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18 March 2009 - Midlands Group - Meeting

Thanks to the generosity of the Records Management Service at Birmingham City Council and the brilliant organisational skills of Lawrence Rodgers (me), 35 people converged on the Central Library in Birmingham to hear presentations and hold discussions on 'Physical Records Management and Scanning'. In the light of the recent publication of the TNA’s consultation draft on 'Identifying and Specifying Requirements for Offsite Storage of Physical Records' plus Birmingham City Council’s own internal review of its physical records service, it was a timely meeting and one that proved beneficial to many.

After an introduction from Chair Sue Howlett, proceedings were begun by Emily Overton of Lincolnshire County Council. Having undergone travel delay by 'bridge bash' on her way to this meeting, Emily began by giving an overview of how Lincolnshire operated its records management service in the past and how it had arrived at today's status. Lincolnshire CC has over 800 sites (including schools); 17,500 staff and has bar coded each of the 6.5 miles of files! They are thus able to track files and if found in the wrong area then re-assigned as appropriate. Emily is hoping to undertake a full audit in 2009 and also to launch the records retention schedule. She is also involved in training staff in the art of records management with its usual mix of the willing/not so willing and will not’s! Lincolnshire has had its fair share of disasters, the most recent being flooding of some properties. It has outsourced some of its records holdings to a local storage company where they are BS5454 compliant and can return files within 2 hours. Emily has given consideration to setting up an in-house storage unit the advantages being that they can do their own handling; proximity; priority users (not just one of many); implementing new RM practices and has long term financial benefits. However, the obvious downside is the initial cost of setting up such an operation with a figure of £2 million being suggested. Then there was the issues of staffing; transport; service quality; maintenance etc. There then ensued a lively discussion of the issues not only facing Lincolnshire and the way they were or would be approaching these issues, but also the discussion drew upon delegates own experience and how these issues could be approached.

Next up was Daniel Jones from Iron Mountain who outlined their capability and physical storage from a vendor’s perspective. After outlining IM’s 'HUB' premises, Daniel explained IM's approach to staff security vetting and that IM do not go into boxes stored at box level. Daniel went onto explain briefly the benefits of scanning and storage.

Preceding lunch, Simon Edwards and Eros Simone from Document Control Solutions Limited who informed delegates that software alone doesn't make a complete scanning solution. It also involves document classification, organisation, rationalisation and identification strategies and project execution. Eros talked about the problems of losing information as the hard copy deteriorates. Once digitised, transferable formats can be used to ensure that the information is available in perpetuity. The presentation then gave the group information on building a business case for digitisation. Eros advised that the benefits to be stressed were:

  • efficiency gains
  • accurate and faster retrieval of information
  • faster deployment of information to site
  • more efficient use of staff
  • less time searching for information
  • space savings
  • disaster recovery
  • multiple user access

A 'You Gov' survey was cited as managers spending up to an hour every day searching for lost, misfiled or relocated documents. A 'Return on investment' calculation could be undertaken to further identify the benefits of scanning.

A comparison of 'in house' versus 'out sourced' scanning was then discussed.

In house:

  • Need to employ additional staff
  • Problems of staff turnover
  • Inconsistent quality
  • Longer timescales
  • Quality checking for legislative compliance
  • Need to purchase scanning equipment
  • Need additional suitable technology

Out Source:

  • Shorter lead times
  • No hardware cost burden
  • Lower unit cost
  • High quality delivery

In summary, the advantages of digitisation were deemed to be: speed of work and productivity gains; savings on money and space, peace of mind (Disaster Recovery); network access to data; audit trail. The disadvantages are the discipline and control required to undertake the work; preparation time; weeding of files to initially discover the scanning items and image verification.

In the discussion after the presentation, legal admissibility was raised. If done to the BIP0008 standard, then there shouldn’t be a problem. The organisation requires to have the right systems and procedures in place to maintain the integrity of the information. There will probably be a need to migrate data at some point and more than one format may be required to keep information in perpetuity. Post room scanning issues such as back scanning when that days post had been scanned were also discussed.

Due to the relatively late organisation of the meeting, sponsorship was secured from Birmingham City Council’s Records Management Service to which the group extended thanks for the meeting facilities and lunch.

After lunch Lawrence Rodgers asked delegates if they would volunteer not only to serve on the group's committee but to also volunteer venues, themes and sponsorship. Thankfully 3 to 4 potential committee nominee names were proffered and thus it is hoped that the group can maintain the momentum initiated by this meeting. It is hoped that the new committee will be ratified at the next meeting. Lawrence will also endeavour to upgrade the email distribution list to enable a more efficient means of communication to members.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by the group splitting into two in order to discuss what priorities they would give when organising an off site storage contract and a scanning project.

The main items to come out of these discussions were:


  • Security of originals before scanning and of scans after copying
  • Maintaining integrity Legal admissibility-0008; Verification
  • Budget to do (set up); continue (maintain)
  • Business driven
  • Accessibility
  • Long term preservation
  • Length of operational data (evolution)
  • Access v Preservation
  • Managing Data
  • Metadata
  • File Format
  • Disposal

Physical Records issues raised and discussed here were ranked as thus:

  • Critical Issues Cost
  • Important Issues Premises including security and environmental conditions; Staff; Transport
  • Nice to have (Nothing listed)
  • Basic Customer Service reporting

Surprisingly, and in comparison to the National Archives Consultation Draft, no discussion took place surrounding identifying records catalogue and developing disposal criteria. However, this could be taken to mean that delegates had assumed that these issues were already in place in most, if not all, organisations. What is noticeable about the Consultation Draft is the amount of work an organisation has to do before initiating an outsourced physical records procurement exercise. Elements of access and retrieval have to be factored as is the perennial bugbear of project termination charges being levied if a change of storage provider is desired. Here at Birmingham, emphasis was given to service levels and security with customer service a close third. Clearly each organisation will apply weighting to suit their individual needs and this is what makes what is essentially 'box storage' infinitely more varied!

Many thanks to Linda Coyne and Tracey Marsh at Birmingham City Council for the loan of their meeting notes and to all the delegates who took the trouble to travel.

Lawrence Rodgers

Acting Head, Birmingham City Council

Agenda 18 March 2009  (DOC, 28.5 KB)


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