The Unplanned Remote Work and Digitization Explosion – M-19-21 – Eight Lessons Learned

The Unplanned Remote Work Explosion and M-19-21 - Eight Lessons Learned

I recently sat down for a conversation with two very thoughtful federal government end user executives — Dave Simmonds from GSA and Mark Patrick from the Joint Staff – to talk about how COVID remote work and digitization impacted their plans for M-19-21 compliance.

The complete conversation is here – – and here are eight specific lessons I pulled out of the broader conversation.

Dave Simmons, GSA

  1. Remote work replicates records too easily; we need to discern “official” copies and holding locations.

    One of the first things that we dealt with was that we were introducing a lot of new technologies for remote work. My colleagues and I were constantly brought into meetings, usually without a whole lot of notice, to talk about the “new” kinds of records that were being created. Our basic message was, no, they’re not new kinds of records. They’re just different forms of content.

  2. “Digitization” has transformed the meaning of analog and born-digital assets.

    I spent many, many years converting paper and other analog formats into electronic documents. But the other thing that we’re dealing with is also conforming born digital documents, which is one of the aspects of remote work that we’re starting to see a lot of.

  3. We need to identify and enforce acceptable and sustainable formats.

    Conforming born digital documents means using sustainable standards of formats, identifying common meta tags that we want to use both mission critical meta tags for search, as well as identifying what kind of records they are as they come in.

  4. New process controls are needed.

    Agencies are going to have to build some kind of process control for their records internally, for disposals electronically, or transfers to NARA for ediscovery or for just tracking down and locating documents for people.

Mark Patrick, Joint Staff

Mark shared Dave’s opinion that compliance mandates like M-19-21 are a means to an end, not the end itself. COVID disrupted but didn’t change core digital transformation journey objectives.

We constantly asked ourselves, “What activity in our journey will best serve the interests of the knowledge workers, and the folks who are supporting decision makers?” We do this so that if we have to prioritize, we can focus there, with an eye toward compliance as an enabler as opposed to the desired outcome.

  1. Put preparation of paper records to go to Washington National Records Center (M-19-21) on hold since NARA could not receive them.

    What we were going to do as a result of M-19-21 was expedite our movement of paper records to the Federal Records Center so that we could get it in the system before the 31 December 2022 deadline. That work was in progress. As COVID began to accelerate, we pushed on with the preparation of that material, but the Federal Records Center couldn’t take it because of COVID. So it sits in a state of readiness to move.

  2. Quickly launched MS Teams throughout DoD with the specific caveat that it was not a system of record and that further preservation would need to be handled manually.

    We were headed for a full blown M365 deployment, so it was declared early on that this was going to be a temporary solution and that users would be responsible for moving data or information with a longer lifecycle out of that system into other systems of record prior to sunset.

  3. Launched unclassified version of tasking system to support telework.

    In order to support working from home, we adopted an unclassified version of our tasking system. The reality was that most of the information in the existing system was not classified anyway, so making the defacto system unclassified greatly enhanced the transition to remote work.

  4. Accelerated our transition to DoD365.

    Our transition to the 365 environment was expedited by using the temporary version of MS Teams. This increased under buy-in and the internal skills we had available for adoption of the permanent system, and allowed us to implement this system in an agile way.

Final thoughts…

Dave Simmons: As a result of COVID, records and information management are moving “upstream.” We’re now invited to the table. We need to take advantage of the opportunity to be at the table during the design and access phases of information management strategies.

Mark Patrick: As a records and information professional, you should be collaborating broadly with other folks who touch data and those who do knowledge management and with your IT people. I can guarantee that information and data will continue to be critical to your organization’s mission. Underlying technologies will change and evolve, and you must as well in order to truly support your organization’s mission.

Action Items:

  • On June 21, Quality Associates, Inc. sponsored its newly introduced Industry Briefs, a series of short discussions on the M-19-21 directive, records management, and digitization. Watch for details on the second in the series, scheduled for September 14.
  • Check out the QAI M-19-21 Readiness site for more resources to help you on your journey at NARA Compliance Readiness – Quality Associates Incorporated.
  • For a complimentary personal consultation, contact a QAI M-19 Digitization expert by simply calling 410-884-9100. Or email the experts directly: Scott Swidersky,, or John Burgess,
  • We invite you to subscribe to QAI’s LinkedIn M-19-21 Readiness Group or follow QAI on Twitter to hear more from industry data modernization experts and peers.