Last week, following on President Obama’s memorandum on managing government records, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issued a records management (RM) directive. The directive affects all US government executive departments and agencies and applies to all federal records.

This significant effort to reform RM policies and practices includes a focus on digital government with a requirement to eliminate paper and use electronic recordkeeping where feasible, manage both permanent and temporary email records electronically, and take steps to demonstrate compliance with federal RM statutes and regulations such as designating a senior official to oversee RM programs and proving appropriate training.

The directive also identifies specific actions that will be taken by NARA and other agencies to support federal government records management programs. Critically, these include revised guidance for transferring permanent electronic records; email guidance; research into automated management of email, social media, and other types of digital record content; and embedding RM needs into cloud architectures. Further, it calls for investigating secure cloud-based service options to store and manage unclassified electronic records, and a series of steps to promote partnerships and better serve agencies.

So, will the RM directive matter? After all, executives often perceive RM to be dusty cost centers – a mix of warehouses, technologies, and a set of complex, costly steps requiring their reluctant attention due to compliance mandates. The quick answer is yes. Some of the requirements don’t take effect until 2019, but the directive outlines a number of requirements and should focus the attention of executives in US federal government in the near term. Ultimately, I see the framework having implications across all vertical markets and reinforcing adoption of existing industry best practices.

Frankly, the current RM scenario in many federal government agencies is a mess. NARA’s 2011 Records Management Self-Assessment Report finds that a large majority of federal agencies “remain at high to moderate risk of compromising the integrity, authenticity, and reliability of their records.” In working with federal government agencies on RM efforts over the past year, I’ve come across a bunch of broken processes and ineffective applications. Federal government agencies have a lot of room for improvement with their RM programs; with appropriate resources and executive focus, this directive ultimately should help them move in the right direction.

Yet records managers have their work cut out for them. In the Forrester Research And ARMA International Records Management Online Survey, Q3 2012, we find that major RM expansion plans figure prominently, but RM leaders struggle with big challenges and are often playing catch-up. For example, only 8% of records managers state that RM considerations have very strong impact on what technology to acquire and how new technology is implemented; and less than 5% are very confident that their organization has incorporated RM requirements in adopting or planning for cloud-based services or storage solutions, social media, or mobile devices.

Earlier this year, in response to the president’s RM memo, Forrester published guidance for records management leaders. I’ll be expanding on these recommendations and presenting additional results from our Q3 2012 RM survey at ARMA International’s main event in Chicago in September. I hope to see you there.