Systematic Records and Information management (RIM) practices are fundamental to the efficient and economical operations of any business / organization. Any business entity with an effective records and information management programs will have a number of benefits on its side amongst them being able to access essential records and re-establish critical business operations quickly in event of a disaster as well as meeting the requirements of compliance in today’s stringent business world.
Recorded information is without doubt one of the most important resources of the public and private business. Records are the tools with which government and private business is transacted. Without properly managed records, both current and non-current, an institutions “memory” would be greatly compromised. It is because of this realization that the government is keen to improve records and archives management as a strategic tool for good corporate governance.
Today, recorded information is the Life blood as well as corporate memory of virtually all organizations. Our ability to use information effectively can be either enhanced or diminished by the huge volumes of it that are available. While more information can lead to better decisions on the other hand, the volume of information must be matched with the ability to control and to provide access to it as needed. Because of its great VOLUME, POWER and IMPACT, the information resource is one that must be managed effectively to be of value. Records permit organizations to FUNCTION! If we accept that information must be managed to be usable, where do records fit into the picture?
To come to a proper understanding of records management it is necessary to understand the following:
- Meaning of term records
- Why records are created and kept
- Information life cycle concept
- Why records management is necessary
1.1 WHAT ARE RECORDS?
A record may be defined as any information captured in reproducible form that is required for conducting business. For anything to constitute a record, it must have been specifically created by or for the particular organisation using it. Thus to enhance the above definition a business record, must be defined as any information that is, recorded on any physical form or medium, generated or received and maintained by a business enterprise as evidence of its organization, functions, decisions, procedures, operations and internal/external transactions.
Records are preserved for two purposes:
- Information value contained in them – they provide knowledge of what happened, when, how and who did it.
- For evidence/proof of an organization legal existence, functions, activities and transactions. Records enable people and organizations to prove that actions have been taken, commitments entered into or obligations carried out.
Characteristics of a business record
Must be recorded and exist as a record i.e must be tangible and reproducible.
- Can exist in any medium.
- Must be evidence of a business transaction.
- Must contain information that is intelligible to more than one person I.e information in a record must be understood by more than one person.
Whilst records are created primarily to serve the creator or a specific audience beyond their primary use, access to many records is required for use by the public or by auditors and lawyers.
1.1.1 TYPES OF RECORDS
Records can be a variety of forms. Basically fall under three forms namely:
This is information recorded on any form of paper. Such a record is also referred to as hard copy.
- Business forms
- Letterhead stationery
- Index cards
- Purchase orders
- Blue prints
- Computer printouts
Microform – Based Records
- This is information recorded on any type of microform.
- These are hard-copy records that have been filmed and reduced in size on a special type of a film and using special type of cameras to capture the images.
- Such records are called micro images or microforms.
- Roll film
- Aperture cards
Electronic –Based Records
This is information recorded in a digital form.
- Computer tapes
- Floppy disks
- Magnetic tape
- Hard disks
- Magnetic card
- Optical disks
- Cassette tape
Digital data can also be stored internally in a computer (on-line) or externally (off-line) on floppy disks or other magnetic media.
1.2 WHY DO ORGANIZATIONS CREATE AND KEEP RECORDS
Records are created and received as soon as an institution/office begins to fill a specific function.
(I) To ensure that the functions of the institutions concerned are executed in a logical, responsible and consistent manner.
- Decisions, proceedings, transactions are recorded to serve as evidence of what was done and how it was done.
- Further action on a matter can then be based on what was done or decided in the past ensuring consistently and integrity of the institution.
(II) To protect the legal and financial rights and obligations.
- If rights and duties of an institution are not formulated and recorded clearly, the institution may be exposed to unjustified assertions and claims against which it cannot readily defend itself and it may suffer loss as a consequence.
- Hence capture and retain minutes, agreements, contracts etc
(III) Exercising control over activities
- Records will show proceedings of an event or function or transaction.
- Brings about accountability of actions.
(IV) Execution of line functions
- Institutions are established to render services to the public and/ or other bodies
- In the process, records are created to make information available to their clients or to enable execution of functions.
- Such records include directives, guidelines, publications, maps, plans or photographs on any medium.
(V) To keep a record of verbal transactions.
- Verbal agreements, discussions, meetings, telephone conversations have to be confirmed in records such as memoranda, reports or minutes.
1.3 CATEGORIES OF RECORDS FOUND IN ORGANIZATIONS
Records provide the recipient with the information needed to transact an organization’s business. Such records can be categorized by their manner of utilization.
1.3.1 Administrative Records
Records created for documenting policy, procedures, guidelines.
- Audit reports
- Reports (research)
- Correspondence, general
- Correspondence, personnel
- Correspondence, purchase
- Systems and procedure records
- Telephone records
- Inventory, plant records
1.3.2 Accounting Records
Created for documenting accounting and fiscal use.
- Accounts receivable
- Accounts payable ledger
- Balance sheets
- Bank deposit records
- Bank statements
- Cash books
- Pay roll
- Stock ledger
- Fixed capital records
- Budget reports
- Petty cash
- Profit & Loss Statements
Created/received to document evidence of business transactions or legal decisions.
- Accident reports
- Injury claims
- Attendance records
Media schedules, activity reports
- Drawings and Artwork
- Market data and Surveys
- Annual reports
- Capital stock certificates
- Capital stock ledger
- Contracts, employee
- Dividend register
- Permits to do business
- Incorporation records
- Charters, constitution, by-laws e.t.c
1.4 THE RECORDS LIFE CYCLE
Records do not just appear from nowhere and put themselves on desks in file cabinets or in computer memories. People create them and put them there.
