Records management, or RM, is the practice of maintaining the records of an organization from the time they are created up to their eventual disposal. This may include classifying, storing, securing, and destruction (or in some cases, archival preservation) of records.
A record can be either a tangible object or digital information: for example, birth certificates, medical x-rays, office documents, databases, applicationdata, and e-mail. Records management is primarily concerned with the evidence of an organization's activities, and is usually applied according to the value of the records rather than their physical format.
- Definitions of records management
In the past, 'records management' was sometimes used to refer only to the management of records which were no longer in everyday use but still needed to be kept 'semi-current' or 'inactive' records, often stored in basements or offsite. More modern usage tends to refer to the entire 'lifecycle' of records from the point of creation right through until their eventual disposal.
The ISO 15489: 2001 standard defines records management as "The field of management responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including the processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records".
The ISO defines records as "information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business". The International Council on Archives (ICA) Committee on Electronic Records defines a record as "a recorded information produced or received in the initiation, conduct or completion of an institutional or individual activity and that comprises content, context and structure sufficient to provide evidence of the activity." The key word in these definitions is evidence. Put simply, a record can be defined as "evidence of an event".
- Practicing records managementt
A Records Manager is someone who is responsible for records management in an organisation. The practice of records management may involve:
- Planning the information needs of an organization
- Identifying information requiring capture
- Creating, approving, and enforcing policies and practices regarding records, including their organization and disposal
- Developing a records storage plan, which includes the short and long-term housing of physical records and digital information
- Identifying, classifying, and storing records
- Coordinating access to records internally and outside of the organization, balancing the requirements of business confidentiality, data privacy, and public access.
- Executing a retention policy on the disposal of records which are no longer required for operational reasons; according to organizational policies, statutory requirements, and other regulations this may involve either their destruction or permanent preservation in an archive.
Records management principles and automated records management systems aid in the capture, classification, and ongoing management of records throughout their lifecycle. Such a system may be paper based (such as index cards as used in a library), or may be a computer system, such as an electronic records management application.
- ISO 15489:2001 states that records management includes:
- setting policies and standards;
- assigning responsibilities and authorities;
- establishing and promulgating procedures and guidelines;
- providing a range of services relating to the management and use of records;
- designing, implementing and administering specialized systems for managing records; and
- integrating records management into business systems and processes.
- Managing physical records
Managing physical records involves different disciplines and may draw on a variety of forms of expertise.Records must be identified and authenticated. This is usually a matter of filing and retrieval; in some circumstances, more careful handling is required.
- Identifying records
If an item is presented as a legal record, it needs to be authenticated. Forensic experts may need to examine a document or artifact to determine that it is not a forgery, and that any damage, alteration, or missing content is documented. In extreme cases, items may be subjected to a microscope, x-ray, radiocarbon dating or chemical analysis. This level of authentication is rare, but requires that special care be taken in the creation and retention of the records of an organization.
- Storing records
Records must be stored in such a way that they are accessible and safeguarded against environmental damage. A typical paper document may be stored in a filing cabinet in an office. However, some organisations employ file rooms with specialized environmental controls including temperature and humidity. Vital records may need to be stored in a disaster-resistant safe or vault to protect against fire, flood, earthquakes and conflict. In extreme cases, the item may require both disaster-proofing and public access. Civil engineers may need to be consulted to determine that the file room can effectively withstand the weight of shelves and file cabinets filled with paper; historically, some military vessels were designed to take into account the weight of their operating procedures on paper as part of their ballastequation(modern record-keeping technologies have transferred much of that information to electronic storage). In addition to on-site storage of records, many organizations operate their own off-site records centers or contract with commercial records centers.
- Circulating records
Tracking the record while it is away from the normal storage area is referred to as circulation. Often this is handled by simple written recording procedures. However, many modern records environments use a computerized system involving bar code scanners, or radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) to track movement of the records. These can also be used for periodic auditing to identify unauthorized movement of the record.
- Disposal of records
Disposal of records does not always mean destruction. It can also include transfer to a historical archive, museum, or private individual. Destruction of records ought to be authorized by law, statute, regulation, or operating procedure, and the records should be disposed of with care to avoid inadvertent disclosure of information. The process needs to be well-documented, starting with a records retention schedule and policies and procedures that have been approved at the highest level. An inventory of the records disposed of should be maintained, including certification that they have been destroyed. Records should never simply be discarded as refuse. Most organizations use processes including pulverization, paper shredding or incineration.
Commercially available products can manage records through all processes active, inactive, archival, retention scheduling and disposal. Some also utilizes RFID technology for the tracking of the physical file.
- Managing electronic records
The general principles of records management apply to records in any format. Digital records (almost always referred to as electronic records) raise specific issues. It is more difficult to ensure that the content, context and structure of records is preserved and protected when the records do not have a physical existence.
Particular concerns exist about the ability to access and read electronic records over time, since the rapid pace of change in technology can make the software used to create the records obsolete, leaving the records unreadable. A considerable amount of research is being undertaken to address this, under the heading of digital preservation. The Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) located in Melbourne, Australia published the Victorian Electronic Records Strategy (VERS) which includes a standard for the preservation, long-term storage and access to permanent electronic records. The VERS standard has been adopted by all Victorian Government departments. A digital archive has been established by PROV to enable the general public to access permanent records.
- Electronic Tax Records
Electronic Tax Records are computer-based/non-paper versions of records required by tax agencies like the Internal Revenue Service. There is substantial confusion about what constitutes acceptable digital records for the IRS, as the concept is relatively new. The subject is discussed in Publication 583 and Bulletin 1997-13, but not in specific detail.
Businesses and individuals wishing to convert their paper records into scanned copies may be at risk if they do so. For example, it is unclear if an IRS auditor would accept a .jpg, .png, or .pdf format scanned copy of a purchase receipt for a deducted expense item.