Case study - Parliamentary Budget Office

A case study in establishing a digital culture.

Summary

Awards for Digital Excellence - Commendation 2015

From its commencement, the agency established a digital culture, supported by positive leadership at all levels. An EDRMS is used to manage the agency's information. This consultative approach for developing tools and guidance to support staff resulted in strong levels of digital information engagement. This support will continue as future upgrades and expansion of digital information practices occurs.

Agency overview

The Parliamentary Service Amendment (Parliamentary Budget Officer) Act 2011 was an Act to provide for the appointment and functions of a Parliamentary Budget Officer and the establishment of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO). The PBO subsequently commenced operations on 23 July 2012, following the appointment and commencement of the Parliamentary Budget Officer.

The purpose of the PBO is to inform the Parliament by providing independent and non-partisan analysis of the budget cycle, fiscal policy and the financial implications of proposals.

The PBO is located in the Australian Parliament House (APH) and currently has 39 staff.

Introduction

The Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) has been very successful in establishing a strong digital culture. An agency may have a well-designed electronic records and data management system (EDRMS), associated policies and processes, and people to support the system, but this combination alone does not necessarily mean that the agency will be successful in creating a digital culture. Further, the age or size of an agency does not determine likelihood of its success. Staff may not adopt the practices required and cling to what they know, past systems and processes, or inefficient practices.

The PBO’s success in creating a digital culture is largely attributed to the leadership at all levels through the agency, in both supporting a digital environment and modelling the practices in their day to day work through leading by example. This tone is set from the top.

This case study outlines the records management systems, practices and culture in the PBO and further developments in the coming year.

The PBO's corporate services

On commencement of the PBO, an informal arrangement was established with the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) to provide the PBO’s corporate services, including the records management function.

The systems and processes already in place within DPS were largely adopted when establishing the PBO’s records management function. The DPS EDRMS (TRIM) was adopted as the PBO’s EDRMS. Within the DPS TRIM system, separate record types, locations and access controls were utilised to segregate the records of the two departments.

During 2013 the PBO developed a secure ICT network which became operational on 2 December 2013. At this time, the PBO copied its existing TRIM database into the new secure ICT network. Records management services continued to be provided by DPS.

In late 2014, after reviewing current arrangements for the provision of the PBO’s corporate services, the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Clerk of the Senate entered into a memorandum of understanding for the provision of corporate services to the PBO, including full records management services. These services transitioned from DPS to the Department of the Senate on 1 December 2014.

As a very small agency with limited in-house expertise in information and records management, the PBO relies on its shared service arrangements to draw on broader and more specialised expertise.

Information management in the PBO

As the workforce grew over the PBO’s first year of operation, PBO staff were dispersed over a number of locations within APH, until the PBO moved into its permanent consolidated accommodation in APH in October 2013. During this time, the PBO also faced a significant demand on its resources in the lead up to the 2013 general election and during the preparation of the post-election report. The tactical decision to use an EDRMS from the outset, coupled with the embracing of a digital culture by all staff, brought significant efficiencies to the PBO’s work.

Digital transition and digital continuity

The concept of ‘digital transition’ is not entirely applicable in the PBO’s context, as the records management practices and systems were established as digital from the outset. Upon his commencement, the Parliamentary Budget Officer championed digital record keeping practices and as a result not a single paper file has been created in the PBO since its inception.

The PBO was born digital.

Paper personnel files were received by the PBO as staff were recruited from other Commonwealth agencies. During 2013, a project was undertaken to digitise all personnel files on hand at that time. PBO personnel files are only created and managed digitally.

To ensure that the PBO’s information is complete, available and useable by those with a need for it, the PBO has implemented a number of practices to ensure the quality of its records and information:

  • All staff receive training in TRIM and digital record keeping practices
  • Guidance provided to staff on naming conventions to ensure clarity regarding what the document is and what it is about
  • A general principle of all staff being able to view metadata on records, but access to view and edit documents is limited to those with a need to know
  • Editing of documents is always undertaken within the TRIM system, ensuring version control is maintained and audit trails are available to know who has accessed or modified a document
  • Periodic reviews of records in TRIM are conducted to ensure the integrity and completeness of information. Examples of items reviewed are naming conventions, classifications, checked-out documents and folders containing no records
  • Quarterly reviews of the number of folders and records created by all staff are conducted as a quality assurance check to ensure that staff are creating documents when expected to.
  • In instances where a record’s functionality is not supported by TRIM (for example, some complex Excel functions), staff are required to store the document in TRIM once it has been finalised.

Information governance and agency accountability

In an environment where the security of its information is critical, the PBO has intentionally deployed a digital approach to managing its information. Utilising the access controls in the EDRMS provides additional assurance to the security of the PBO’s information. The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), in its 2014 report The Administration of the Parliamentary Budget Office, noted that the PBO had established an appropriate secure ICT system and that the access and activity of users were actively managed and monitored. The report also noted that the PBO Operations Manual, the key document that guides core PBO business activities, provided comprehensive detail on records management processes.

The PBO participates in the NAA’s annual digital check-up processes to ensure that digital information management practices are being implemented and complied with, and opportunities for improvement are identified and addressed.

Embedding a digital culture

The Parliamentary Budget Officer leads the way for the PBO’s embracing of digital information. The Parliamentary Budget Officer constantly utilises the EDRMS and expects other staff to do likewise. The PBO reviews reports on individual usage of the EDRMS, which confirms that all staff are utilising the EDRMS as their main vehicle for accessing, storing and working with information. Staff are consulted when developing policy related to records management, to ensure practical outcomes are achieved that maximise awareness and the rate of compliance by staff. The strong level of engagement from staff demonstrated the extent to which they value a digital approach to managing information.

Future developments

The PBO will upgrade its TRIM database to RM8 by the end of the 2014 15 financial year and following this, will undertake a health check to identify further areas for improvement of records management practices through the EDRMS.

A project is underway to consider the development of an ICT application to provide a centralised workflow register to manage the PBO’s costings and information requests. The proposed register has been scoped to include links and workflow to the PBO’s EDRMS. By early March, the PBO expects to finalise its Records Management policy. During 2015, the PBO will progress the development of its Records Authority.

* case study as supplied by the agency, with minor formatting changes made by the Archives

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2016