This award-winning case study outlines the author’s experiences introducing DIRKS at the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, (HREOC) in Sydney. The Designing Information and Recordkeeping Systems (DIRKS) methodology is an eight-step process for agencies to use to improve their recordkeeping and information management practices, including the design and implementation of new recordkeeping systems. The methodology is compliant with, and expands on, the methodological framework of the Australian Standard for Records Management, AS ISO 15489 – 2002. It includes the many positive aspects he found and some of the challenges he encountered. He also makes several suggestions aimed at improving implementation of DIRKS by central archives and records management authorities.
Over a period of two years, the records manager with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and I - who was working in the capacity of a consultant – recognised a number of recordkeeping tools that had to be developed in order to strengthen the agency’s recordkeeping program.
We needed to develop a function based business classification scheme and disposition schedule, to ensure the systematic management of records that documented agency specific functions and activities.
We needed to identify a set of recordkeeping or evidence creation requirements for each of the agency’s functions and activities.
Finally, we needed to identify the risks associated with the agency not creating full and accurate records of each of its functions and activities.
The first three steps of DIRKS (A, B and C) appeared to be a methodology we could use to develop these tools. We were sure that they could help us to fundamentally strengthen the agency’s recordkeeping program.
We applied to the National Archives Australia (NAA) to become part of their DIRKS work program, and were accepted.
Step A involved an initial analysis of the agency’s business. This was set up as a series of questions. When completed, it gave a clear picture of the agency’s history, what it did, what it planned to do, and what constraints and opportunities were created by the agency’s operating environment.
We were able to use the completion of step A to introduce senior management to the DIRKS process, and several senior managers agreed to become part of a DIRKS working party.
This working party proved to be a very effective conduit for getting senior management involvement and for getting feedback on our understandings to date. We found that when we linked the process to identifying requirements for evidence, rather than records, most of the managers were happy to give up some of their time.
It is important to note, however, that this commitment was conditional on the whole process not becoming bogged down in concerns about records management jargon and pedantry. As is shown in the outline of DIRKS step C, when the process becomes locked up with such concerns managers of the core business of the agency will become frustrated and step back from the process.
Step B involved using business systems analysis (BSA) tools to analyse the business activities of the agency, and developing a business classification scheme (BCS). This scheme identified the overarching functions of the agency and created clear definitions for each. It then identified and defined the different activities that supported the functions.
Finally, it identified and defined the individual transactions associated with each activity. These were clearly items of great interest to senior managers and helped greatly to gain their involvement and commitment to the remainder of the work.
Gaining such interest first opened the door to making senior managers more aware of the role and importance of records and recordkeeping as part of the broader information management equation.
This awareness also meant that managers became aware of the utility of records management tools, such as the BCS, to address other information management challenges within the agency, such as the implementation of metadata sets to facilitate information generated for a Sharepoint Portal.
As you can imagine, even for a relatively small agency, this was a challenging process. With the help of the project officer from National Archives of Australia (NAA) and engaging agency senior management to validate definitions, interfaces and organisations involved, we were able to produce a scheme of the work the agency does.
This scheme facilitated a risk analysis in relation to the risks associated with the agency not creating records, or creating incomplete records, of its functions and activities. It also facilitated the creation of a disposition schedule, and a set of recordkeeping requirements. In addition, the scheme is now being used to devise a means by which electronic records are titled according to the function and activity they document.
In order to satisfy NAA requirements, we also had to complete a Function Source Document (FSD) that clearly identified where we had acquired the information to complete the Business Classification Scheme.
I think the documentation required by NAA is necessary. It does, however, make DIRKS a heavy, time-taxing process. Indeed, the amount of time and detail required need to be fully understood by managers before they approve their agency’s undertaking this process.
This is not unique to DIRKS. Management involvement and careful articulation of business process and activity definitions is common to most business system analysis projects, whatever methodology is used. Which is why they typically yield both good information results, plus significantly improved management understanding and appreciation of organisational information (including records) assets.
Step C involved identifying the recordkeeping requirements, developing disposition classes and linking them to internal and external stakeholders, for each function and activity of the agency.
We were hoping to end up with two things:
1. A clear set of reasons why the agency kept records for each of its functions, which would be disseminated throughout the agency so that each officer had a clear understanding as to what records they needed to create.
2. A functions-based disposition schedule that facilitated the systematic disposition of records and ensured they could be managed over time.
We did this by working closely with the agency managers and the NAA project officer. We ended up identifying and documenting the recordkeeping requirements and disposition classes for the three functions established in the creation of the Business Classification Scheme.
