By Stephens, David O.
Records Management Quarterly , Vol. 31, No. 3
According to a recent article in Fortune magazine, the nations of Europe are far behind both Asia and the United States in the use of new information technologies, and the gap is growing wider. This matter has recently received public comment from world leaders in information technology. In separate addresses, Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, and Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft, both gave vent to dire warnings of this widening technology gap. Mr. Grove observed that Europe's companies "operate like old-line U. S. companies did ten years ago," while Mr. Gates spoke urgently about Europe's radically lower rates of business Internet usage compared with those of the U.S.
The Fortune article did, however, indicate that the information technology picture in Europe is not all bleak; it observed that a few of Europe's smaller nations are among the world's most technologically advanced. One such country - the Kingdom of Denmark - is the subject of this article. This small, industrial nation in northern Europe has a population of just over five million, but it has recently become very aggressive in assimilating new information technologies into its recordkeeping systems, particularly in the public sector. In fact, if the Danes can do what they say they want to do, we would feel comfortable in using the term "global leadership" to characterize their initiatives in electronic recordkeeping and records management.
THE FIRST NATION TO AUTHORIZE "FULL" ELECTRONIC RECORDKEEPING
What are the Danes doing to justify such an accolade? On January 1, 1996, the Danish National Archives issued new regulations on electronic recordkeeping in the public administration, authorizing public institutions to introduce "full electronic case administration and filing systems." These regulations were issued as the "Circular on Electronic Filing with National Authorities." According to Frank Jensen, the Danish Minister of Research and Information Technology, and Jyette Hilden, Minister of Culture (to whom the Danish State Archives reports), these new regulations make Denmark "the first country in the world where a national registry authority [the Danish State Archives] authorizes public authorities [ministries of government] to discontinue using paper archives and introduce full electronic filing systems."
THE DANISH GOVERNMENT: GOING PAPERLESS
Let's present some background on this aggressive initiative toward an "all paperless" national government, and then we will offer some comparisons to the situation here in the United States. To begin with, "going paperless" is one of the Danish government's highest strategic objectives. In fact, the transition to electronic recordkeeping in the public sector is a "major element in the Danish government's IT Political Action Plan for 1995." This came about as a result of a report entitled "Information Society 2000," which was prepared in October 1994. As its major strategic objective, the report envisaged "radical upgrades ... to strengthen Denmark's realization of the information society." Among its many recommendations, the report envisaged the complete interconnection of the central and local governments throughout Denmark in a comprehensive electronic network, and the introduction of electronic instead of paper-based recordkeeping. It is further envisaged that future filing systems must be designed in such a way that the potential of new information technologies (i.e., for automatic registration of electronic records, for grouping them in "electronic file folders, and for searching across entire enterprises) are utilized to their full extent.
In December 1994, the Ministry of Information and Technology formed a working group on electronic filing. This group declared that the Danish State Archives should, by January 1, 1996, allow public agencies to replace traditional paper-based filing with electronic filing as the formal filing method, thereby paving the way for governmental institutions to drop paper filing completely and introduce fully electronic filing systems and workflows. …