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Definition on Records Management and a brief history of its evolution.
What is Electronic Records Management (ERM)?
Like many processes of 'management', the origins of records management go back to a company or
organisations need to store a given number of 'items of information' for later evidential retrieval. Records could
be anything from contracts, to invoices to complaints – in short anything that a company may need to keep for
later recollection or confirmation of certain events. Policies and procedures are put in place to manage the life
cycle of the record from creation to final expiry and destruction and ensure that a full information trail is
available of every aspect of the process. The policies and procedures determine the way in which a record is
captured, maintained and how access is provided to the record during its entire life cycle.
Before the days of Electronic Records Management, the process would typically involve documents in
hardcopy form being stored manually using an index of docket books for reference and retrieval. Items that
were considered ‘safe’ to archive and/or expire would have typically been moved to microfilm.
The same proliferation of information that could be seen as creating the need for Document Management
systems, also led to a need to evolve a better way of managing records – as companies struggled to reduce
the ever increasing overheads associated with traditional Records Management methods (it was not
uncommon for entire buildings to be dedicated to the storage of records).
Initially, the Document Management vendors were so focused on managing active or current documents that
were moving around an organisation, that few had the extended ability to provide for the needs of records
managers. Furthermore, whilst DM software focused almost exclusively on the creation and storage of
electronic documents – records could come into the system in a number of ways including hardcopy paper
format – which meant that a hybrid solution that managed both paper and electronic information was needed.
When Electronic Records Management did arrive, it was chaotic and unregulated, which resulted in very
different approaches to storing the records. The lack of standards and best practices was dealt with in most
countries by the introduction of ‘bodies’ who were instrumental in a common agreed best approach to ERM. In
the United Kingdom – the Public Record Office (PRO) – which is now called the National Archives – were
responsible for getting all the central government bodies together and agreeing a common approach to ERM.
The European Union subsequently picked up on the work done by the PRO – and in true European style –
created an even more detailed set of guidelines and requirements for Electronic Records Management - which
are still used today as a 'standard' within the public sector.
Many Document Management vendors who had previously ignored the need for Records Management, either
purchased existing RM suppliers - or adapted their own DM solutions to also cover the management of
Whilst only a handful of suppliers have PRO approval and meet the stringent guidelines set down – there are
many other solutions out there that provide records management capability – if not to the same high level.
The trick is for an organisation to determine whether it needs the higher levels of record control or not and
select a solution accordingly.
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