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No Smart Zambia without implementation of electronic record management systems

[By Tuesday Bwalya]

Many citizens may be aware that our government has been talking about transforming Zambia into a smart country by implementing various e-governance projects through Smart Zambia.

E-governance is the application of communication and information technology for providing government services, exchange of information, transactions, integration of previously existing services and information portals. This implies that government departments have to provide goods and services online. For instance, if one wants to apply for a passport, he/she has to apply and pay online for a passport.

E-governance promises to reduce physical interaction between citizens and government workers, hence reducing incidences of corruption. Further, implementation of e-governance results in efficiency and effectiveness in service provision. E-governance can reduce the cost of running government; fewer civil servants maybe required to attend to people as many processes can be done online by the citizens themselves.

Now, you cannot talk of implementing e-governance without implementing electronic record management and filing. E-governance advocates for automation of information provision systems which include the record management subsector. In Zambia today, records are manually kept and managed in registries and record centres; they are not electronically kept.

As a country, we are handling paper records, moving with files from one office to another. This has resulted in inefficiency in service provision to our people; delay in service provision due to the missing or misfiling of records. Is this e-governance? The answer is a big NO. As a country, we need to implement electronic record management systems to work alongside with the paper based systems. Implementation of electronic record management will result in speedy access to records, thereby ensuring prompt decision making and general improvement in service delivery to our people.

I have noted that some State departments/bodies have implemented systems that they consider to be electronic record management systems. These government bodies include the Bank of Zambia, Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA), Patents and Companies Registration Agency (PACRA) and the Ministry of Lands. My analysis of the systems deployed by government agencies has revealed that the systems in use are meant to manage documents, not records. They are simply document management systems, and not record management systems.

Is there any difference between document and electronic record management systems? Yes, the two systems are different. A document management system allows for the creation, sharing and storage of documents in an organisation but does not have a provision for declaring a document as a record and apply all record management processes. An electronic record management system has inbuilt mechanisms such as capability to apply retention period and disposition parameters to record folders. Further, electronic record management systems have capabilities for cutoff and application of security markings to record folders. What I am saying is that document management systems are not meant to keep records because they lack features desired of a record management system.

The International Council on Archives and the Department of Defense (DoD) in the United States of America have set out some standards and requirements of an electronic record management system. For instance, the Department of Defense (DoD) in 1997 came up with requirements of an electronic record management system. These requirements are considered to be de facto global standards for electronic record management systems. They have become the principal standards for developers and consumers of electronic record management systems globally.

The DoD standard is called DoD 5015.2 STD which was revised in 2007. The main requirement of DoD 5015.2 STD is that any electronic record management system should provide for record scheduling and allow for the application of record retention and disposition schedule.

Further, DoD 5010.2 STD underscores the need for an electronic record management system to be able to identify record folders eligible for cutoff and present them only to the authorised individual for cutoff approval.

There are a number of enterprise resource planning systems that have modules for electronic record management.
These include Alfresco, OpenKM and Laserfiche. If an organisation wants only a module for electronic record management, it can just pay for that module. I wish also to mention that these systems are commercial but they provide for community versions which one can use without paying the license fee. However, the community versions may not work well in large organisations, as there are limitations on a number of things.

I wish also to mention that the three systems mentioned above have been certified by DoD and other credible international bodies to be electronic record management systems.

As I conclude, I wish to urge all organisations in Zambia to be engaging electronic record management experts when procuring systems meant to manage records because not all systems are meant to keep records. I wish also to encourage government through Smart Zambia to consider implementing electronic record management systems because the current paper record systems in government are not in tandem with the digital age in which we are living, and it is against government’s aspiration of a smart Zambia.

The author is a lecturer at the University of Zambia, department of Library and Information Science.

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