Poor or inadequate records management can have serious consequences for any organization. Some are immediate—the critical document created just a few days ago cannot be located. Other consequences are more long term and relate to the organization's ability to control and access important information over a series of years. The objective of any records management program is the retrieval and delivery of accurate information when and where it is needed in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible.
What is Records Management?
Records management is the process of controlling records from their creation to their ultimate disposition. As the principal source of information, records constitute a vital administrative tool with which the work of an organization is accomplished. Without records, an organization could not officially exist.
Why Records Management?
For too many organizations, records management is regarded as a minor administrative task. However, records are an asset, like human resources, financial resources, property, equipment, etc. Records support the services we provide at every level. Records management contributes to organizational efficiency, both by reducing costs associated with the records themselves and by providing supporting documentation when it becomes necessary.
There are many reasons why organizations need records management, some of which include:
- to control records creation and growth
- to reduce operating expenses
- to improve efficiency and productivity
- to assimilate new records management technologies
- to ensure regulatory compliance
- to minimize litigation risks
- to identify and protect vital information
- to support better management decision making
- to preserve the corporate memory
Components of a Records Management Program
The records inventory is a very important component in the development and implementation of a records management program. The records inventory is a complete and accurate survey of an organization’s file contents. This survey is accomplished by describing, quantifying, and recording information about the records so that they can be analyzed for retention, protection, and other purposes. It becomes the working document for preparing the records retention schedule, establishing the vital records protection program, and making other improvements to the records management program.
Records Retention Schedules
A records retention schedule is the most important single control document of any records management program. A records retention program will accelerate records retrieval, free expensive office space, reduce the cost of storing records, and eliminate duplicate records. A records retention program provides a timetable and consistent procedures for maintaining records, moving records to inactive storage when appropriate, and destroying records when they are no longer valuable to the organization.
Office space in most organizations is too expensive for the storage of inactive records, which are those records referred to infrequently–usually less than once a month per file drawer. Inactive records should be transferred to low-cost storage equipment in a low-cost storage facility or be converted to another medium. Centralized buildings or areas established for the storage and servicing of inactive or semiactive records are known as records centers. A properly designed, air-conditioned and humidity-controlled records center, using inexpensive steel shelving and approved fire-resistant cardboard cartons, can free costly office space, effect savings, and provide efficient reference service.
Vital Records Protection
Vital records contain information that is essential to reestablishing or continuing the operations of an organization in the event of a disaster. Loss of vital information can greatly impair the operating capabilities of any organization. Vital records must be protected from destruction.
Disaster Recovery Planning
Disaster recovery programs are conducted to salvage a local government’s vital records in the event of disaster. Adverse impact of disasters can be minimized by taking a preliminary survey of holdings and establishing a written disaster recovery plan to confer authority and identify the elements of a records salvage operation before a disaster occurs.