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INTEGRATED INFORMATION SYSTEM IN THE MINISTRY FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Martti Favorin Director of Information Management, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Finland

1. The Background The Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland was established in 1918, a year after the declaration of independence. In records management the ministry followed the traditional system inherited from Sweden centuries ago. Its main principles were small files containing the records of only one separate issue as well as chronological registration of the records and files. However, this system functional as it was in other administrative branches - did not meet the demands of the foreign service. In the mid-1920s a new system was adopted from the Danish Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen, which on the other hand had taken it from Vienna in the 18th century. Files containing small issues were replaced by dossiers - i.e. big entities covering larger themes. (e.g. relations between Finland and Russia). Yet, the Danish system was partly misunderstood, and the dossiers were divided - whenever possible - into files. The result was better than its model. The pattern of this records management system lasted 80 years and many of its features have survived the digital time. Its basic features are very simple just as they are in any good records management system.

The starting point is the circular definition of three basic terms: 1. a record is a trace of the activities of an organisation 2. an archives is composed of the records of an organisation 87

3. every organisation has the archives of its own.


These are the stipulations of the Finnish legislation. According to the second basic principle the mastering of the records, files and the whole archives is done only by means 1. of the filing system which determines the place of the records in the archives, and 2. of registration of the records and files. In the organisation there were four activities separated from each other: 1. Preparing of the document in the ministry or the embassies 2. The communication centre for the distribution of the documents and the mail office for sending them by usual or diplomatic mail 3. Registration of the documents in different catalogues and card indexes which determined the place of the document in the archives 4. Filing of the documents.

2. From paper to data communication The data communication network was introduced to the Finnish foreign service in 1988, but it was not until the year 1995 when the idea to integrate all those four activities arose. The technical prerequisites of the new systems were:

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1. The network of the Foreign service covers the ministry and the embassies including the homes of the officials in Finland and abroad and even good connections to the interest organisations and groups. 2. In the ministry and the missions every official has access to - the internet - the intranet of the MFA - official document databases. 3. Official and unofficial e-mail traffic are kept strictly separated.

3. The Integrated Information System The integrated information system will be composed of three sections. The first two are already in function and the third one is under development: The office system in use from June 1996 consists of 1. drawing up a document 2. automatic distribution of the document 3. automatic recording of the document in one of the text databases. Intranet of the MFA in use from April 1999 serves officials with 1. general internal information and news 2. routine administrative issues 3. an updated administrative handbook consisting statutes, decrees and recommended methods 4. ready-made forms and transparencies 5. links to outside www-sites and internal databases.

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The records management system from the 1988 will be completely revised and a new one will be launched January the 1st 2001. We are planning to create a tool for managing the documents during the rest of their life-cycle. The first ideas augur that the basic concepts of the archival terms will be turned upside down.

3.1 The Office System

In the office system an ADP application controls and directs the drawing up of a document. For every type of a document (letter, diplomatic note, protocol, memorandum) you pick up a form from the system. In the form there are some fields that are already filled in: 1. 2. 3. 4. the organisation, where the document is made the name of the official drawing up the document the date which can be changed the archival code of the document.

Some fields in the forms must be filled: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. the purpose of the document, e.g. request for comment, report (not necessary) classification of the document, e.g. confidential (not necessary) reference to other documents (not necessary) the title of the document (necessary) entry words describing the content of the document (necessary) rsum (necessary).

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The set of keywords comprise three different parts: 1. states and political regions 2. names of international and other organizations 3. large sectors of activities. The keywords suggest the distribution of the document. The directions concerning the distribution can be revised and supplemented by the writer of the document.

The distribution may include hundreds of receivers. But the writer sends the document to the distribution robot of the system (writing only UM ASKI), which takes care of the delivery to 1. email boxes of the receivers 2. telefaxes of the receivers who have no e-mail box 3. copy center for copying and mailing to the receivers who have no e-mail or telefax addresses. 4. to the text database in order to make it possible to everyone with appropriate access rights to read the document. The text database covering at the moment two years time period contains almost 200 000 documents composed in the ministry or the embassies. It is physically one database divided in three sectors of classified documents and different access restrictions. The aims of the database are three, in future even more: 1. The database gives you a list of new documents intended for your information, which you have not yet opened. By means of a little application you can see first this list of documents and after that read them. 2. The database is a store for the documents made by an official. 3. The database is a storehouse where you can search for any type of information. The search keys are words and the application picks them from every field in the document form, in the distribution and in the rsum. In the future the basic information will be copied from the document to the document registers, or - a new idea - the document database and the register will be brought together.

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4. Intranet in the Information System

Intranet or the common inside network service, launched in April 1999, is an essential part of the information system in three ways: 1. Firstly, a lot of routine issues and documents of administrative nature were transferred from document system to intranet (e.g. the embassies notices of temporary absence of the ambassadors).

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2. Secondly, the intranet is the source of updated texts of statutes, decrees or Finlands political statements, whereas the document database is a cumulative storehouse of information. 3. Thirdly, daily internal news and notices are gathered in a database. This could be also historically interesting material, e.g. the lists of events of the ministry. The intranet has many other purposes which have nothing to do with the information system, e.g. the flea market.

5. The records management system The new records management system will be started at the beginning of 2001. In the process of developing we are just on the level of assessment of possibilities and requirements. But we have already realised that all basic premises of our former archival work could be overthrown. The main functions should be defined in a new way: 1. a record is a piece of documentary information used by the organisation 2. an archives is composed of those records which are still available for the organisation in any inside or outside database 3. many organisations could have archives in common.

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Lets start from the last idea. The ministry and the embassies have only one system and database for visa applications and issues. Why not also have only one register for the records management of the ministry and at least the largest embassies? We could get rid of a lot of unnecessary double work when a document would be registered only once e.g. in the office, where it is created. The text database of the document system is already a common archives for the ministry and the embassies. If we scan the paper documents into the same database we have a common archives for all organisations of the network. The network opens huge prospects for building up of a new archives. The documents could be in other databases in Finland or foreign countries. They are a part of our archives, because 1. the organisation has used the documents in its work 2. the documents are registered and linked in the document register of the foreign service. The second idea: Do we need a document register? Almost all information needed for retrieval of the documents is included in records made in the document system. If we provide the scanned documents with the same codes

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and keywords, and all documents with archives codes, can the document database replace a register or serve as an archives register? The preliminary answer is, yes. The third idea: Do we need any archives in paper, if we have a database consisting of digitized documents which serve as a register of those documents and required documents in other databases and links to them? The preliminary answer is, no.

5. The Conclusions

In the traditional office and records work we had four functions: 1. Preparation of the documents 2. Communicating or mailing of the documents 3. Registration of the documents, and 4. Filing of the documents. In the new system we have integrated all these functions into one. The official can after the preparation of the document send it to the receivers and provide it with all information needed for the retrieval of documents and issues, define its relations to other documents, issues and archival entities. In the second phase the records managers 1. check and when needed complete the information 2. produce by means of the database the archival description of the collection 3. search and gather documents to temporary files for the officials. What happens in the final archives? I dont know - yet.

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