Development of an Online Retention and Disposal Application


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The State Records Office of WA is leading the development of a new web-based application that will enable government agency staff, and records consultants working with agencies, to draft and submit Retention and Disposal Schedules to the State Records Office. This application is called the Online Retention and Disposal Application (ORDA).

ORDA is intended to take into production the concepts the State Records Office tested via a proof of concept system in 2005/2006.

On 25 March 2010, the State Records Office, the WA Branch of the Records Management Association of Australasia and Information Enterprises Australia co-hosted an event at the Alexander Library Building Theatre at which a presentation about ORDA was provided by Senior Archivist, Damien Hassan.

More information about ORDA can be found at

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  • This presentation was delivered at the Alexander Library Building Theatre on 25 March 2010 to Perth-based stakeholders as part of an event co-hosted by the State Records Office and the WA Branch of the Records Management Association of Australia. Hi everyone. I’ll be speaking this afternoon about a web application our office is developing to manage all Disposal Authority processes and data. I’ve met with a number of records consultants and some agencies over the last year or so to talk through the thinking behind this system and to try and identify any issues from the outset. What we’re aiming to do now is to provide a fuller briefing to records managers and those at the coal-face of this work and to seek your feedback.
  • First of, some acknowledgements: We are developing ORDA as an Australasian Digital Records Initiative (ADRI) project with the State Records Office of Western Australia as the lead agency. ADRI is a useful forum for developing ORDA, particularly in being able to bounce ideas off those with similar interests or needs. I’d also like to acknowledge that the original concept for ORDA was shared with our office several years ago by SRNSW and particular thanks to David Roberts and Michael Allen for doing so.
  • ORDA is intended to manage all Disposal Authority processes from initial submission, through to collaborating with agencies/consultants to finalize a disposal authority, as well as storing approved disposal authority data (I shall use the term Disposal Authority throughout this presentation as a catch all for Retention and Disposal Schedules and Ad Hoc Disposal Authorities). ORDA will manage the workflow for Disposal Authority processes but by storing such data centrally, ORDA provides new opportunities for searching across agencies for existing appraisal decisions, for reporting and analysis, etc. I’ll talk about this in more detail as we go along. Our office also intends to build a sibling application – ORCA – to do pretty much the same thing as ORDA but for Recordkeeping Plans. Ultimately, ORDA and ORCA are intended to be part of an integrated system although their development is likely to be staged because of budgetary constraints. We have prioritized ORDA as the first cab off the rank in terms of development. Both ORDA and ORCA will be secure web applications hosted by the SRO. Clients will be required to log into the system for any online drafting of Disposal Authorities or Recordkeeping Plans (although offline drafting will also be possible) or to submit a completed Plan/Authority to the SRO for review.
  • Why are we building ORDA and ORCA? What is the business need? Necessity is the mother of invention. It can also be observed that ideas that arise from hardship provide an important source of motivation. Scope: the scale of having getting Recordkeeping Plans and Disposal Authorities in place for all government agencies in Western Australia has certainly caused our office some hardship. It’s been a great tribute to the staff at SROWA that this has been achieved, and also a tribute to records staff in government agencies in complying with this mandate. But while we’ve cleared this major hurdle, Authorities and Plans are now subject to cyclical reviews and revisions so the hard work continues. We need a proper system to manage those processes. Format: Now we come to a deeper issue. Disposal Authorities are traditionally submitted as documents. In Western Australia, they are typically submitted in hardcopy. As documents, disposal authority information is bound within the nature of its format. Agency-centric: Because of this, it is difficult to conduct analysis across the documents. For Disposal Authorities, this analysis may entail searching for existing appraisal precedents. For Recordkeeping Plans, this analysis may entail wanting to know how many agencies have in place adequate policies for the management of email (by way of example). Recordkeeping Plans contain lots of very useful information about the state of government recordkeeping at any given time. Collating this information in a central system will allow us to generate reports so that we can start to analyze patterns, strengths and weaknesses across government or by sector.
