There is no better tool against corruption than proper document management

Henar Alonso Rodríguez is a Senior Archives Technician at the General Military Archive of Ávila, of the Optional Corps of State Archivists. After passing through the General Archive of Simancas, first as a researcher and then as Head of Reprography, she is currently in charge of the Description Area of one of the Army’s four historical archives. He is a member of the Spanish Archivists in Public Function (AEFP) and Archivists of Castilla y León (ACAL) associations. With the former, she participates as a tutor in online training courses of the National Institute of Public Administration (INAP) and with the latter in a Public Archive Policies working group that aims to influence and ensure the correct implementation of the Document Management in the different administrations and public companies. On social networks ( @Henararch
) confesses #Archiactivist and with his colleagues archivists in the Ministry of Defense have created the account @ArchiMilEsp
. In addition, she is currently a councilor in the opposition of the Ávila City Council, where she also tries to “preach” the advantages of Document Management.

1- Henar, your personal experience is based more on the work of public administrations. Is document management as important in this as in private companies?

Indeed, it is equally essential in both areas. Although it is relatively easier for companies to convince them of its benefits, selling them the obvious reality of a more dynamic and efficient way of working, and immediate savings in space and custody costs, public administrations must be taken along other paths , in my opinion a little more difficult. They all require it, because both companies and administrations act and carry out their functions through documents, as we all know, and their management must be part of their regular activity. The benefits of always having the correct and adequate information to make daily decisions are immense, although sometimes difficult to assess at first sight. The differences are noticed later, when the systems are already implemented.

2- Therefore, you would not exclude any company or administration (large or small) from the advantages offered by good document management…

No, as small as it may be, it would not exclude any of these advantages, both for your physical documentation on paper and electronically. Moreover, in small companies/administrations, it is easier to implement document management systems since their organizational structures are usually simpler and the adaptation needs are lower, so that the timeframes can be shortened and they can start operating more quickly than in the big ones. And the economic cost is also lower, of course

In small companies/administrations, it is easier to implement document management systems since their organizational structures are usually simpler and the adaptation needs are lower.

3- Let’s talk about that economic cost… How much does it cost to have document management?

In economic terms I don’t know, but I suppose it will depend on the practical solution that is considered most convenient in each case. There are publicly available tools free of charge, whether or not they are based on free software, which will simply require maintenance and adaptation to each company or institution that uses them and which in some cases can be taken on by its own staff and other times must be contracted with other companies. . And, of course, there are companies that develop their own document management systems and programs according to the needs of the client. In both cases, the most relevant “costs” are those derived from implementing the requirements prior to implementation.

4- And it is that when implementing a document management system, it is necessary to specify a series of prerequisites (reorganization of workflows, simplification of tasks, systematization and standardization of procedures…) Where do you think they are easier to implement? specify and carry out: in the private or in the public sphere?

Well, in my opinion, they are easier to achieve in the private sphere than in the public sphere, due to the sometimes excessive rigidity of its structural regulations. Right now, any public administration that intends to implement, as is already required on the other hand, an electronic document management system must first review both its institutional and functional organization charts and its procedures and job listings, in addition to equipping itself with the minimum regulatory corpus necessary to be able to do so in accordance with current legislation (National Security and Interoperability Schemes and Laws 29 and 40 / 2015). That is a “disadvantage” compared to the greater flexibility and freedom of companies. Although the law also already obliges them to relate in a certain way with the Administration, which implies that they also have to act in a coordinated manner with it.

It is safer to have well-managed documents than to have them poorly managed, without a doubt

5- Are these requirements, perhaps, the biggest drawback of document management?

I think so. And it is that a document management system does not work the miracle of recomposing obsolete organization charts, improving inoperative workflows or increasing the productivity of personnel resistant to change. Private or public organizations that want to implement these electronic document management systems must be aware that, on many occasions, they have to change their way of doing things from top to bottom. The opposite does not work. The inconvenience of greater or less economic cost is much easier to solve, from my point of view.

6- Is it safe to have documents in document management?

It is safer to have well-managed documents than to have them poorly managed, without a doubt. The problems, however, increase when we talk, fundamentally, of electronic documentation, about the reliability of its conservation and availability in contrast to physical paper. In my opinion, documentation, electronic or on paper, runs the same dangers if basic security rules are not followed. Documents can be destroyed, manipulated or distracted so easily in one medium or another: there is no difference between burning compromised paper files in a file or deleting a hard drive from a specific computer. But in the face of the already habitual and inexcusable electronic document management, it is necessary to abide by what the National Security Scheme (ENS) dictates and not neglect its requirements and technical standards of application in the least. We have seen the consequences a few weeks ago, when the global cyberattack of a ransomware paralyzed the websites and the operation of too many private companies and public institutions that had not been careful. The dangers have existed and will always exist, they simply change the way we act and we avoid it.

There is no better tool against corruption than proper document management

7- What do you think is the greatest advantage of document management?

Transparency, without a doubt. In private companies it is an added value that can even be part of that Corporate Social Responsibility that is increasingly recognized even in contracts with public administrations. But in the public sector it is an inexcusable legal and social requirement. There is no better tool against corruption than proper document management.

8- Interesting, without a doubt, with the one that is falling… How does document management fight against corruption?

If at all times both professionals and citizens can control what, how, who, when and why certain decisions are made that affect us all, the corrupt will find it very difficult to continue acting, because their impunity would end.

Document management is much more effective than the protection of anonymous whistleblowers that has been talked about so much lately

9- Do you mean that everything should be immediately public and accessible to everyone?

Not at all. What I mean is that this information, this data contained in these documents, electronic or not, must be perfectly controlled so that these things do not happen, and if they do happen, it is known why and by whom without any doubt. From my point of view, document management is much more effective than the protection of anonymous whistleblowers that has been talked about so much lately. Nobody would have to risk their reputation or their job to report an irregularity when, with a correct document management system, this would be detected immediately.

10- Where would you say the future of the sector lies?

In raising awareness of our role as facilitators of access to information that any type of organization requires, regardless of its format, its time and its purpose. Document management is information management, and whoever has the information (accurate, reliable, complete and available) has the power, whether it is a company, a public representative or all citizens as a whole. Information is power and managing the documents that contain it is a great responsibility that we have to assume in the most professional and objective way possible.

Today, archivists are still seen as guardians of historical treasures.

11- And in this context, what challenges do you think it will face?

The most important challenge is the visualization and recognition of our profession in a society where archivists continue to be seen more as guardians of historical treasures than as managers of the documentation that we all use on a daily basis in our institutions. It also seemed that with the implementation of electronic administration and the progressive digitization of business activities there would no longer be room for us. But it turns out that, in the end, it seems that they are realizing that we are just as effective in managing the documentation of the past as we are of the present and the one that will be in the future, by incorporating typical archival principles and techniques into the design of the metadata that govern document management systems , which we have already seen are essential in any organization.

12- We end, as always, with a wish for the future of the sector…

My wish would be that all of us who dedicate ourselves and all who want to dedicate themselves to this are aware of our ability to influence society, and for that it is necessary to have enthusiasm, train and work day by day together with the rest of the professionals who want to a more open, transparent and participatory society. If, in addition, we get citizens to know that this is so, that we are not just here to fill cultural spaces or to attend to the scholarly pursuits of a handful of privileged researchers, it would be perfect.