A deadline is looming for government agencies: By December 31, 2019, they must be able to manage all their records in an electronic format. In the private sector, too, businesses and professional practices have been changing over to electronic record keeping. When your organization’s leaders mandate a move to digital operations, what will that mean for your area of responsibility?
Last year, the director of records management and outreach of NARA (National Archives and Records Administration) issued a useful cost-benefit breakdown that the private sector, as well as the public sector, can utilize for planning a document conversion program. Now that this multi-year conversion effort is nearing its deadline, the same office has published criteria for the successful management of electronic records. And like the cost-benefit analysis, the NARA success guidelines can be applied to private-sector organizations as well.
Among the key benefits of imaging are security, searchability, retrievability, and audit trails. A successful document conversion program will produce these benefits. While the NARA success guidelines are intended for records that originate electronically, a number of the success criteria are applicable to enterprises making the transition from paper to digital documents via an imaging program, including:
- Well-designed access controls that let your organization perform its business functions without additional productivity roadblocks.
- Imaged documents that comply with NARA format and metadata requirements, as well as Sec. 508 regulations, for those enterprises doing business with the federal government.
- Policies that support digital document management, especially organization-wide communication, stakeholder involvement, and personnel training.
When the document conversion mandate comes from your private-sector business’s C-suite, there won’t be an agency like NARA to help guide your transition to electronic records management. But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the same document-conversion success that the federal agencies have. Reach out to a specialty vendor or consultant working in the imaging field to have them develop a custom conversion program designed for your specific needs.
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From finance to banking to healthcare to day care, industry regulatory compliance is part of the business of doing business. Part of compliance – a big part – is records management, and many of those records are in paper form. Paper has a long and noble history, but it is a very labor-intensive medium, especially when a compliance audit demands supporting documents for your operations. If your paper documents haven’t been converted into searchable e-documents by a document conversion expert, your mission-related productivity will suffer while your team rummages through files.
OCR adds searchability
Locating a specific piece of information, even if a document has been scanned and filed in an electronic archive, is an arduous and time-consuming task unless the document was scanned via OCR (optical character reader) software. A standard PDF conversion is not readily searchable; to make a PDF searchable, it must be re-scanned through OCR software. Often the OCR software must be custom-formatted to understand certain areas within the document (account numbers, signatures, etc.), a task requiring expertise that may not be part of an in-house administrator’s skill set.
Metadata categorizes and adds history
Auditors may also inquire about a document’s origins: when a document was created, who created it, who scanned it and when, what kind of document it is, and whether it has any related documents or transactions. Tracking down a document’s history is quite time-consuming if there is no metadata. Most documents created on a computer have at least some form of metadata tags (date, file type, and creator, at a minimum), but scanned documents have almost no metadata tags. Metadata tagging can be speeded up through automation, but like OCR scanning, expert customization is needed to make the automation effective and accurate.
Clearly, in any regulated business, it makes good sense to build a searchable, categorized document database that supports compliance. But it’s complicated. And a less-than-expertly created database is unreliable, and often unnecessarily expensive. Follow the advice of Inc. Magazine to find a skilled, experienced vendor to take your enterprise through the document conversion process:
- Talk to a vendor’s former employees
- Talk to a vendor’s customers who have provided testimonials
- Look at employee reviews
- Think like a journalist doing investigative research
With a well-designed and compliant digital document database in place, you can spend your time making your business productive and profitable.
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Although the federal government has for many years urged telecommuting to ease Washington’s notorious commuter traffic, the snowstorms of 2010 were the precipitating event which created the Telework Enhancement Act, requiring federal agencies to establish telework policies. Nearly a decade later, has it made a difference?
The GSA has led the way in transitioning to telework, with almost all employees scheduling desk time via a hoteling reservation system. As reported in the New York Times, the former bureaucratic cube farm has given way to the wide open look of a Silicon Valley start-up, with collaborative teams clustered together.
Following the GSA’s lead, the Department of Homeland Security, the Patent and Trademark Office, Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Agriculture have put telework policies into action. Now that the telework policy has been operating for several years, the Office of Personnel Management’s most recent report, surveying 89 federal agencies, shows some interesting trends:
- 42% of all federal employees, or nearly one million workers, are eligible for telework.
- Situational telework (such as working at home to concentrate on a big project) is the most common type of telework, followed by regularly-scheduled telework.
- Although many agencies do not have a way to calculate the budget impact of telework, those that do track telework costs found that telework saved $30 million annually.
- Agencies had many goals for their teleworking programs, but the most often cited was real estate cost reduction.
And the real estate cost savings have added up. The Department of Homeland Security estimates savings of $55 million in leased space. Fish and Wildlife, a smaller organization, will save $3 million in rent reduction.
Telework presents challenges for any agency. Organizational culture is re-shaped when a telework policy is instituted, and open-plan offices require a new etiquette. Physical space is also re-shaped; a lack of offices and reduced overall square footage require facilities designers and managers to get creative with office furnishings. Flexibility is fundamental to a successful telework policy, and flexible furnishings fit well into the new interiors, giving agency facilities managers a variety of options in the way they use their open-plan office space. Designers are choosing flexible, adaptive workstations, mobile filing pedestals, and modular cabinetry that can be rearranged as staff comes and goes.
Digital document management is also helping with the new telework policies. Agencies’ document conversion programs and digital document procedures permit their teleworking staff to access needed information from almost anywhere.
