Federal agencies are embracing digital records management and upgrading storage systems while helping to achieve significant overall savings, according to the National Archives of Australia.
But some concern has been expressed at the overall level of “information maturity” in a report prepared for Attorney-General George Brandis.
A survey of all agencies found that in 2014-15 electronic storage across government totalled 29,410 terabytes while there were almost 102 million physical files occupying 1492km of shelf space.
For records created digitally since 2015 and requiring lodgement with the NAA, only electronic formats will be accepted, which means the archive will go paperless for new documents in 2030.
Fewer than 10 per cent of government records are transferred to the National Archives for permanent preservation based on their cultural, scientific and historical significance.
The NAA had 721 terabytes of digital files at June 30, 2016. This is expected to nearly treble to 2610 terabytes by the end of this financial year.
The survey estimates the total storage cost across government in 2015 was $126 million, down 42 per cent from $220 million in 2010.
National Archives assistant director-general Anne Lyons said the survey results were mostly positive.
“It also tells us there is room to improve in a number of areas,” she said.
“It’s a critical time now for agencies in relation to their business systems and any upgrades to ensure they’ve assessed information management against that.
“The criticality now is that records could be and possibly are being lost in some instances.
“Our focus is on managing information as an asset. That responsibility now is a business issue.”
The report to Senator Brandis says the main areas needing attention relate to retention and migration of digital data.
Ms Lyons said options were being considered for technological systems to manage the increasing influx of electronic material, and the NAA was working with agencies to provide advice.
Arrangements had been made to accommodate the remaining paper records expected to be delivered up until 2030, including the new preservation facility at Mitchell, ACT.
“From 2031 we won’t be taking any more paper records,” she said.
“We won’t be disposing of all our holdings, there’s no plan to do that at all. We will still have our valuable hard copy collection.”
This includes publicly available military and immigration documents.
In terms of workforce, the 2014-15 survey showed 799 individuals [741 FTE] employed in records management.
Ms Lyons said all agencies would be required to have a chief information governance officer by the end of this year.
“There is more of a path now from a career perspective,” she said.
“We’ve developed a digital capability matrix that defines the role and what skills all public sector employees need to have.
“That transition from record keeping and a file through to digital information management, some have done it really well and easily because they’re probably in the information business, whereas others have struggled with it a little.
“It’s about saying this is central to your business, it’s not just about record keeping in the corner.
“It’s about ensuring you manage it as you would any other business asset.”
The National Archives will report annually for at least the next three years on the status of digital information management in agencies.