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Models for Action: Developing Practical Approaches to Electronic Records Management and Preservation


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With many different workflow management software solutions on the market, a variety of approaches to workflow management exist. This paper provides an introduction to Workflow Management Systems. Through a two-tiered approach, the reader is first exposed to a functional review of workflow systems, including definitions, typical features, benefits, tradeoffs, process selection, and success factors for implementation, followed by a technical overview that describes a method for categorizing workflow products, the state of the market, and emerging standards.

As the public sector moves from working in a largely paper-based environment to one in which government agencies offer more and more information and services electronically, a number of new issues and concepts arise.

This report presents the results of a review of technology standards, government policies, legal principals, and best practices for electronic recordkeeping in government. This review was conducted in April 1996 to understand the key issues a CTG team expected to encounter during the design and development of a prototype for the New York State Adirondack Park Agency. This report outlines the results of that survey and is intended to serve as an introduction to key concepts and to guide the associated choices that APA is expected to face as they move from a largely paper-based business process to a networked document management and workflow system.

This document provides an overview of common system development process models, used to guide the analysis, design, development, and maintenance of information systems. There are many different methods and techniques used to direct the life cycle of a software development project and most real-world models are customized adaptations of the generic models. While each model is designed for a specific purpose or reason, most have similar goals and share many common tasks. This research paper explores the similarities and differences among these various models and will also discuss how different approaches are chosen and combined to address practical situations.

This document introduces one of the foundations for the Models for Action project, the functional requirements to ensure the creation, maintenance, and preservation of electronic records. These requirements outline a set of cues and questions that facilitate the identification of technology, management, and policy strategies that can be used to implement sound electronic recordkeeping practices within an organization. This paper discusses the background, development, and usage of the functional requirements.

Organizations often lack adequate tools to manage the growing number and variety of electronic records. Some are in danger of losing access to records stored in personal computers, e-mail boxes or personal local area network (LAN) directories. Others face the problem of linking documents created in different forms and formats to business transactions. Many organizations are finding that their electronic records do not meet their organization's evidentiary needs.

This article discusses the Models for Action Project, which is focused on the development of practical tools to support incorporating electronic records management capacity in the design of new information systems. The project is being conducted by the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at the Albany, in partnership with the New York State Archives and Records Administration. The project seeks to develop and promote practical tools that will assist organizations, particularly state and local government agencies, in addressing electronic records management and archival requirements as they develop networked computing and communications applications.

In an environment where business is increasingly conducted electronically, systematic processes for electronic records management and preservation are crucial. Without question, organizations need electronic records that are reliable and authentic; usable for multiple purposes, and accessible over time for both business and secondary uses. This report presents a set of tools that incorporate essential electronic records requirements into the design of new information systems. Moreover, the practical tools seek to bridge the gap between records management theory and practice by linking an organization's business objectives to its records management processes.

The project, conducted with the New York State Archives, and carried out with the New York State Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and several corporate and academic partners, also produced a prototype that is a network-based integrated document management and workflow system, capable of supporting a fully electronic record, and is also capable of accessing, analyzing, and capturing information from the APA's Geographic Information System (GIS), and archiving the project record.

Most organizations are increasingly managing work, and making decisions using electronic information. Organizations need electronic records that are reliable, authentic, usable, and accessible. But with the shift from paper to digital information, many organizations find that their current electronic records are insufficient to support their business needs, or that they are in danger of losing access to those records.

This guide was designed to help information and program managers integrate essential records management requirements into the design of new information systems. It details techniques that seamlessly integrate into the system design process, and result in the identification of technology specifications and opportunities for improving performance through improved access to records. The guide came out of the Models for Action: Practical Approaches to Electronic Records Management and Preservation project that CTG conducted with the New York State Archives and Records Administration, which was funded in part by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

This document describes the Records Requirements Analysis and Implementation Tool (RRAIT), one of the key products developed for the Models for Action project. The RRAIT is a practical tool that is made up of two components: the Records Requirements Elicitation Component (RREC) and the Records Requirements Implementation Component (RRIC). The former is used to define organizational recordkeeping requirements and the latter is used to identify mechanisms for implementing those requirements. This paper examines the makeup of these tools and explores how the two are used in conjunction with each other to define and implement policy, management, and technology mechanisms to implement sound electronic recordkeeping practices within an organization.

Other Reports

Benchmarking Report on Business Process Analysis and Systems Design for Electronic Recordkeeping
(Now Available Online)
Conducted by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
September 30, 2005

The purpose of the Business Process Analysis Benchmarking Project is to identify workable, reproducible methodologies for integrating a records management perspective into business process analysis and into the systems development lifecycle so that recordkeeping requirements are identified and met in new systems design. The Center for Technology in Government’s Models for Action tool, from Practical Tools for Electronic Records Managementand Preservation was one of the business process analyses that were benchmarked in the report. NARA is publicizing all the benchmarked methodologies as best practices so that other organizations can learn from the early adopters.

