| Good records management is essential
for any corporate body to function effectively. The National Archives
of Scotland (NAS) is regularly asked for advice on records management
by all sorts of bodies. Below is an introduction to records management
- What is records management?
- Why is records management
- The benefits of records
- The principles of good
- The definition of 'document'
What is records management?
Records management is the systematic control of an organisation's
records, throughout their life cycle, in order to meet operational
business needs, statutory and fiscal requirements, and community expectations.
Effective management of corporate information allows fast, accurate
and reliable access to records, ensuring the timely destruction of
redundant information and the identification and protection of vital
and historically important records.
Why is records management necessary?
Information is every organisation's most basic and essential asset,
and in common with any other business asset, recorded information
requires effective management. Records management ensures information
can be accessed easily, can be destroyed routinely when no longer
needed, and enables organisations not only to function on a day to
day basis, but also to fulfil legal and financial requirements. The
preservation of the records of government for example, ensures it
can be held accountable for its actions, that society can trace the
evolution of policy in historical terms, and allows access to an important
resource for future decision making.
Legislation is increasingly underlining the importance of good
records management, in addition to being sound business practice.
Compliance with Acts such as Freedom of Information and Data Protection
is underpinned by effective records management: without properly organised
and retrievable records, requests for information governed by statutory
response timescales will be impossible to service. Indeed, section
61 of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 is the 'Code
of practice as to the keeping, management and destruction of records'.
Organisations are also producing increasingly large amounts of information
and consequently greater volumes of records, in both paper and electronic
form. It is essential that information is captured, managed and
preserved in an organised system that maintains its integrity and
authenticity. Records management facilitates control over the volume
of records produced through the use of disposal schedules, which
detail the time period for which different types of record should
be retained by an organisation.
The growth in electronic communications and data, from emails to
databases, presents new challenges, but can be managed by the same
records management principles that are applied to paper documents.
Sound records management is also an essential basis for the transition
to EDRM (Electronic Document and Records Management) that many organisations
are embracing. In the public sector this has been driven in part
by E-government targets, where public services are to be made available
electronically. Where existing paper based systems are poorly managed,
current problems will simply be migrated to a new electronic system
unless they are addressed in the preparations for EDRM.
Modern society has rising expectations concerning the accessibility
of information. People now expect efficient and speedy responses
to requests for information, and a policy of 'open government' has
been followed and developed by several successive governments.
The benefits of records management
Systematic management of records allows organisations to:
- know what records they have, and locate them easily
- increase efficiency and effectiveness
- make savings in administration costs, both in staff time and
- support decision making
- be accountable
- achieve business objectives and targets
- provide continuity in the event of a disaster
- meet legislative and regulatory requirements, particularly as
laid down by the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act and the
Data Protection Act
- protect the interests of employees, clients and stakeholders
Records management offers tangible benefits to organisations, from
economic good practice in reducing storage costs of documents, to
enabling legislative requirements to be met. An unmanaged record
system makes the performance of duties more difficult, costs organisations
time, money and resources, and makes them vulnerable to security
breaches, prosecution and embarrassment. In an unmanaged records
environment, up to 10% of staff time is spent looking for information.
The dangers of corrupted records management have been illustrated
in recent years through scandals such as those at Enron in the USA,
which involved the destruction of vital records. Poor records management,
with the unintentional loss of documents, has caused embarrassment
to organisations from government departments to small businesses.
The importance of records can be put in context by events in South
Africa where records of the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission's hearing against President Botha about his actions during
the period of apartheid have been destroyed, and therefore details
of this historically important event lost forever in their original
The principles of good records management
The guiding principle of records management is to ensure that information
is available when and where it is needed, in an organised and efficient
manner, and in a well maintained environment. Organisations must ensure
that their records are:
It must be possible to prove that records are what they purport to
be and who created them, by keeping a record of their management through
time. Where information is later added to an existing document within
a record, the added information must be signed and dated. With electronic
records, changes and additions must be identifiable through audit
Records must accurately reflect the transactions that they document.
Records must be readily available when needed.
Records must be sufficient in content, context and structure to reconstruct
the relevant activities and transactions that they document.
Records must document the complete range of an organisation's business.
Records must comply with any record keeping requirements resulting
from legislation, audit rules and other relevant regulations.
Records must be maintained for specific purposes and the information
contained in them must meet those purposes. Records will be identified
and linked to the business process to which they are related.
Records must be securely maintained to prevent unauthorised access,
alteration, damage or removal. They must be stored in a secure environment,
the degree of security reflecting the sensitivity and importance of
the contents. Where records are migrated across changes in technology,
the evidence preserved must remain authentic and accurate.
The definition of 'document' and 'record'
In records management it is important to be clear about the difference
between a document and a record.
A document is any piece of written information in any form, produced
or received by an organisation or person. It can include databases,
website, email messages, word and excel files, letters, and memos.
Some of these documents will be ephemeral or of very short-term value
and should never end up in a records management system (such as invitations
Some documents will need to be kept as evidence of business transactions,
routine activities or as a result of legal obligations, such as policy
documents. These should be placed into an official filing system and
at this point, they become official records. In other words, all records
start off as documents, but not all documents will ultimately become