Transition to digital information management: Australian Communications and Media Authority

The ACMA Transition

Summary

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) case study highlights some of the issues and challenges faced by the ACMA during its transition to digital information management over the past few years.

Agency overview

The ACMA is a statutory authority within the federal government's communications portfolio.  The ACMA is Australia's regulator for broadcasting, the Internet, radio communications and telecommunications.  The agency was formed on 1 July 2005 with the merger of the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) and the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA).  The ACMA has offices in Canberra, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and employs around 465 staff.

Introduction

The ACMA began its transition program from paper to digital records soon after its creation in 2005.  At that time, the combined organisation had over 150,000 hard-copy files stored in multiple locations, with terabytes of unstructured data on shared network drives.  Business processes varied widely across the new organisation, even for similar functions, and the need for improvement was both pressing and opportune. Although both agencies had made separate attempts at digital information management, there was no suitable transition model available from either that could meet the needs of the newly formed agency.

Need for change

The information management team at that time was a small group resulting from the restructures associated with the merger.  However the ACMA executive team understood that the effective management of information, and the successful amalgamation of the two parent organisations, required a good leader and change agent to manage a substantial change in approach.  This led to the establishment of a qualified and professional team, an upgrade in TRIM electronic records management functionality, and a major change initiative to amalgamate data from the two agencies and streamline business processes.

Project objectives

The transition to digital records management was recognised from the beginning as a major project that would span considerable time.  In addition, it would require continual improvement in operation as the two organisations became more integrated and organisational responsibilities shifted and evolved.  Ongoing change was anticipated as economies of scale took effect, which would result in further modification of organisational structures and processes.  The key objectives of the project were:

  • Move from paper-based to electronic records
  • Simplify and integrate business and information management processes
  • Migrate all documents required to be kept as records from network drives

Project execution

As a result of these drivers, the ACMA adopted TRIM as its formal record-keeping tool.  It commenced a program to move information from informal repositories into TRIM and encourage users to store information in TRIM.  This initiative was accompanied by a major change management program, the redevelopment of many business processes, and the creation of new user guides to assist staff with the transition.

Between 2007 and 2010, the ACMA undertook its initial digital transition program.  All records management processes were mapped and transitioned from paper to electronic records management.  Over 80 per cent of the agency was transitioned and almost 100 information management procedures and templates developed at section or business transaction level, as well as shared processes to meet recordkeeping requirements.  A major clean-up of network drives was also carried out, reinforced by the focus on record-keeping in TRIM.

From 2010, the ACMA developed a new ICT strategy that focussed on major transformations of key elements of the ACMA's operations, and information management was part of this initiative.  SharePoint was introduced, initially as a collaboration tool, and development work was done for a SharePoint plus RecordPoint solution.  This included pilots for records and information management as an alternative to TRIM.  The RecordPoint implementation was problematic for administrators but promising for users.  Ultimately, though, the agency's long term dependency on TRIM meant that SharePoint plus RecordPoint did not progress past the pilot, and TRIM was retained, and fully endorsed again as the official EDRMS in May 2015.

In the same period, 2010-2014, the ACMA's ICT transformational agenda began to address the need to interact with clients and customers on line.  This meant that many of the processes formerly mapped and managed in TRIM were being conducted in new systems such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM.  There was little understanding of the requirements of records or information management in the development of these systems.

In late 2014, a restructure saw the appointment of a new manager charged with reinvigorating information management for the ACMA.  This facilitated information management staff in conveying the message of the standards, policies and practices required to meet holistic operational requirements.

In late 2014 the IM team commenced refreshing information management within the agency.  This commenced with a top-down approach to develop and implement a new information governance framework that would meet all the challenges of Gov2.0 initiatives and the government's new digital transition policy requirements.  Furthermore, the governance framework had to align with changes from the PGPA Act 2013 and account for the ACMA's newly created accountable authority instructions (AAIs) according to the PGPA Act requirements.

It took a dedicated and determined effort to integrate the key sections of the PGPA Act with the Gov 2.0 initiatives and digital policy requirements, to allow the ACMA executive to understand and endorse the new information governance model.  The Department of Finance resource management guide 209 (RMG 209) became a key document to link all of the governance requirements.  RMG 209 advice led directly to the National Archives of Australia (NAA) best practice advice for developing and implementing an information governance model within commonwealth agencies.  This model took several months from late 2014 to develop, and was endorsed by the ACMA executive in May 2015.  This delivered to the ACMA a new governance framework as step one in the "reinvigorating information management" programme of works.

IT projects undertaken between 2010 and 2014 had often not fully considered information management requirements beyond the capture of transactions and digital assets within a business system, however recent changes now incorporate information management expertise in project governance to ensure that information is managed as commonwealth records.  The ACMA will undertake an audit to assess the compliance of business systems with the requirements of the ISO 16175 standard, and identify records with a high business value or risk to determine the most effective way to address any shortcomings.

Project outcomes and impact

Between 2007 and 2010, change management and support for the changed processes were continuous.  Some outcomes of this were:

  • Systematic audits, clean-up and destruction of legacy hard-copy documents and files
  • Minimal hard-copy file creation (less than 10%, for financial audit purposes only)
  • New starters were provided with information management training to orientate themselves to the ACMA information environment
  • Keeping weekly and monthly statistics on TRIM users by sections ( to obtain and maintain executive support for TRIM)
  • Introduction of an 'IM News Weekly' newsletter with regular updates of changes

These ongoing efforts saw the ACMA's Check-up and Check-up Digital self-assessment results steadily improve, culminating in the ACMA's 2014 Check-up Digital ranking of thirty-third of the 166 responding agencies, and substantially above the whole-of-government averages in the three core areas assessed.  The 2015 assessment reflects further incremental improvement.

More recently, the endorsement of the new information management strategy has led to a program of work to ensure the ACMA remains at the forefront of information management.  Information management needs to be able to support staff in their work, whilst seamlessly ensuring compliance with legislative and administrative requirements.  Specific activities include:

  • Introduction of enterprise searching to facilitate access to information across all platforms to address the shortcomings of a purely compliance-based approach
  • Upgrades to key systems to ensure continued operation and the latest functionality
  • An audit of databases to determine which business systems need to meet ISO 16175 standards
  • A cultural shift in records and information management is to move away from the "we keep everything forever" approach, to one that balances risk management and financial prudence

The key aspect that has driven the success of this extensive, ongoing program has been the resilience and persistence of information management staff.  Recognising that there was no silver bullet to solve all of the ACMA's information management problems, staff have remained focussed on maintaining compliance, supporting normal business operation and continuously improving information management for the agency.

Other case studies

Case study 2: An 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

Case study 4: Digitising a business process to eliminate 'wet' signatures: National Archives of Australia

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