Lessons Learned

Business processes provide a common focus for records managers, archivists, technologists, and business managers. A business process perspective ties discussions of records management issues to work that is critical to an organization. By linking records management issues to business processes, the tools provide a common language for improved communication between records management professionals and other practitioners. Program managers indicated that this manner of presentation enabled them to understand the importance of records management requirements in terms of the issues that are critical to them in conducting their work. For technologists, the tools could be seamlessly integrated into the business process improvement phase of system design and generated requirements that led to well-defined system features and data requirements.

Comprehensive records management requirements directly support business objectives. The tools prompt participants to identify a comprehensive set of records management requirements associated with a business process. The Business Process Level of the RREC helps identify the specific record components that must be captured at each step during the course of a transaction. It also ties each component to specific legal or professional standards or organizational practices. The Record Level addresses the need for access to records over time. The RRIC can then be used to identify technology and other mechanisms to ensure that that records are appropriately captured and that they remain accessible for both current and future use. Moreover, the tools are capable of identifying all authenticity requirements tied to the business process and they help identify the diversity of forms and formats that a system must be able to accommodate in order to assemble a complete record. These requirements are not limited to 'recordkeeping' needs; they are integral to the business process itself.

Current and future access needs can be specified and accommodated in system design. The tools have the ability to deal with both internal and external primary and secondary access to records. They also call attention to long-term access issues such as migration strategies and meta data that are best addressed at the initial system design stage. The Business Process and Record Levels of the RREC support the identification of access needs from the perspective of internal users during a business transaction as well as internal and external access needs after the transaction has been completed. The questions are designed to identify the components of a record required by each of these user types as well as their preferred or required access methods.

In system design, focus first on business needs and records that support them; then focus on technology. In general, the use of the tools shifts the focus of system design and development away from technology and toward the capture, maintenance, and ongoing use of business records. The tools embed the importance of the record into the system development process from the perspective of both users and system developers. Records management requirements based on business process analysis are directly translated into user and system requirements. The responses to the questions in the Business Process and System Levels of the RREC are easily communicated to system developers in terms of technical specifications. In addition, the questions that focus on the documents that comprise a record and on internal and external access to records are readily translated into data model specifications.

Focus on system functionality before choosing specific technologies. The tools help organizations identify the functionality that is required in a system to support records management requirements, and emphasize technology solutions that maximize inter-operability and adherence to standards. They do not address the actual selection of hardware and software to provide the necessary functionality. This selection must be based on many factors such as existing infrastructure (both technical and organizational), cost, and expected benefits. We strongly recommend that technology awareness activities be conducted in conjunction with the use of the tools. Product reviews, vendor presentations, and conferences focused on technology applications are all ways to increase awareness of technology capabilities and limitations among the staff who will work with the new system. These kinds of activities increase understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of various technology choices.

Supporting policies and management practices are essential, but challenging, components. The RRIC, with its focus on implementation, highlights the importance of policy and management strategies -- critical elements that often receive little or no attention in system development efforts. The tools facilitate the identification of related management and policy strategies, such as the range of user permissions and definition of a minimum legal record. Policies and practices ensure the entire organization is working in concert with the records management requirements that are built into the electronic system. In most organizations, these issues present the most difficulty because their content and execution depend on organizational consensus about the way work should be done.

All record users need to participate in the identification of requirements. One of the most critical factors for effective use of the tools is getting the right people to answer the questions. All primary and secondary users of the records that will be created and maintained by an information system should be represented in the elicitation of the records requirements. Other players who may not be direct records users, such as legal staff and executives, need to be involved in the development of management and policy strategies that will support users. Not every group needs to be involved in the entire process, but each needs to participate actively at the appropriate points so that all user needs are identified and incorporated into the system design.

The records requirements tools can be used in a variety of ways. The tools provide a sound framework for the identification of records management requirements that can be modified to suit the setting in which they are used. While we strongly recommend that the Business Process Level of the RREC be used in conjunction with business process analysis or improvement activities, the questions in the other sections can be posed using a variety of methods such as surveys and interviews. The manner in which the questions are asked and answered can be tailored for use across different organizational contexts. They should be selected for their compatibility with the organization's skills and time schedules, and their ability to minimize the total cost of the information collection process.

Awareness and willingness to change are preconditions for success. Perhaps the biggest weakness of the tools is the pre-condition for their use. That is, an organization must first recognize the importance of its business records and the costs and risks associated with ignoring them. Without this foundation, it is unlikely that an organization will invest the time and attention to detail that the tools demand. While the tools support the comprehensive identification of records management requirements and mechanisms for addressing them, the degree to which they are implemented depends on the organization's readiness and willingness to change. Change means more than new information systems; it requires supporting management and policy strategies as well as an understanding of the degree to which the requirements can be addressed by the chosen technologies. In sum, while the tools support the identification of requirements, the factors that surround their implementation determine the ultimate level of success.