This process was also able to show us that the steps of DIRKS are incrementally arranged. Recordkeeping requirements and disposition periods seemed to almost fall out of the activities and transactions we had identified in step B.
Step C was the most challenging part of the DIRKS process. Halfway through step C our NAA project officer left to take up another position.
It is worth noting that at the outset the agency and NAA appeared to have different priorities. For the agency, the project officer was going to help develop a series of recordkeeping tools. I think the NAA wanted the project officer to ensure that we conformed to a National Archives perspective in relation to any of the tools we produced.
This, I surmise, was because NAA were required, by the legislation they administered, to ensure that any disposition schedule that resulted from the DIRKS process met particular requirements.
Despite these different priorities we had worked constructively with our project officer, who had come to understand the agency’s work culture and the particular relationship the records section had with the rest of the agency. Our project officer had acted as a facilitator in a way that meant that the BCS was a reflection of both the agency’s and NAA’s priorities.
The replacement project officer, while being very helpful with regard to practical issues such as helping us reformat some of the DIRKS tables, appeared to be more interested in ensuring that any document produced was in line with the NAA perspective.
The changing feedback from NAA frustrated agency managers. They could not understand why their decisions regarding recordkeeping requirements and disposition periods were being questioned or complicated in order to fit in with NAA requirements.
The lesson I learnt from this challenge was the need for clear and carefully documented communication between all parties during the DIRKS process.
· A clear inventory and understanding of the functions, activities and transactions of the agency, and how they produce records.
· A significantly improved understanding of organisational business functions/processes on the part of management and a greatly improved appreciation of the role of recordkeeping.
· A functionally based Business Classification Scheme, and a Disposition Schedule that can be used for a range of information management tools.
· An understanding of who our stakeholders are and how they affect our record creating requirements.
· An understanding of the risks associated with not creating full and accurate records for each activity.
· A capacity to title records according to what function and activity they support, and a capacity to use this titling as a records management tool.
· A better appreciation of, and increased skills in, business systems analysis.
· A functions-based Disposal Authority for agency-specific functions.
· Clearly document and explain to NAA why we were conducting this exercise.
· Ensure that NAA documented and explained what their priorities and perspectives were, and what support they could provide.
· Attempt to more clearly understand the NAA perspective, and attempt to harmonise NAA and our own priorities.
· Make a more realistic assessment as to the time and resources involved in this task.
DIRKS, steps A, B and C had taken 18 months to complete. It had delivered us the tools to implement a comprehensive records management program. It was a worthwhile exercise.
In the light of my experience, I want to make a few suggestions to managers in central archives and records agencies (CARAs). But I need to precede my comments by saying that the National Archives of Australia has embarked on an innovative and exciting direction with their work developing and implementing the DIRKS methodology. I hope that they will consider any suggestions made as being supportive and constructive.
Central archives and records agencies are in a unique position in most public sectors. They are the only agencies whose core business is archives and records management.
In contrast, the position of records management sections in most organisations is, for a whole range of reasons, quite peripheral.
In order to initiate and implement projects, such as DIRKS, records managers and workers have to work very hard at winning support from management, who, quite correctly, do not regard recordkeeping as part of their core business.
Central archives and records agency officers need to spend time in organisations where records and archives are not the core business, to really understand the challenges records managers and workers face.
Central archives and records agencies need to realise that public sector agencies, particularly the smaller agencies, are acting with increasing autonomy in relation to their day-to-day management.
This means that broad, cross-government programs, such as DIRKS, need to be implemented in a flexible, facilitative manner, that allows client agencies to develop a sense of ownership about the outcomes of the program.
If the client agencies feel that the outcomes do not reflect their needs, and have been arrived at in order to meet the requirements of CARAs, DIRKS will only act to reinforce the peripheral nature of records management in many public sector agencies. Further, and more importantly, the many agencies will not feel committed to meeting their recordkeeping requirements.
Stephen Macintosh is a professional recordkeeper who has designed and implemented a range of recordkeeping and information management tools and systems for Australian state, federal and international government organisations. He is a professional member Records Management Association of Australasia (RMAA) and is newsletter editor for the New South Wales Branch of the association. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephen wishes to thank to Rick Barry for providing editorial assistance during the writing of this article.
 'This article first appeared in the November 2004 issue of InfoRMAA Quarterly (IQ), official journal of Records Management Association of Australasia, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author and of IQ. The author welcomes comments on this paper.
 Stephen Macintosh received a “Highly Commended” certificate for this feature in the 2004 Objective IQ Article of the Year award announced at the annual convention of the Records Management Association of Australasia in Perth, Western Australia, in September 2005.