  • Let’s backtrack a bit… By 2005 our office had identified a need for ORDA and ORCA and we had a pretty good idea of what we needed the web applications to do. We applied for proof of concept funding available at that time to build a prototype system and Fujitsu were engaged to develop the test system, with Microsoft providing additional technical support. The idea with the proof of concept was to test as much functionality as possible, not to build a system that we could use for full production. It was a good experience which helped clarify our thinking and from which we concluded the concept for ORDA/ORCA was sound. I’ll run through a few screenshots from the proof of concept system which should help explain what is intended with ORDA/ORCA. Please bear in mind that things such as screen design was not the highest priority for the proof of concept and we’d expect the interface for ORDA/ORCA to be improved.
  • Screen shot from 2006 Proof of Concept system This screen sets out the basic layout for a client drafting a Disposal Authority online. There are some steps before getting to this stage – setting up the registration and log-in information, notifying the client that they are ready to start work, etc – but once done, the idea was to log into the system via a web connection and commence building up the structure of their Disposal Authority via the tree index (left of screen). We tested basic capability for moving and editing elements in the tree index, although with ORDA this will need to be a bit more seamless and would ideally implement drag and drop functionality. Each element (e.g. Function, Activity, Record Class) is then linked to further descriptive information or in this case, retention and disposal elements.
  • Screen shot from 2006 Proof of Concept system This shows how you can start to make life a little bit easier for agencies and consultants who are drafting Disposal Authorities by building in radio buttons, drop-down boxes and so on.
  • Screen shot from 2006 Proof of Concept system We tested the capability to display the Disposal Authority in a more traditional tables-based form and to be able to export that data in a range of formats.
  • Screen shot from 2006 Proof of Concept system We also tested basic searching capability. The intention here is to search across Disposal Authorities for existing precedents. With ORDA, we intend to provide this capability to agencies/consultants as they develop their Disposal Authority so that cross-checking can be done on the fly. This is also important functionality for the staff of our office who need to review Disposal Authorities submitted to us.
  • Screen shot from 2006 Proof of Concept system We did test out similar capabilities for preparing Recordkeeping Plans online through the system. A chief difference here is that the elements in the tree-index are based on State Records Commission Standards and are pre-determined. These elements comprise high-level principles such as administrative context, policies and procedures, preservation, compliance, etc, under which sit more specific criteria. To date, agencies have responded to these criteria in narrative form which, again, makes individual analysis time consuming and cross-agency analysis effectively impossible. With ORCA, the thinking is to restructure how this information is presented in Recordkeeping Plans so that there is quantitative information which is provided (and which supports quicker and easier analysis), as this screen shot illustrates…
  • Screen shot from 2006 Proof of Concept system … and qualitative information also provided by way of copies of the agencies policies, disaster management plans, etc which the client uploads to the system as PDF attachments. Restructuring Recordkeeping Plans this way allows the quantitative information to be gathered centrally so that 1) the system can report on the degree of agency compliance and 2) we can analyze recordkeeping from a whole-of-government perspective. The qualitative information supplied serves as the evidence that key elements are in place.
  • So in moving away from the idea of Disposal Authorities as documents and the constraints that this imposes, let’s consider them instead as bits of data or information, each of which has some relationship to each other. As an example, a disposal class has a relationship to the activity it is nested within, which also has a relationship to the function it is an activity of. That disposal class also has a relationship to retention and disposal decisions and all of this may relate to a certain agency, or a group of agencies. We know that Disposal Authorities are already highly structured – the step we are taking is to represent this structure in a way that supports a database-driven approach. XML is ideally suited for this purpose and has other advantages such as its suitability for data exchange. The recent work that SRNSW have conducted in developing an XML Schema for Disposal Authorities – in structuring the elements of Disposal Authority information in a way that accords the “rules” of XML – is highly significant. XML Schemas can also have recursive elements. This is important for Disposal Authorities as it does not limit them to a “set structure”. Under the Schema, a Disposal Authority could accord with a “Function-Activity Record Class” structure or it could accord with a deeper structure such as “Function-Subfunction-Activity-Subactivity-Record Class. Under the Schema, there is flexibility for wide variation of such structures that can accommodate different ways in which classification schemes have been developed in agencies. The Schema provides an important element for ORDA’s development.
