Putting the ‘record’ straight: Why records management should never be an afterthought with automation adoption

Speaking at the IRMS Annual Conference 2022 in Glasgow, Objective customer Fiona Eardley, Corporate Records Manager at NatureScot, took to the stage to talk about the power of automated workflow, putting information at the heart of the process and why the only ever limit is your imagination.

As the Corporate Records Manager for NatureScot, Fiona has spent years focused on delivering effective information management and putting in place robust policies for the organisation. I’ve had the pleasure of working with her during part of this process, including supporting the introduction of workflows and accommodating the shift to new technologies and ways of working.

It was great to join Fiona during her session at this year’s IRMS Annual Conference and hear her deliver the learnings from some of her recent experiences. Talking about the changing aspects of her role, Fiona discussed the need to balance outcomes for both the organisation and end users:

“The current climate means my role has had to adapt quickly and respond to increasing demands and new requirements, while supporting all our users. We had to adapt to working at home full time without any warning and are now undertaking the transition to blended home and office working arrangements. Ensuring our information is safe as well as seamlessly accessible has been vital to the success of our journey.”

Fiona noted that automation is a key part of helping NatureScot to achieve its mission of delivering outcomes for Scotland’s natural heritage.

“We’re using workflows with our document management system (Objective ECM) to improve our information lifecycle management, join up business areas and systems to improve delivery, and to help reduce carbon as part of our transition to Net Zero.”

“During the pandemic, we implemented a range of workflows to help us empower users in a controlled way, reduce Helpdesk calls, support homeworking, deliver records management training and lots of other improvements and innovations to rigidly embed our policies and safeguards without being intrusive to end users. We’re working with a range of colleagues to automate and govern key areas of work.”

The benefits of workflow implementation are vast – from reducing time wasted on repetitive tasks to minimising bottlenecks, modernising how the team at NatureScot work and embedding audit and accountability. When evaluating the time saved, Fiona noted that a file closure workflow that took one day to develop saved c.30 weeks of staff time with the first 8,000 file closures alone. This process is all automated behind the scenes with no impact to the end user experience.

In fact, empowering users while ensuring they didn’t go ‘feral’ was a key driver behind workflow adoption. Fiona noted that workflows not only run via automation for ultimate accuracy, they also prevent users from potentially violating the policies in place as they’re void of human interaction and emotion. In her words, it’s about “making the policies work without the people”.

A file closure workflow that took one day to develop saved c.30 weeks of staff time with the first 8,000 file closures alone.

Fiona Eardley

Corporate Records Manager, NatureScot

Working on the workflow process has also allowed the records management team to better understand its own corporate repository and upskill in areas such as process design and scripting – assisted by the Objective team. One of the top tips from the session was to ensure information is at the heart of it all.

“Records management should never be an afterthought which is why our processes are information driven. We think about how it’s stored, why it’s stored, etc and that helps us to put in place workflows that deliver results,” Fiona noted. NatureScot have implemented workflows that tackle everyday tasks automatically, including bulk file creation with approval process, document deletion with approval process, case work document sharing (assisted by external file sharing and collaboration platform Objective Connect), and bulk privilege updates. When asked by the audience how many workflows are in place, how they’ve been prioritised and where to go next, Fiona commented that “your only limit is your imagination” and that a good approach is to anticipate what users will do manually that could be automated. Fiona also suggested starting small before moving on to bigger scenarios.

Fiona’s final thoughts were on the important role of records managers and the need to remove blockers to efficiencies. “We want to advocate what we can do – we don’t want to be a blocker anymore,” she added. Certainly, with workflows now live and in development, five million internal documents in Objective ECM, 40,000 documents being shared externally with Objective Connect, Microsoft Teams information automatically harvested in the background with Objective GOV365, the NatureScot team show no signs of slowing down.

There are plans to explore funding streams and expand current workflows to further automate lifecycle management and remove ‘clicky’ processes. Next up, Fiona hopes to test the boundaries, looking for things the team previously said ‘no’ to and exploring the potential. With this, Fiona noted that it’s important for people to challenge themselves and to challenge their provider.

Well, Fiona – challenge accepted!

If you’d like to discover the power of workflow for your organisation, get in touch today and I’d be happy to arrange a call.