriate person or their delegate. The authorisation requirements of the Archives Act 1983 and its regulations were also met by the proposed digital process and associated procedures.

The risk of authorisation not coming from the appropriate person was mitigated by the Archives' existing ICT and security policies and procedures, including the use of secure passwords and personalised email accounts. The general risk of the unavailability or failure of technology was mitigated by the ability to revert to paper processes.

The business case for digital transition of the process was quickly accepted as it had strong support from the highest level of management and the operational area concerned.

Development and implementation

A number of technical options for digitising authorisation were investigated. Initially the process was digitised through the exchange of emails and the capture of records in the electronic document and records management system (EDRMS). Ultimately, the Archives took advantage of existing technology and processes. EDRMS workflow tracking is now used to notify staff of actions needed to perform and to record completed actions, including the electronic authorisation of the final records authority. The Archives electronically notifies agencies following authorisation and publishes authorised records authorities on its website.

Digitising this process has helped the Archives meet the requirements of the Government's Digital Transition Policy, simplified the records authority publication and notification process, given the Archives further experience in digitising business processes and created new options for issuing and publishing records authorities in the future.

Other case studies

Case study 1: Transition to digital information management: Australian Communications and Media Authority

Case study 2: Improved digital information and records system results in savings, major business efficiencies and good user acceptance: Australian National Audit Office

Case study 3: How $150,000 was saved in one year by transitioning to digital records management in one business area: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019