A near decade-long project to upgrade the IT systems agencies use for scheduling and transferring electronic records to the National Archives is close to becoming a reality.
The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) 2.0 has been in the works since 2014. Its aim is to replace the current ERA system with a modern, cloud-based set of tools for processing and transferring digital records to the Archives for long-term preservation and cataloging.
The National Archives and Records Administration has been using ERA 2.0 internally since late 2018 to process electronic records. But now NARA is preparing agencies to start using the new suite of tools for the first time.
“We’re looking probably end of February, early March when we then bring ERA 2.0 up for actual production use,” David Lake, the program manager for ERA at NARA, said during an Oct. 18 meeting of the Bimonthly Records and Information Discussion Group (BRIDG). “Our project schedule shows that we’re on schedule at this point, but barring unknown issues that pop up in the system or with the migration work that we’re doing now, this is the timeline that we’re seeing.”
A major factor in the transition from ERA “base” to ERA 2.0, Lake said, is NARA’s migration of current records schedules and transfer requests into the new system.
“What we’ve demonstrated so far is that we can move whatever form you are working on in a certain status to its equivalent status in ERA 2.0,” he said.
NARA is also rolling out online training and job aids, as well as a user account provisioning process, ahead of making ERA 2.0 available to agencies.
NARA will shut down the ERA base system for up to four weeks in early 2023, Lake said, to complete the migration of data to ERA 2.0. Lake said NARA will provide more specifics on the anticipated shutdown date as it gets closer to finalizing the data migration.
Key ERA 2.0 improvements
One key improvement agencies should expect to see in ERA 2.0, Lake said, is a better user interface.
“I know that ERA base didn’t set a real high bar in terms of the user interface,” he said. “But we spent a great deal of time working on that to make this more intuitive, more navigable, and more straightforward for users to use as kind of web forms that you use for other processes.”
ERA 2.0 will also feature a new dashboard agencies can use to track the status of record scheduling and transfer requests as they go through the approval process.
“The point of the dashboard is to give you the information you need to know about the forms you have under process as quickly and efficiently as possible, organized in ways that we hope make sense for you and the operations that you have going on for transfer requests and for record schedules,” Sam McLure, NARA’s Electronic Records Program Director, said during the BRIDG meeting.
In September, NARA awarded Baltimore, Md.-based contractor Fearless Solutions a potential five-year, $65.7 million contract to provide managed services and DevOps for ERA 2.0.
“On our 5-year contract with NARA, we’ll support, maintain, enhance, and evolve ERA 2.0’s suite of applications across multiple teams,” Fearless wrote in a blog post announcing the contract. “Through DevOps and Continuous Integration / Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) processes, we’ll help the agency deploy faster and more efficiently. We’re also working to ensure that current features and functions can scale to handle a growing number of submitted records. And we’ll develop new features to support the system and its users.”
NARA is already eyeing several future enhancements to ERA 2.0. It plans to pilot “direct upload” into the system with select agencies. And NARA will also pilot cloud-to-cloud records transfers for ERA 2.0, McLure said.
“So what you’ll see in early March 2023 is a start, but it is not a finish,” he said. “We hope to continue to iterate on this product to provide more improvements, particularly in response to observations and feedback and criticisms we get from users of the system, to make sure that we’re making the best product possible.”