Health bombs in Records Management Audit

A three year, $A5.4M program to implement electronic record-keeping at the Department of Health has failed to provide “an effective and efficient records management system which delivered identified business needs,” according to a report by the Australian National Audit Office.

Despite spending eight years from 2003 to 2011 preparing to move away from paper-based records management to the TRIM EDRMS, and mandating its use as the only recognised records management system, the department continues to use a number of other record-keeping systems such as the common shared drive and the email system (Outlook). Also the number of paper files continues to grow.

The amount of space used by the departmental shared drive has actually increased from around 17TB to over 21TB since TRIM was deployed.

“These records are not consistently captured within the EDRMS,” notes the ANAO report.

As at 30 April 2015 Health staff used more than 205 other separate computer systems. Health has not assessed all of these systems to identify if they contain potential records.

It also notes a significant ongoing problem in having staff classify email as an official record and file into TRIM, as they are supposed to. The extent of the problem is illustrated by a sample of email traffic for a single four week period in 2015 in which more than 1.3 emails were sent and 2.8 million emails received by the department. Email or SMS messages sent from staff mobile phones despite being potential business records are not stored.

Also, the EDRMS search facility does not support the identification of records attached to emails.

There have been more than 6 million documents filed in the Health’s TRIM EDRMS, implemented in 2013, yet the amount of amount of paper files continues to increase.

Health advised the ANAO that it held more than 1.79 million physical paper-based files, some 56,560 lineal metres, as at 28 February 2015, mostly stored off-site at external records management facilities at an annual cost of more than $A720,000 . Details of these paper files are mostly listed in TRIM, although some are stored on CD and some 43,000 historical files currently in storage are not recorded in any system.

In the 2014-2015 financial year, the number of paper files created in TRIM actually outnumbered those filed digitally (14,062 vs 13,138)

The department says paper files “continued to be required in certain situations for security classification reasons, and in other instances continued to be created due to staff preferences.”

Although the TRIM EDRMS rollout was completed in August 2013, there has been no been post implementation review.

The ANAO report concludes that “the Department of Health’s records management requirements are not consistently applied and the transition to a robust digital information and records management system remains incomplete.”

It notes that “Prior to implementing TRIM EDRMS, Health did not undertake any analysis of which of its business systems potentially stored official records …”

“Health does not currently have an overarching information management framework and has not articulated how its information as a whole is managed. Similarly, Health is yet to develop an information management strategy which describes the department’s current records management environment, its short, medium and long term goals, and outlines the basis for planning to meet organisational records management targets, such as the goals for paper-based records reduction.”

The ANAO observed numerous instances of duplicated documents created and stored within the TRIM EDRMS, including drafts and different versions of the same document.

“Without any clear indicators or titling, this makes locating and identifying the final versions of documents difficult. Further, Health had not issued guidance to staff on the sentencing of digital records, to facilitate the authorised deletion of documents stored on TRIM EDRMS.

“A core control within TRIM EDRMS to mitigate the risk of inadvertent or deliberate deletion of files/records is the ability to ‘finalise’ a document as an official record. This process effectively locks the document and prevents any further alteration or deletion. Whilst Health’s procedural guidance details how to finalise completed records, there is currently no requirement for staff to do so, and of the 6.3 million digital documents in the TRIM EDRMS, only 27 693 (0.4 per cent) had been finalised as records as at May 2015.”

During the course of the audit, Health acknowledged that its implementation of the TRIM EDRMS project was not fully effective, and advised the ANAO that it had initiated a remediation project. This included appointing a senior responsible officer and use of a project oversight framework.

Following interviews with 30 Department of Health staff, some other ANAO findings included that:

  • Overall, some 25 percent of the work files of interviewed staff were located on the shared drive.
  • Only 23 per cent of the staff interviewed were aware of Health’s key policy document covering records management.
  • A key concern expressed by 23 (77 per cent) of the interviewed staff was that they regularly experience slow response times from TRIM EDRMS.
  • Staff also identified delays ranging from 10 minutes to a full working day to check documents in to TRIM.
  • Only 53 per cent of staff had an awareness of Health’s Business Classification System, which provides guidance to staff on standard naming conventions for the titling of all paper and digital files created in the department.
  • Only 18 per cent of documents previously identified by the ANAO as being filed within their work section were able to be located in TRIM by the interviewed staff. The ANAO observed that staff often needed to search a variety of potential title words or phrases before information or documents related to the target document were identified. The need to do so was due primarily to inconsistency in the titling of records.

The ANAO also found that the Heath Department “cannot provide assurance that it is compliant with Senate Procedural Order of Continuing Effect No. 12.

“This requires Australian Government entities to create an indexed list of the titles of all relevant files, including new parts of existing files, created by them in the preceding six months (commencing on 1 January and on 1 July, respectively), and to place the listing on their website on the Internet.

“During three years of ongoing self-assessment of its compliance with this Senate Procedural Order, Health’s self-assessed rating for this question was: ‘6=Excellent’.”

The department advised the ANAO that these assessments were not considered by any of its executive or governance committees

The Australian Government’s Digital Continuity 2020 Policy, recently launched by the current Secretary of the Department of Finance, Jane Halton, aims to ensure that within the next 5 years: “All agencies will make and record business decisions digitally, using digital authorisations and workflows.”

For 12 years, between January 2002 and June 2014, Ms Halton was head of the Department of Health.

The full ANAO report can be accessed HERE

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