  • Moving on to the system features for ORDA, it is intended that there will be three main ways Disposal Authorities can be drafted using ORDA: using the system in a purely online environment, using offline capability for drafting (which then requires online submission once drafted) and importing core Disposal Authority data that has been compiled from third-party software. There would be advantages in compiling purely through the online environment – such as being able to search the database for appraisal precedents, although this could always been done while in parallel drafting the Authority offline. An offline option will be provided for reasons of practicality – it may be a more useful approach for larger schedules for example. Whichever method is chosen for drafting an Authority, it would desirable to submit it to the system once drafted so the system workflow can start. ORDA will also provide capability for collaboration and interactions between the agency and the SRO to be via the system. That said, there will of course still be a need to meet with agency staff or conduct on-site appraisal so paper still of course has its place for reference purposes! Arguably, agency-to-SRO interactions needn’t be through the system at all as long as at the end of the day the finalised Disposal Authority is loaded to ORDA. ORDA is more about opening up options for Disposal Authority processes rather than fixing things to a single, rigid process, but this is more an implementation issue and one that can be refined and tailored during implementation. It is intended that agencies will have the ability to search the system for existing appraisal precedents as they draft their own Authority. There is a potential risk with this function, in that an agency could adopt existing precedents too blithely without thinking about their own context. Its an important point to stress that appraisal still needs a great deal of thought! That said, it is expected that there will be significant benefits if an agency, when developing their Disposal Authority, could check existing precedents to achieve consistency where that would be beneficial. (Another way to look at this, if a little tongue in cheek, is to be consistent with any inconsistency). Using a database-driven approach will also allow the SRO to better integrate other elements of our business. For example, it is our office’s intention to develop appraisal criteria, values that help articulate what is or isn’t an archive, so that appraisal decisions in an Authority can be benchmarked against a robust framework. It’s not that difficult to build such functionality into an application. We intend to provide similar integration for a restricted access framework so as to better consolidate processes. These latter points are something we will be seeking feedback on – I’ll get to this at the end of the presentation.
  • And of course unless ORDA actually makes preparing a Disposal Authority easier, then we’ve to some degree failed. The system has to makes this process easier for clients. When progressing a Disposal Authority (i.e. from initial draft to finalisation), we also envisage benefits and efficiencies if clients can conduct their interactions with staff from the SRO via the system. To this end, ORDA will provide capability for both clients and SRO staff to comment on the Disposal Authority at various levels within the Authority. That said, there will still be a need to print copies of draft Authorities, both for an agency’s internal consultation as well as for any meetings with SRO that may be required. Print capability is a given, as is export capability to a range of different formats. There is potential here for integrating with other systems…
  • For the SRO. the system will of course need to provide the core administrative functions – registration, version control for iterations of draft Disposal Authorities, workflow, data storage and reporting. ORDA will also allow SRO staff to conduct comparative analysis of decisions and precedents across Disposal Authorities (either across all approved Authorities or limiting such analysis by cluster such as government sector). A centralised system also supports re-using disposal authority data, either by providing an agency with a baseline Authority when they need to review or revise it or for other internal business purposes such a prioritising archive transfers. When the SRO can once again accommodate archival transfers, the data within all approved Disposal Authorities in ORDA can therefore be extracted as the raw information to work out priorities. Criteria for prioritising transfers still need to be established, but once done, these criteria can be run against Authority data to then establish what comes into the collection, when. It is expected that this can be used to address not only the large backlog of transfers to the SRO but also in an ongoing manner so that future backlogs do not eventuate. The intention in the future is to therefore move archival transfers from a reactive process to a pro-active one.