With such significant cost savings as reported by the OPM, teleworking is here to stay for federal agencies. As more and more agencies adopt teleworking policies, adaptive furnishings are a valuable solution in real estate right-sizing.
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Rules and regulations – no matter how you feel about them, most of them began as good intentions, and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is no exception. Providing equal access is a laudable goal, and that includes digital information access for those with physical or neurological challenges. In 1997, Section 508 was added to the Act to address the growing importance of digital documents. It mandates e-document accessibility within federal agencies. But making e-documents accessible is easier said than done.
Document conversion is a major part of the Sec. 508 challenge. Changing a paper document into a digital document doesn’t automatically make it easier for the visually impaired to read, and a simple PDF doesn’t fulfill the Sec. 508 requirements. To make a PDF adaptable to accessibility programs, the document must be properly tagged with additional information. These tags may include descriptors for visual items (photos, charts, etc.) for text-to-audio translators, or cues for automatic text enlargement.
Adding this kind of “intelligence” to scanned documents entails encoding via specialized software, and man-hours of quality control to ensure that the encoding is correct. With budgets already strained, acquiring software and additional personnel can be out of the question for many federal agencies. To complicate matters, there is a wide degree of latitude in compliance, and a compliant document in one agency may not be compliant within another agency.
A more cost-effective solution is to look outside the agency to a document conversion specialist. Conversion service providers with specific experience in creating Sec. 508-compliant digital documents can take the burden of acquisition and management off the shoulders of agency personnel. When agencies hand off document compliance to an outside vendor, they can keep their attention on their mission instead of regulatory compliance, while still offering equal accessibility to all Americans.
Tazer is so well known for electric stun guns that its name, like Google’s, has morphed into a verb. (Just google “tazing.”) Yet it sees its future in the growth market of body cameras, and it’s changing its name from Tazer to Axon, its proprietary brand of body camera. With its new name, the former Tazer is signaling its move to dominate the body cam market. And with the name change, it’s making a hard-to-beat offer: body cameras and data storage free for a year.
The offer of free storage, even for just a year, is significant. The enormous volume of video data collected by body cams has created a storage headache for many police departments. No one attended the police academy expecting to be a data manager, and yet that’s what many public safety administrators are becoming. Industry experts estimate 10,000 hours of body cam video are generated each week just in the big cities of America. It’s a tremendous organizational and storage chore.
Police departments recognized the value of body cams as soon as the small cameras came on the market. Realizing that media storage would be an issue for police departments, Tazer quickly began offering its customers cloud-based storage for body cam videos. Public safety budgets soon included funds for cameras, but most departments hadn’t really considered the cost of storage, which quickly ballooned as the cameras were put into the field. Tazer (now Axon) established its first-year-free program so police departments could have some budgetary breathing room to prepare for the video storage requirements.
And in any discussion of police body cams, storage is really the challenge. Writing in the Associated Press, Rick Callahan points to a number of cities whose police have had to abandon body cam programs due to storage costs. Medium-size police departments, Callahan states, have the biggest storage challenges. They have too much data to store internally, and too little to qualify for large-scale discounts from cloud-storage vendors.
Even those police departments who manage their video data on internal servers find that their physical storage needs have increased. Backup drives and high-capacity data tapes take up space, and as Federal and state governments increase the length of time that video evidence must be retained, the amount of backup media continues to grow. Best-practices recommendations call for multiple backups stored in multiple locations, adding to the overall storage challenge.
For the police agencies in the U.S. who have not yet implemented a body cam program, as well as those who may be drowning in video data, now is the time to examine storage options. Data management experts advocate storing data on a variety of media – cloud servers, drives, and tape – all of which occupy physical space. An experienced storage consultant can offer a variety of choices for managing the physical media in a cost-effective, space-efficient manner.
Even with the challenge of data storage, body cams are swiftly becoming the norm. Police and the public agree that everyone benefits from a video record of events. The picture is clear: Body cams are here to stay.
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Beltsville, MD: Today, NOS, a company that provides storage and information management solutions, announces their commitment to provide the Eaton-Wrightline storage solutions in the Mid- Atlantic and Washington DC marketplace. The length, breadth and quality of the Eaton-Wrightline products that serve many of the needs specific to this area, combined with the strong team at NOS creates a powerhouse of value for the local companies and agencies.
Regarding this commitment, NOS Principal Joe Alvarez stated “We are very excited to be once again fully committed to the Eaton-Wrightline product solutions, the opportunities are nearly limitless for us to help our clients as a result of this partnership. While NOS has offered a portion of these solutions in the past, this new commitment provides greater access and therefore greater service levels to our existing and future client base.”
Eaton-Wrightline Regional Sales Manager, Cathy Adams, commented that “This partnership with NOS Inc. will allow us to reach the exact market we serve best with a powerful partner, we couldn’t be more excited for what 2017 will bring as a result of this commitment.”
The storage and workspace solutions now available through this partnership include data center racking and airflow management systems, technical environment command and control consoles and modular laboratory furniture systems.
About NOS Inc.: NOS is a company specialized in storage solutions for both physical and digital requirements. Since 1976, our team of storage solution professionals has been passionately dedicated to providing our clients with the most affordable and comprehensive storage solutions and document management systems possible. No two storage spaces are alike, and so we customize unique designs for your particular workspace to ensure every productivity challenge you are faced with has an efficient solution.