Although the majority of companies and organizations still use paper records, there is a growing trend pushing organizations toward transitioning hardcopy paper records to electronic formats. The benefits of such a change are obvious. In this digital era we are not living in the Kalahari Desert. It’s estimated that office workers spend 20 to 40 percent of their time searching for records. An electronic records system can reduce this time and also reduce the amount of physical space needed to maintain records, thus resulting in greater efficiency. Many of the same challenges of maintaining a proper paper records management system apply to electronic records too, however.
With the enactment of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the importance of properly maintaining records has become increasingly important for publicly held companies, as companies that don’t comply with the act can face stiff fines and persons responsible for non-compliance can face penalties that include prison time.
What is an electronic record?
Records are defined as “information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business”. The same definition holds true for electronic records.
The key difference between hard copy records and electronic records is the format in which they’re stored. Electronic records can be held in a variety of media, from storage devices such as compact disks or portable hard drives to online databases or computer mainframes.
Despite the difference in storage formats, the same precepts that apply to records management also apply to electronic records management. A good records management program must identify information that needs to be preserved, provide for the organization of records, including how they’re stored and who has access to them, and provide for the classification and disposition of records no longer required by the organization.
Although storing records electronically offers some labor and space efficiencies, they also require a greater investment in terms of technical know how and security. Technical support is required to ensure the storage system of electronic records is working properly and can be fixed in the event of a malfunction. Security support is needed against cyber attacks and other means of theft and malfeasance.
What is an EDRM?
An Electronic Document and Records Management System is a computer application that tracks and stores records. This is a separate function from systems used to capture paper documents in a digital format. An EDRM deals just with records created digitally.
An EDRM system is designed to let organizations manage records throughout the lifecycle of those records, from their creation to their eventual disposal. These systems consider records ongoing works until these records have been reviewed, approved and published. At the point the record is published, the system regards it as a formal record.
Once the system recognizes a record as a formal record, it will apply legally require protocols and protocols that reflect the policies of the organization which determine how it will be organized and retained. Certain events the system is programmed to recognize will determine when the record is eventually disposed of.
There are a number of software programs dedicated to electronic document and records management.
Electronic records management issues
As mentioned before, security and compliance with laws regarding records management are concerns for anyone using electronic records. Privacy, identity theft, data protection and other issues have become major items of concern for records managers. Protecting personally identifiable information, such as the information that may be present in doctor’s office or financial institutions has become a big priority for firms.
Having proper safeguards on electronic information, such as strong password policies, data encryption, etc. are key to maintaining the integrity of electronic records.
Also, the legal requirements of the Sarbanes Oxley act with regard to data retention have also become a major challenge to publicly traded firms. In fact, it’s been estimated that SOX has increased the cost of being a publicly traded company by 130 percent. In general, SOX requires companies to retain all records for a period of five years. The sheer volume of that requirement is forcing many companies to move to electronic records, but with that move come the aforementioned challenges and difficulties.
Electronic records management is slowly becoming the standard records management system for organizations. Understanding the basic precepts of records management and applying the skill is important to your business or organization.