  • Moving on to Recordkeeping Plans, ORCA is intended to allow a birds-eye picture of government recordkeeping which we can analyze. With Recordkeeping Plans currently submitted in hardcopy, this is not easily achieved. The need to conduct analysis across Recordkeeping Plans is therefore a strong driver for the system. Importantly, this analysis will provide an evidential basis which can be used to identify deficiencies. Potentially, standards development, training, advice could be focused on those identified deficiencies so that we’ll have a strategic basis in which our operational activities can be directed. We can then plot such analysis over time – what’s improving over time? What areas of government recordkeeping are growing issues?
  • In wrapping up, let me show you where we are at with ORDA: As mentioned, we are working closely with ADRI members on this project; We have prepared Functional Requirements for the system; We are now engaging more widely with stakeholders in Western Australia to let them know what we are doing and provide an opportunity for feedback. We have previously conducted preliminary consultation with consultants and some key agencies and the response has been wholly positive and supportive. Finally, we are preparing to go to market for the system design and build with a view to moving into pilot testing toward the end of 2010 before rolling out the system for full production.
  • This brings us to the 3 main areas we wish to seek feedback on from WA stakeholders: Do you have any general or specific concerns or comments about ORDA? If so, what are they? Do you have any concerns about the intended capability for clients to search across approved Disposal Authorities for the purposes of checking precedents? If so, what is the basis for such concerns? Do you think appraisal and restricted access criteria would assist you in your decision-making when drafting Disposal Authorities? The SRO seeks feedback on these matters by 1 June 2010.
  • Development of an Online Retention and Disposal Application

    1. 1. Online Retention and Disposal Application Damien Hassan Senior Archivist State Records Office of Western Australia Stakeholder Presentation - 25 March 2010
    2. 2. Acknowledgements ORDA is an Australasian Digital Records Initiative project being led by the State Records Office of Western Australia Special thanks to the State Records Authority of NSW for sharing the initial concept
    3. 3. What is ORDA? ORDA: Online Retention and Disposal Application ORCA: Online Recordkeeping Compliance Application Will ultimately form an integrated system to manage all Disposal Authority and Recordkeeping Plan processes and data
    4. 4. Outline of business problem Scope: in Western Australia, all 300+ State and Local govt. agencies now have a Disposal Authority and Recordkeeping Plan in place Format: these are submitted as documents Agency-centric: it is difficult and time-intensive to conduct analysis across documents
    5. 5. Proof of Concept In 2005/06, our office developed a proof of concept prototype of ORDA/ORCA Intention was to test a range of functionality and possible technical solutions Concept demonstrated as sound
    6. 12. Data, not documents Disposal Authorities are highly structured, although typically represented as documents XML: the best of many worlds… XML Schema developed by SRNSW is well suited for ORDA
    7. 13. ORDA - features for clients A tool to draft Disposal Authorities through web interface, by going “out of browser” or via import Intent for clients to search for appraisal precedents across other Authorities Integrating overarching appraisal and restricted access criteria
    8. 14. ORDA - features for clients Ease of use (drop down boxes, linking, etc) Client-to-SRO interactions via the system Client print and export capabilities
    9. 15. ORDA - features for SRO A holistic system for registration, version control, workflow, data storage, reporting. Comparative analysis of decisions Improved re-use of Disposal Authority data Transfer prioritization module: using Authority data to prioritize and monitor archive transfers
    10. 16. The bigger picture… Recordkeeping Plan data A birds-eye view of government recordkeeping Evidential basis to identify deficiencies Can be used to inform targeted standards, training, advice… Longitudinal analysis
    11. 17. Where are we now? Working with ADRI members  System requirements prepared  Stakeholder consultation Technical design and build. Delivery by end of 2010.
    12. 18. Seeking feedback by 1 June Do you have any general or specific concerns or comments about ORDA? If so, what are they? Do you have any concerns about the intended capability for clients to search across approved Disposal Authorities for the purposes of checking precedents? Do you think appraisal and restricted access criteria would assist you in your decision-making when drafting Disposal Authorities?
    13. 19. Questions? [email_address]