Records management has been around for as long as there have been businesses and governments. In a business environment, it can be defined as the safekeeping of any document or record of communication related to a business transaction.
What constitutes a record for one organization or business may not be the same for the next organization. Much of the definition of a record for a particular organization depends on what industry (or area of government) it is in and what regulations govern it.
The National Archives describes government records as “all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine-readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business.”
A good general definition of what constitutes a business record can be found in Section 803(6) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. It says that business records are “Records of regularly conducted activity. A memorandum, report, record or data compilation, in any form, of acts, events, conditions, opinions or diagnoses, made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge, if kept in the course of a regularly conducted business activity, and if it was the regular practice of that business activity to make the memorandum, report, record or data compilation.”
In today’s world, records can take many forms. They can include paper documents, electronically created documents, e-mails, information from Web transactions, and more. Although paper has historically been the most common media for records, in recent years electronic records have grown to far outstrip paper. The U.S. federal government even launched a $19B incentive program a few years back to encourage more adoption of electronic healthcare records.
As a result, the market has never been riper for the implementation of eRecords management solutions. eRecords systems can be used to manage both paper and electronic records (as well as images of paper records). They have two primary purposes:
Making the records accessible to authorized personnel
Ensuring records are disposed of at the end of their lifecycle
Document vs. Records Management
Document management systems can include records management functionality, but do not necessarily have to. The main purpose of document management may be to improve efficiencies. These efficiencies may involve improving records management processes, but not all document management systems offer records management capabilities.
Some key features to look for in a e-records management system:
The ability to handle multiple types of records
The ability to create unique identifiers for each record
The ability to control access by individual and group definitions of both user and document classes
The ability to prevent unauthorized and unrecorded changes to documents
Audit trail capabilities to track who is accessing documents
The ability to apply retention periods to records and securely, effectively, and regularly dispose of them when their lifecycle is complete, because keeping records past their required time period and inconsistent disposal practices can be hazardous in e-discovery situations related to legal matters
In addition to these basic principals, certain industries have specific records management regulations that VARs and end-users must be aware of. Healthcare has HIPAA, which is designed to ensure privacy. Broker/dealers have SEC 17a-4, which governs retention of communications records. Many government agencies adhere to DoD 5015.02, and there is even a government agency that certifies that records management software meets this standard. These standards can contain both software and hardware requirements, as some applications call for WORM (write once read many) storage media.
Overall, when implementing records management, be aware of the best practices for the industry that your customer is in. If you follow these guidelines and ensure your customer is managing its records in a consistent manner that is in line with its industry standards, you will potentially be saving the client a lot of headaches and legal fees (and quite possibly jail time) down the road.