NARA, GSA Planning to Offer New Tool to Support Agencies’ Records Management

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Acquiring records management software may change in a hurry for agencies.

The National Archives and Records Administration and General Services Administration are collaborating to create a new market research tool that will offer agencies “a wide range” of electronic and physical records management solutions.

The effort is part of NARA’s work to support agencies as the paradigm for preserving government records shifts away from hard copies, federal insiders told Nextgov

The agencies recently cooperated to create a new Special Item Number, or SIN, 51 600 under Schedule 36 that’s specifically for Electronic Records Management and are now planning to launch a new contracting vehicle, ‘ERM Solutions’, on GSA’s Discovery website. It will be equipped with a modern market research tool to help agencies identify the best records management vendor services to meet their needs.  

“[We’re] getting out of that mold where records management was a paper process that was predicated on storing thousands and thousands of boxes, and that old model of what records are,” said Arian Ravanbakhsh, supervisory records management policy analyst in NARA’s Office of the Chief Records Officer. “The new approach is going to be electronic and digital.”

Upon recognizing that the future is digital while the federal government’s paper-centric approach is not, the Obama administration set a variety of goals and deadlines to help agencies move to a 21st-century model for records management. And by the end of this year, agencies are directed to manage all their permanent electronic records in an electronic format, as opposed to printing them out and shipping them off for preservation. 

NARA is tasked with fleshing out the practices agencies will use to execute this robust modernization mission. The agency recently launched its Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative, or FERMI, to give agencies the tools they need to get there. 

Creating the new SIN specifically for records management solutions was a start, and producing this new tool with GSA is part of that undertaking.

“What we heard from agencies is that they needed help identifying solutions for electronic records management from vendor services and that they needed help with the procurement processes and knowing what was out there,” said Electronic Records Policy Analyst Courtney Anderson, who works closely with Ravanbakhsh at NARA.

Ravanbakhsh and Anderson said the new tool from GSA will help agencies obtain these services more easily by simplifying the procurement process, while also fostering innovation among vendors.

“[They’re] making that whole market research process easier, so agencies aren’t starting from scratch just looking at the whole world of solutions out there,” Anderson said.

She explained that there are currently more than 40 vendors listed that have self-certified that they meet NARA’s universal ERM requirements. Agencies will use the tool to conveniently review them, as they would a normal schedule. If agencies need a records management solution for email, web records, websites or social media, they’ll be able to filter through all the options in one place to see the best vendors that can meet both NARA’s requirements and their specific needs. 

Anderson said vendors include consultants that can help agencies with ERM policy and strategy development, integrators that work with the software vendors to help agencies get up and running with applicable solutions, and will include actual software vendors listed to assist agencies that need to purchase some type of content analytics tool to help find out what types of records they have.

She also said the contracting vehicles on GSA’s Discovery page are now primarily made up of PDFs and are clunky to wade through. The ERM tool will have a keyword search and enable agencies to sift through vendors that meet different requirements.

“It’s just a little bit more searchability than they currently have,” she said. 

To aide in their decision-making, customers will also eventually be able to observe demos and use cases for specific products. 

A GSA spokesperson told Nextgov that the agency’s work with NARA is ongoing, which allows for new vendors to be onboarded and new use cases to be approved.

“The process will use demos to provide a clear picture of each vendor’s capabilities as they pertain to the use cases,” the official said. “This tool will also help federal customers determine the level of competition available for their requirements and aid in market research.”

And as NARA continues to embrace emerging technologies to streamline agencies’ records management practices, officials said a large part of their goal is to make the entire process as automated as possible—and eliminate the burden on end users. 

“We don’t want end users sitting there and thinking about ‘is this a record and how do I file it?’” Anderson said. “We just want them to focus on their mission work and have all the records management going on in the background, so they don’t have to think about it anymore.”

While GSA did not confirm a solid date for when the tool will be released, Anderson said it could be available in the coming weeks.