National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Electronic Records Management Systems

Electronic Records Management Systems

An Electronic Records Management (ERM) System is a computer program or set of programs designed to track and store records. The software can be used to manage the creation and maintenance of records within classification schemes, apply retention and disposal schedules, and control access and use.

An ERM system should be able to capture records created by an organisation's business systems and applications. The system should capture a record, along with any associated metadata, and categorise it within a classification scheme. Electronic records do not have the same implicit metadata as physical records so the extent of metadata that needs to be attributed to them is greater. An electronic record can be made up of many distinct parts or digital objects and the system used to manage them must be able to preserve all of those objects and reconstruct them as an authentic and reliable replica of the original record.

Overview of the Development of ERM Systems

ERM systems have evolved over the last two decades. Early Electronic Document Management (EDM) systems, which were developed to manage the increasing use of electronic documents in office environments, included little records management functionality. The National Archives (TNA) produced a set of functional requirements for ERM systems in 1999 in order to promote the development of ERM software. These identified as core requirements: the ability to declare a document as an authentic record, protect it from changes and maintain it over time; the ability to organise and manage records within a classification scheme; the ability to manage retention and disposal of records; and the ability to control access and maintain an auditable track of actions taken. In 2001 the European Commission published a more detailed set of requirements named MoReq.

Separate ERM systems without active document management could be implemented, but for organisations that wanted to integrate records management alongside document management, suppliers developed Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRM) systems. The UK Government's 'Modernising Government' White Paper published in 1999 proposed that all dealings with government should be deliverable electronically by 2008. The Government’s revision of this target date to 2004, coupled with the introduction of Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation, sparked a sharp increase in demand within the public sector for ERM and EDRM systems.

The TNA requirements were revised in 2002 to include a metadata standard, but TNA withdrew their associated testing regime for software in 2005 to make way for an updated version of MoReq, which was published as MoReq2 in 2008. Compliance testing for MoReq2 was launched the same year, but to date only one supplier has submitted a system for testing.

In the interim the momentum created by Modernising Government and FoI subsided and a global recession took hold. These factors, along with the release and take up of Microsoft's SharePoint software for Web Content Management (WCM) and EDM, now created a downturn in demand for EDRM systems. SharePoint engaged users, who disliked working within the rigid structure of an EDRMS, by allowing them to create content and collaborate at a team level. However, the records management capability in SharePoint 2007 was negligible. In SharePoint 2010 records management has improved with the ability to declare a record within a team site, using 'In-Place', and to configure a classification scheme, but it is still limited. Acknowledging the rising popularity of SharePoint, many ERM suppliers have adapted their solutions so that they can integrate with it.

Many organisations which had implemented EDRM continued to maintain separate applications to manage business processes which could not be easily integrated.

In 2008 the International Council on Archives (ICA) published its Principles and Functional Requirements for Records in Electronic Office Environments (ICA-Req) in three inter-related modules. Module 1 provided an overview and first principles, module 2 a set of requirements for EDRMS and module 3 a set of requirements and implementation advice for managing records in business systems. While modules 1 and 2 represent a condensation of received knowledge, module 3 recognises that electronic recordkeeping does not have to be limited to EDRM. In 2011 the ICA-Req were accepted as an international standard (ISO 16175).

At the same time the European Union was supporting work by the DLM Forum to develop a new modular standard, MoReq2010, which was published in 2011. MoReq2010 also recognises that in many organisations records are rarely managed within one system. Whereas MoReq2 sought to specify an ERMS in which all of an organisation's records could be managed, MoReq2010 instead defines a common set of core services that are shared by different types of records systems and describes the minimum functionality required of a compliant system. MoReq2010 is modular in approach and will be extended with further modules on specific record formats. The MoReq Governance Board also intends to introduce a testing and certification programme for suppliers.

Enterprise Content Management

Increasingly organisations are seeking a framework of software that can support all their needs for content, document, records management and collaboration. Suppliers have responded by developing integrated Enterprise Content Management (ECM) solutions.

AIIM (The Global Community of Information Professionals) defines Enterprise Content Management as 'the strategies, methods and tools used to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. ECM covers the management of information within the entire scope of an enterprise whether that information is in the form of a paper document, an electronic file, a database print stream, or even an email.'

