Managing Electronic Records
May 13, 2005
John Breeden, CRM
Third in the Missouri Electronic Records Education and Training Initiative (MERETI) workshop series
Note: Click on the to watch the instructor discuss key points. The number refers to the corresponding slide in the accompanying PowerPoint presentation and handout.
In this mid level course, John Breeden provides a wide survey of the issues involved in managing electronic records, and sets the stage for the more focused workshops to follow in the MERETI series. Included in the day’s discussions are the business and legal considerations that require electronic records management, the types of electronic records that are created and tips for managing them, and the technology and equipment used to create, store, and access electronic records. Mr. Breeden also looks at the design and implementation of a good electronic recordkeeping system, and the roles played by records managers and information technology managers in the management of electronic records.
There are many benefits to an organization of managing electronic records effectively, and likewise many consequences of not managing them well. 3 Besides the business necessity to have the right information available to workers at the right time, there are legal requirements on government agencies that mandate good electronic recordkeeping, at the federal, state, and local level. Guidelines for fashioning an effective records management program can be found in the Records Management standard ISO 15489, parts 1 and 2. (See Resources)
In many respects, electronic records follow the same records management principles as paper records or other formats. But their reliance on technology to be useful requires extra considerations to manage them effectively and for long periods of time.
The most common forms of electronic records include documents, databases 30, images, presentations, spreadsheets, emails and instant messaging. Databases and spreadsheets can be either flat (two-dimensional) files or relational (linking fields in relationships among two or more tables). The nature and format of an electronic record is often indicated by its three-digit file extension. (See Common File Extensions) The status of websites as official records was not covered in this workshop.
Not all electronic systems are electronic recordkeeping systems. Electronic recordkeeping systems uniquely capture, classify, and identify records in order to ensure that their content, structure, and context of creation is fixed in time and space. To fully manage electronic records effectively, a system must have the following functionality:
- Capture – not only the content of the record in whatever format, but also the structure and context of the records
- Classify the records according to a records retention schedule, which groups similar records according to their business function 59
- Identify the record with a unique identifier to indicate its business classification and ensure its unique integrity
- Maintain records in their original context, until they can be legally destroyed or transferred to the State Archives
- Protect with access controls, audit trails, and location tracking
- Ensure retention and disposition according to the retention schedule, and document destruction of records
- Transfer/migration of records due to organizational reorganizations or required upgrades caused by new technologies
- Dissemination – ability to search, retrieve, and deliver records to authorized users
- Administration – access available to system administrators, both IT and Records Management, to manage components of the system
Mr. Breeden provided an in-depth look at the design plans for the National Archives and Records Administration’s Electronic Records Archives to illustrate the recordkeeping capabilities that a system must have.
He provided a step-by-step outline, based on ISO 15489, of how to design and implement an electronic recordkeeping system. Although the ideal time to do this is at the earliest stage of acquiring a system, it can also be done whenever there is a significant technology upgrade, reorganization, or other change. 83-85 A key part of the process is thoroughly analyzing the work processes and information flows being automated. 91 The IT managers and Records Managers have to collaborate together with the program managers in designing the system. 93
Implementing a new electronic recordkeeping system requires a detailed project plan, documented policies, procedures, and standards, and employee training materials. The process to convert old data into the new system must be carefully planned. 104 System testing and acceptance testing procedures must be established, and reports must be made to management.
The operational considerations that must be included in the design of a system include environmental controls, user access control and security practices, proper storage media for the system 111, use of metadata to describe and classify the electronic records, linking and preserving relationships among various documents that are part of the same record, maintaining version control over various renditions of records, and establishing and maintaining security markings and other classification markings.
There is a wide variety of metadata elements that are essential to the smooth operation of an electronic recordkeeping system. 118 Much of the metadata is added to a record automatically by the software, and will vary from one format of record to another, but some must be added by the end user. 125
In the absence of a full scale electronic recordkeeping system, agencies are still required to take steps to manage the electronic records created and used by the agency. The most important step in meeting this responsibility is to conduct an inventory and determine what electronic records the agency has. The inventory should be as detailed as possible 134, so that the existing systems and electronic records can be analyzed and appraised on a retention schedule.
Agencies should avoid maintaining official electronic records on desktop PCs, but should control them in a central repository. Agencies must provide a way for electronic records to be totally destroyed at the end of their retention period, which should include user concurrence before records are destroyed, procedures to overwrite storage media rather than just removing pointers, and avoiding storing records of mixed retentions on fixed media.
Mr. Breeden ended by again emphasizing the important role that the program manager, the IT manager, and the records manager each play in the design and implementation of an effective electronic records management system, and the need for all to collaborate throughout the entire process.