In theory, by the end of this year, all US government-related records will be digital. It’s goodbye to hard copy records, boxes, and paper-based archives. This shift is thanks to many initiatives, including the M-19-21 directive (Transition to Electronic Records).
Theory and practice will, I am sure, differ, and there are arguments on both sides as to whether this continued shift to digital is a good one or not. I’m not going to dig too deeply into this contentious and complex topic, but I will say that moving to a purely digital environment is not the slam dunk it may appear to be. The move to totally digital records may seem obvious, but storing paper records, particularly for very long-term retention, can have its advantages. Regardless of the arguments for and against, the shift is well and truly on, and it’s not solely government departments that are feeling the pressure to ditch paper; many sectors, particularly healthcare and legal, are similarly moving at a fast clip.
Here’s the thing: it’s not uncommon for regulators to be behind the curve when it comes to hi-tech; in fact, it has come to be expected. But tragically, once it seems they are catching up, the tech itself has moved on. That’s certainly true in the world of artificial intelligence (AI). To date, we have few to no regulations in the US, some tentative, though well-meaning, directives coming into the EU, and most ironic of all, quite good laws being implemented in China. The incredible pace of change in the world of AI makes it easy to grasp why regulators and governments find it difficult to keep pace or even follow at a close distance. In contrast, keeping a grip on records management (RM) and information governance (IG) seems pretty straightforward, but that is not the case. And the risk here is that once they “catch up” (by moving to digital-only) the tech may have moved on.
The world of records management and information governance struggled and arguably continues to struggle, to manage emails, messaging, and social media posts. RM and IG have always done pretty well and indeed focused upon the concept of preserving and, in time, disposing of fixed-page documents, be they hard copies, PDFs, or whatever. The fixed-page concept seems like one that is near eternal, but just as the world of web content management moved from fixed pages to dynamic content delivery, so too is the back office moving in that direction. We will be publishing a more detailed study shortly, but for now, let’s just say ‘stuff’ may be about to hit the fan for some.