People across England, Northern Ireland, and Wales trust the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to keep them informed about food safety whether they’re dining out, buying groceries, or running a food-related business. The bright green signs displayed in restaurant windows to show a five-point cleanliness rating at a glance are the culmination of hours of dedicated field work, the most up-to-date food safety science, and teamwork between the FSA and local authorities. But the previous records management system didn’t support that collaboration or the standardization needed for peak productivity within individual teams.
With the limitations of its eight-year-old records management system becoming steadily more apparent against the backdrop of more recent technologies, the FSA decided to use its intranet project as an opportunity to modernize. With Microsoft Purview Records Management to link with Microsoft SharePoint Online and the collaborative ease it adds with Microsoft Teams, the FSA’s dedicated workers collaborate more easily than ever before to help keep food safe for the people of England, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
Strengthening the roots of a food safety system
Records management is the last thing people think of when they eye the sign outside of a tantalizing restaurant to check on the cleanliness within. But for Kay Young, Information and Records Manager at the Food Standards Agency, a flexible records management system also plays a key role in helping her colleagues at FSA work together easily and productively.
Adopted in 2014, the FSA’s previous records management system was highly regarded in its day. But the world had moved on, and the old system hadn’t modernized. Records can arrive in many forms—whether as email attachments, documents shared via Microsoft Teams, or other technologies. Without streamlined labelling and management policies, the FSA worried about the risk of losing those diverse documents. Those source documents need to be labeled as official records and handled in the most efficient way possible.
The FSA had grown and become a more dynamic, progressive agency that the previous system no longer served. Many FSA workers were frustrated by the rigid file structures and pre-defined retention policies of the previous system. Each team has its own particular needs for records management, and many teams collaborate with external entities. “People found it difficult to work collaboratively—the system didn’t facilitate sharing records,” recalls Young. “It also forced a short retention period, which wasn’t optimal for every situation.” The more fast paced and creative teams chafed at the restrictions. “We had a high volume of records for the research team,” she adds. The wealth of information captured in those records had become inaccessible—the reporting feature no longer worked. “We couldn’t assess how much data we actually had and couldn’t run analytical reports.”
Knowing that records management system options had grown tremendously, Young envisioned a better and more scalable solution. She and several FSA team members attended a Microsoft Purview Records Management (formerly Records Management in Microsoft 365) training session given by Infotechtion, a Microsoft Gold Partner Network member. Infotechtion specializes in helping its customers use the full range of information protection and governance in Microsoft 365. Young was intrigued.
But some FSA teams were comfortable with existing systems. Lacking a strong incentive to change how they worked, they stayed with the systems that had worked for them for so long. When those teams adopted Microsoft 365 though, they were pleased with the convenience of having their shared data in one place. When COVID-19 mandates forced office closures throughout the world, FSA was well-prepared for remote collaboration, and its teams were ready to adopt a more modern, productivity-forward way of handling the never-ending stream of valuable records.
Teaming up with a committed Microsoft partner—Infotechtion
The global lockdown necessitated the need for a virtual office. Fortunately, FSA had recently replaced its Skype deployment with Microsoft Teams. “When we had to work from home, people realized that they could do everything they needed to do with Microsoft Teams,” recounts Young. “We’ve been working from home and collaborating securely, functioning well as one organization.”
That positive experience was the boost Young needed to embark on a replacement records management system. She was concerned about one crucial gap. “I’ve wanted to launch a modern records management rollout for a long time,” she says. “But we realized that although we had great expertise in house, we didn’t have the capacity we needed. And while I know records management, I didn’t have any experience with the full depth of records management capability in Microsoft Purview.”
The FSA engaged with Infotechtion for help with creating the structures and policies the organization would need to completely re-imagine an optimal records management system. Vivek Bhatt, Chief Technology Officer at Infotechtion, takes a global view of enabling change. “We find that technology enablement is not really the biggest obstacle,” he insists. “The biggest challenges are organizational concerns, buy-in from stakeholders, and aligning on policies and procedures.” He worked with Young to establish trust among FSA users, transparently sharing information and ensuring that the time-saving innovations and simplified workflows in the solution could speak for themselves.
Bhatt says the project started on the right foot. “Working with Kay and her team, we found a perfect partner that was open, listening, and already thinking about how they could modernize the way they work,” he says. “Building a strategy with the FSA team was a great experience of mutual learning—we shared lessons learned from other customers, and FSA illustrated their clear vision for modern records management in the context of their organisation.”
The Infotechtion team began by helping the entire organization to optimise its Microsoft 365 adoption. “Switching to Microsoft 365 was a big win for the FSA,” says Bhatt. “Workers could much more quickly and confidently access the information they needed, from anywhere.”
Adding bells and whistles with Microsoft Purview Records Management
Infotechtion also worked with the FSA teams to envision a SharePoint architecture that would support the most productive, forward-looking structure possible. “It takes a lot of analysis to create a comprehensive new structure that avoids the pitfalls of the previous system, and not just replicate it in SharePoint,” says Alex Vaughn, Project Manager at Infotechtion. “The FSA invested the time it needed to make life better for its workers in the future, and that success was inspiring.” The FSA designated “champions” to assist less confident workers as part of that strategy, but the rollout happened almost organically. “People were enthusiastic about how familiar the interface is,” says Young. “Microsoft solutions are very intuitive. We get about 50 people every two weeks who want to learn how to handle their documents. They’re just running with it.”
Managing the life cycle of documents is central to effective records management. The FSA chose default labels for its SharePoint libraries that propagate the retention policies for the content in that library, greatly simplifying records management tasks. Bhatt worked with Young and her team to set up other, more detailed Microsoft Purview Records Management policies. They focused on retention policies, implementing a simplified enterprise-wide retention policy, which deletes information that no one has modified during the period defined by the organization.
By carefully defining principles for how long the FSA need to retain various types of data, the FSA set itself up for significant productivity gains. “We implemented auto-apply label policies that use the metadata for each piece of content as a condition, so that metadata values, like age, determine the retention period.” explains Bhatt. “The FSA saves a lot of time by using the auto-apply label because it can automate labelling for almost every document.” The FSA can easily handle its few exceptions by manually labelling those documents, but manual labelling is rare and productivity is up.
The FSA fine-tunes retention with event-driven retention labels, configuring those labels to begin counting down retention time based on an event, such as an expiring service contract or a departing employee.
Its progress to date opens the way for further productivity gains for the FSA. The governance team plans to assess Microsoft Purview eDiscovery as a next phase. Young lauds a new era in collaboration for a workforce relieved of the burden of chasing after documents and safely sharing information. “We get far less help requests now,” she says. “With our previous solution, workers often struggled to do the most basic tasks because of permissions issues in that rigid structure. The team’s sense of ownership and freedom in how they work when they use SharePoint Online has been a revelation—they’re delighted.”