What are the Drivers of Electronic Records Management (ERM)?
Records can be vital to the business. That means the management of records is something that needs great care, attention, and planning. Although not a new concept, the game has somewhat changed in recent years as the way records are created and what is considered a record has evolved.
Virtually all new records are created electronically today – they are what we call “born digital.” Whether a record is in the format of a letter, an email, fax, a web, or other transaction, the chances are today that it originally was created with one or more computers. This is a situation that has crept up on us relatively fast and unnoticed by some organizations in records management terms at least.
But, it’s not just a change from paper to digital that’s driving the momentum for Electronic Records Management (ERM).
Today, we’ll look at the four main business drivers to ERM: compliance, effectiveness, efficiency, and continuity. These combine, in different proportions, to make the business case for ERM in most organizations. Let’s dig into each of these drivers one at a time.
The main business driver for ERM over the past few years has been Compliance. This is a rather vague and sometimes all‐encompassing term that means different things in different settings. Organizations of different types have all sorts of requirements that they need to comply with. These requirements stem from:
- Good practice.
Note that the kinds of compliance on this list present a real mix of different issues – laws are very different from good practice, for example. And, as another example, adherence to standards is frequently not policed, whereas adherence to regulations usually is policed more stringently.
By effectiveness, I mean ‘doing things better’ and doing things in a way that is more sensible for the business or organization, but without necessarily saving money. Better effectiveness can improve a business’ competitiveness or can improve an organization’s reputation and image. Examples of effectiveness ERM brings can include:
- Not Losing Records: once a record is correctly stored in an ERM system, it can never get lost. With any paper‐based system or informal storage system for electronic records, a small proportion of records inevitably do get lost, causing staff to lose time and waste effort looking for them.
- Sharing Records: ERM systems allow several users to read a record at once, whereas with paper records, only one person can.
- Finding Records Easily: ERM systems typically offer a multitude of ways to find specific records or correspondence items. For example, you can usually search on the text content of records, on author name, recipient name, title, and so on.
- Getting the Complete Picture: So long as everything you need has been correctly filed, there need never be any doubt that the set of records you retrieve in response to a query is complete and up to date (naturally, if some records are not filed correctly, then no system can help; though even here an ERM system can provide some assistance, by providing a full text search facility).
The third driver is efficiency. Here, the focus is on reducing costs and saving money. Note that I’ve listed this driver after effectiveness; that is because most often the implementation of an ERM Environment is not justified or driven by cost savings alone.
The main drivers and benefits for ERM efficiency are:
- Accessing Records Quickly: All the records stored in an ERM system are accessible within seconds because they are held in a computer and because they are well indexed.
- Space Savings: This usually happens because filing cabinets, or space set aside for archiving, gets filled up. The effect is highly dependent on individual organizations’ circumstances – for example, the prospect of building or renting a new file store is a much more convincing driver than the need to buy a few more filing cabinets.
- Reduced Document Handling Costs: In some settings, there are significant costs for staff to file records, retrieve them, move them to where they are needed and back again, re‐ file them, and periodically dispose of old records. This too, can sometimes provide a driver.
The final driver is business continuity – that is, being able to recover records after a disaster. As we are all aware, there are all sorts of disasters that can affect any organization, from natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, through accidents such as fires, to man‐made disasters such as terrorist attacks and alerts. A disaster can destroy a building and all the records in it; or, almost as bad, it can deny access to the building and its records for an extended period.
Why is this relevant to ERM: simply because businesses tend to fail if they lose their records (or access to them). A business without its records typically cannot survive. Without access to details of its clients, suppliers, part‐completed transactions, and so on, businesses tend to fail ‐ sometimes within days. Government organizations may survive, but will not be able to discharge their obligations, usually for periods much longer than the loss of the records. Electronic storage of records allows records to be recovered, even following the loss of the building, or buildings, in which they are stored.
Not All Drivers Are Positive, But the Benefits Are Endless
Outside of these generally positive drivers, there is another important factor which has caused awareness of how important record keeping can be. This has come about as a direct result of high‐profile governance failures, in both the commercial world and the public sector.
Numerous corporate failures, and possibly less visible, but highly embarrassing (and sometimes costly) failures in government shone a spotlight on the need for good record keeping ‐ and that means keeping electronic records, as just explained.
The inevitable result has been an increase in government laws and regulations that require organizations to keep and manage records better.
The bottomline is no matter what drives your organization to develop a strategy for ERM initially, the long-term benefits to your business make it a worthy endeavor.