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Historic Environment Scotland shows how to modernize work and maintain compliance
Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is a governmental agency that’s responsible for more than 300 properties that belong to Scotland’s heritage. Buildings and monuments in its care include Edinburgh Castle, Skara Brae, Fort George, and numerous smaller sites, which together draw more than five million visitors per year. HES is also responsible for a vast collection of historic records, including more than five million drawings, photographs, and manuscripts.
In response to the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011, which requires public bodies to create a records management plan, HES:
- Overhauled how it organized information and records
- Implemented automatic data retention policies
- Improved data classification
- Moved documents from isolated local drives into one document center on SharePoint
All these changes make it easier for staff to find the most up-to-date records, share information, collaborate, and maintain compliance with data retention requirements.
An award-winning approach to information management
For its efforts over the past few years, the information governance team at HES won the 2020 Information and Records Management Society (IRMS) Team of the Year award.
That award recognizes the huge strides HES has made in information management. Before embarking on the project, there certainly had been room for improvement. Reviewing its records, HES found that about a quarter of its documents were duplicates and that it was storing more than 10,000 documents that contained no data whatsoever.
While the catalyst for the initiative was the need for compliance with the Public Records Act, the team didn’t look at it as a check-the-box exercise, but as a way to deliver business value.
“It’s about enabling people to do their jobs comfortably, with confidence, and to the best of their abilities,” says Ryan Kerr, Head of Information Governance at Historic Environment Scotland.
Here’s what HES learned in the process of optimizing its information management—and how you can follow their lead.
Get experts to guide you
HES is seeing great benefits from improving its information management, but it wasn’t a quick and easy fix.
“Don’t underestimate how much work is involved,” warns Claire Boyle, Records Manager at Historic Environment Scotland. “It’s not going to be as easy as you want it to be.”
HES set up an information assurance board to identify business goals and develop a strategic approach to information management. Then, the organization brought in RecordPoint to consult on implementation, because it realized it couldn’t go it alone.
“It’s a long journey full of twists and turns. If you can rely on someone with a strong records management background, it’s going to be substantially easier,” says Kerr. “Someone with experience can point out quick wins and keep you on the right track.”
Get everyone on board
Deploying productivity tools and implementing information management principles is important, but the crucial thing is to convince people to change over to the new way of doing things.
“You can build the fanciest, shiniest, most fantastic information management system in the world, but if people don’t know how to use it or don’t change their working practices, it’s not going to do you any good,” says Boyle.
The information governance team focused on how the new approach delivers business value, which went a long way in bringing people along. Demonstrating the benefits was more important than explaining the intricacies of the Public Records Act.
“Sure, staff needs to be aware of what applies to them and understand the basics of what’s legally required in terms of data retention, for example, but beyond that they should rely on our team,” says Kerr. “Our training program really focused on what the user needs to know to do their job as easily and quickly as possible.”
Make compliance happen in the background
Ultimately, the goal is to set up a system where compliance is built in and employees can concentrate on their jobs without thinking about things like data retention.
“Because of our data classification scheme and the way we’ve structured SharePoint, we can automatically apply retention rules to assets,” says Boyle. “If you set it up correctly, all staff need to do is save things in the right place. Then the rules run in the background, so that documents come up for retention review at the right time.”
Information management is not a one-and-done project. Next up for HES is optimizing workflows and tackling the organization of additional collections of physical records. The information governance team is also interested in exploring new technologies.
“If it can make the lives of employees easier and benefit the organization, I imagine it won’t be long before we start using AI and machine learning,” says Kerr.
Besides maintaining compliance and boosting productivity, streamlining information management will also deliver benefits that to date have been out of reach of HES.
“We’re very information rich, but have missed out on opportunities in the past because we didn’t really know what data we had and where we could make connections between different business areas,” says Kerr. “If you know what information you have, why you have it, what it’s used for, and know how critical and sensitive certain data is, you can do so much more.”
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