Cimtech has identified three broad categories of suppliers serving the ECM market today:

Point Solutions - suppliers offering software pitched at small to medium organisations to address a specific challenge - EDM, WCM, digital image management, and archiving solutions.

EDRM Suites - suppliers offering EDRM Suites which combine document capture, document management, records management and often business process management (BPM) functions. These are aimed at meeting all the document and records management requirements of a large organisation operating within a regulatory framework that necessitates a high level of records management. EDRM Suites can usually integrate with collaboration and WCM software, including SharePoint.

ECM Framework - suppliers offering an ECM Framework integrating a wider range of software to embrace document, content, records, web content and knowledge management, collaboration tools and BPM tools.

Selecting an ERM System

There are numerous software solutions marketed by suppliers to help organisations improve how they manage their electronic information and carry out their business. The type of ERM solution your organisation may choose to adopt should be determined by your range of business activities and the types of records you want to create and share. It will also be influenced by your sector and the regulatory framework within which your organisation operates. You should have a clear idea of how the solution will fit within your organisation and be sure that the technical architecture meets your business requirements.

It is important that records management is built in to any solution at an early stage. It is counter productive to take a reactive approach to records management. Effective records management will not only ensure that you meet any legal and regulatory obligations, but will also improve how your organisation operates by making it easier to locate and retrieve information and conduct business. The benefits are attained not only from the successful implementation of an effective ERM solution, but in maintaining it over time.

ICA Req (see our section Standards and Requirements for Electronic Records Management) provides a set of functional requirements against which ERM systems can be measured. The requirements identify the core functions, and specific processes and actions within these functions, which systems must perform in order to meet international records management standards.

For organisations that share information across sectors, consideration should also be given to the interoperability of systems and their continuing ability to exchange data in a semantically interoperable manner. A key element of the Scottish Government's Public Service Reform programme is the collaboration and integration of services. Shared Services is about more than just the centralisation or consolidation of similar activities in one location, it is the convergence and streamlining of similar functions within an organisation, or across organisations, to ensure that they are delivered as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Legacy and proprietary systems can prove a barrier to collaborative working due to the difficulty of integrating and upgrading existing systems to support new service models. One of the challenges to overcome is the continued use of information silos where communication takes place only vertically within departments rather than across organisations and sectors.

In order to determine what ERM solution will work best within your organisation you will need to carry out an investigation and risk assessment of your business activities and related record creation and use the findings to draw up a specification of requirements. The worst approach would be to buy software and then try to work out what you can use it for. Instead you need to establish a clear picture of what your business and record keeping requirements are at the outset and then look to identify a solution which can meet them. Public sector organisations will usually follow procurement guidelines and select a solution as part of a tender process. The solution you do end up procuring should then be implemented and rolled out as part of a carefully planned project which embraces the whole organisation.

Useful Resources

The International Records Management Trust's'Planning and Managing an Electronic Records Management Programme' (Module 2 of their Training in Electronic Records Management) includes a unit on 'Selecting and implementing ERM Software Systems'.

The International Records Management Trust's Training in Electronic Records Management programme includes guidance on 'Integrating Records Management in ICT Systems Good Practice Indicators'  which is designed to help governments determine whether or not records management requirements have been integrated in ICT systems.

Cimtech's 'Managing Information and Records Guide' ( 2.4 MB PDF) has been designed to help organisations plan their information management requirements. It provides guidance on the development of policies and procedures and information and records management tools, and a checklist of points to consider before implementing a solution.

Chapter 3 provides 'A guide to the Solution Options for Information and Records Management'

Chapter 5 provides a methodology for 'Designing and Implementing an Information and Records Management Solution'.

(Cimtech is an independent commercial information management consultancy owned by the University of Hertfordshire)

The National Archives has published a guide to ‘Migrating information between EDRMS’. (295 KB PDF)

The National Archives has also published a review of 'Records management in SharePoint 2010 : implication and issues'  (169 KB PDF) which addresses specific issues with the implementation of records management in SharePoint.

Moray Council have produced guidance on the use of naming conventions and version control in their SharePoint 2010 implementation.

Guidelines for Naming Conventions and Version Control (104 KB PDF)

The National Archives of Australia's website hosts a series of records management publications and tools, which while in parts are specific to the Australian government framework, may prove useful. These include a number of documents on implementing an EDRMS.

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