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FOIA Software vs. RMS Software: A Breakdown

June 8, 2021
Blue square image with white NextRequest logo and FOIA vs. RMS text

When it comes to software solutions, law enforcement agencies generally think they have to make a choice: either adopt a Records Management System (RMS), or onboard a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) software. Sure, each of these systems deals with handling internal records, so on the surface it might seem like if you have one, you don’t need the other. Really though, they each have their own strengths, and instead of being used in place of one another, these softwares could be used in tandem to make law enforcement agencies’ information more compliant and accessible than ever.

The key to understanding each technology rests in knowing what the two system types are built for. For RMS, that purpose is interconnectivity. At its most basic level, an RMS exists as a document repository for law enforcement agencies. The government defines it as “an agency-wide system that provides for the storage, retrieval, retention, manipulation, archiving, and viewing of information, records, documents, or files pertaining to law enforcement operations.” This covers the entire lifespan of a record.

The documents stored in an RMS can range from calls for service and incident reports, to permits and licenses, to orders and restraints, but the main function of the RMS is to store these documents for agency use. There is no requirement for an RMS software to be able to publish documents, track a document’s lifecycle, or provide any tools beyond the basic requirements of its function. This is where FOIA software differs.

Unlike RMS, FOIA software focuses on providing transparency. When the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in 1966, it gave the public the right to access documents from a number of government agencies. The purpose for the law is to create accountability and build trust in our governing systems, but without streamlined methods to release documentation to the public, FOIA requests can unfortunately feel more like a headache than a public good. Slowdowns in fulfilling requests have led to work backlogs and expensive lawsuits over the years. This is where FOIA software steps in. While RMS functions as a repository for internal agency use, FOIA software solutions are designed to act as a secure gateway for the public to access the information that is rightfully theirs. With a FOIA solution, agencies can securely release documents to requesters and even publish them for broader use from a centralized portal.

FOIA software goes far beyond publishing, though. When documents are requested by the public, not all of the information may be fit for release. And while RMS software can be great for unilaterally updating information throughout an agency’s database, FOIA solutions come with tools that simplify and streamline the redaction process far beyond what’s possible with the classic “magic marker method.” Beyond this, they can make it easy to track the progress of a request, keep the requester informed, set deadlines and tasks, and more.

Both of these software types deal with documents. Both can save agencies a lot of time and work. But these softwares do not do the same thing. That’s why RMS and FOIA software shouldn’t be looked at as competing for your attention. With each of their strengths, they should be seen as different pieces working to build a more efficient agency.