National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Starting Points for Electronic Records Management

Starting Points for Electronic Records Management

Whether you are taking simple measures to improve how you manage electronic records or seeking to implement a wide-ranging electronic records management solution you need to have a clear vision from the outset of what you hope to achieve at the end of the process. A project with articulate objectives based on thorough investigation and careful planning is more likely to have a successful outcome.

It is essential to acquire a comprehensive understanding of how your organisation operates. In order to identify the most practical approach for managing your organisation's records you need to fully understand your business activities and processes. It is counterproductive to implement a records system which has not been designed for the purposes you want to use it for. You need to find out how your staff work and collaborate, and how they create and share records. People, processes and systems should be closely linked.

Success is dependent on engaging the whole organisation in a project. There needs to be senior management buy-in and the new records management system needs to be introduced as part of a change management programme. Organisational approaches to implementing new electronic management systems will vary, but it is important that they have a records management focus and are not isolated as an information technology concern.

Digital Continuity

If records have been created electronically it makes sense to continue to manage them within an electronic environment. If you are going to do this then you will need to be sure that your organisation is capable of keeping authentic electronic records for as long as they are required. If your records have an ongoing corporate or legal value or are of longer term historical and cultural research interest then you need to be able to maintain them in a secure environment and have in place a strategy to ensure continued access by converting or migrating the records to mitigate the risk of records becoming inaccessible or obsolescent over time.

The ability to continue to use your electronic information in the way you need, for as long as you need is known as digital continuity. Your policy for electronic records management needs to incorporate a strategy for maintaining digital continuity, which anchors the concept firmly within your existing business processes and helps you identify and manage potential risks. Fundamentally the best way to achieve digital continuity is to make sure that your electronic records are well managed from the point of creation.

Legal Admissibility and Evidential Weight

You will also need to determine whether any of the electronic records your organisation creates have to meet standards of legal admissibility. If you operate within a statutory or regulatory framework then you may be required to demonstrate that a record has evidential weight. In order to prove the authenticity and accuracy of your records you will need to be able to show, at a minimum, that the system you use to manage them is capable of declaring a record by 'freezing' its content at a specific moment in time to prevent further changes and that it is able to maintain an audit trail for that record. Clear guidance on the actions you will need to undertake to ensure that your management of electronic records complies with standards of legal admissibility is provided by the British Standards code of practice: BIP 0008-1:2008 Evidential Weight and Legal Admissibility of Information Stored Electronically.

Investigation and Risk Analysis

Consideration should be given to all of these issues when you carry out a preliminary investigation of how your organisation operates and creates its electronic records. Your investigation needs to identify the potential risks to digital continuity if actions to improve how you manage electronic information are not taken. Once you have a clear understanding of your record keeping requirements you should find it easier to identify a suitable approach and build a business case. If you are intending to implement an electronic records management system then a risk-based project properly aligned to business objectives is more likely to deliver a well designed system appropriate to your organisation's ambitions. There are also more simple steps you can initially take to improve how you manage your electronic records. These actions should also serve to better position your organisation for transition to a full electronic records management system at a later stage.

Useful Resources

The National Archives have produced a suite of guidance about digital continuity, including a 'Digital Continuity Risk Assessment Handbook' and two self-assessment tools, which can be used to help assess and manage risks.

The IRMT (International Records Management Trust) 'Planning and Managing an Electronic Records Management Programme' (Module 2 of their Training in Electronic Records Management materials) includes a unit on developing a business case.

Cimtech's 'Managing Information and Records Guide' 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 5 provides a methodology for 'Designing and Implementing an Information and Records Management Solution', while chapter 6 focuses on 'Making the Business Case'.

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

AC+erm was a project run by Northumbria University to investigate and critically explore issues and practical strategies to support accelerating the pace of positive change in managing electronic records. The final report is available on the project website. Another project output 'Systematic Literature Review: Technology Aspects' has identified key success factors in diverse ERMS implementations.

The Records Management Section of the University of Edinburgh has published guidance on electronic records and legal admissibility in two parts: a high level summary of the issues accompanied by more detailed explanatory guidance, taking in current understanding of the law and best practice requirements.

If you encounter difficulties opening linked websites listed on this page please contact us at [email protected].