- Before the mid 20th Century this fact was not as obvious as it is today.
- The fact that records existed because someone had made a conscious effort to capture information in a reproducible form had never really been considered.
- Before this period the approach to records management was basically one of attempting to keep “track of it all”.
- In 1934, the records life-cycle concept was developed in the USA.
- Once this concept was accepted, record managers realized that some form of control could be exercised over these created records. This then led to the concept of the life cycle of the record.
- It dawned on people that if the creation of records could be controlled it would make the use, maintenance and disposition of records much less of a problem.
- The life cycle concept holds that recorded information has a “life” similar to that of a biological organism in that it is born (creation phase) it lives (maintenance and use phase) and it dies (disposition phase).
Within the creation phase there are elements such as forms, reports directives and correspondence. Maintenance and use phase (Active and Semi-current phases) are elements such as files, mail, communications appraisal, active storage, security and vital records.
- Disposition phase includes elements such as scheduling, appraisal, inactive storage in record centers, archival disposition and disposal.
- Inorder to achieve the objectives of record management, the records manager must ensure the correct application of the concept of the life cycle to all records in the organisation.
- The management of records through their life cycle ensures that vast quantities of inactive records do not clog up expensive office space and also provide for fast and efficient retrieval of information.
- The management of the life cycle of the record is the basic principle of records management.
1.4.1 PHASES OF LIFE CYCLE
(a) CREATION PHASE
This is the point at which information is collected and captured. Various ways may be used to create a record e.g writing a letter or memorandum, filling in a form, duplicating an existing record, taking a photograph, videotaping e.t.c. Different levels of effort are involved in creating these records. Thus before a record is created some thought should be given to the necessity of its existence. If it is unnecessary, it should not be created . 75% of the cost of information is consumed at this phase yet superfluous records are created unnecessarily in almost all organizations on daily basis.
- Why write a letter when a phone call can suffice
- Why complete a form in triplicate while only two copies are used.
- Reports are required even when the response is negative.
Little consideration is given to the most fundamental question:
IS IT NECESSARY TO CAPTURE THE INFORMATION IN REPRODUCIBLE FORM?
Records managers must therefore understand and guide the organization in determining what information must be captured and in what form. In some instances, the capture is not only desirable but absolutely imperative. For example, conclusion of treaties, contracts and mergers require adequate documentation. During this phase, the records are said to be active, are distributed to the action officers used, stored and maintained.
(b) SEMI-CURRENT PHASE
A records is said to be semi-current when its rate of reference dwindles. Appraisal is usually done and if the record is found to still have value to the creators or others is transferred to inactive storage – record centers. These transferred are referred to occasionally. Such records may be retained because they may possess valuable information for historical purposes. These are the records that are too old for the registries to keep and yet too young for the archives to take in.
Storing records in a well-run, low cost records center results in substantive monetary savings to an organisation through economical use of both equipment and space. In addition transferring inactive records to a records centre frees up valuable office floor space, which can be used more effectively than storing outdated records.
(c ) DISPOSITION PHASE
The final stage of a records life cycle concludes with either disposal or permanent storage. This is the stage when a record has become non current and no longer required for the conduct of current business. The disposition made of an inactive record will depend on the value of the information that it contains. Records found to possess enduring value (Archives) will be transferred to an archive for preservation, storage and making them available for research use. Those with no value will be disposed of using the acceptable disposal methods.
- A record can be disposed of at any point during its life cycle.
- Not all records will complete the “birth to death” cycle in the same order.
- Appraisal and disposition are records and archives management functions that must be carried out at all stages of a records life cycle.
1.5 WHAT IS RECORDS MANAGEMENT
- Having defined a record and its life cycle it’s not difficult to go one step further and define records management. Records management is defined as the systematic control placed over the life cycle of recorded information from creation to ultimate disposition or permanent storage of a record (Wallace 1992, Page 2). It is also defined as a logical and practical approach to the creation, maintenance, use and disposition of records and therefore of the information that those records contain (Penn et al 1994 Pg 67).
- Records Management entails designing and directing a programme aimed at achieving economy and efficiency in the creation, use, maintenance, retention, preservation and disposal of records. A viable and vibrant Record Management Programme enable an organization to CREATE, USE, MAINTAIN and DISPOSE OF RECORDS. It helps to maintain records economically and promotes efficiency by improved access to information.
- A well managed Record Management Programme ensures that current records are well maintained, easily retrieved and that records needed for long-term research needs are preserved while those of ephemeral nature are periodically destroyed to facilitate economical use of office space and equipment. Records Management is both a business function and a profession.
1.5.1 OBJECTIVES OF RECORDS MANAGEMENT
The principle aim of Records Management is to optimize the information value of records throughout an organization.
- To achieve this aim a RMP should have the following objectives.
- To furnish accurately, timely and complete information for efficient decision making in the management and operation of the organization.
- To process recorded information as efficiently as possible.
- To provide information and records at the lowest possible cost.
- To render maximum service to the user of the records.
- To dispose records that are no longer needed
1.6 WHY RECORDS MANAGEMENT IS NECESSARY
A close correlation exists between an institutions ability to operate sound and satisfactorily with the quality of its records management service. It is therefore practically impossible for a body to function purposefully if its records management service is insufficient. An efficient records management service requires the following:
- That staff responsible for the administration of records be properly trained.
- That efficient classification system be implemented and maintained
- That records be disposed of in systematic and responsible manner.
(I) Supports better decision making
- Information in its recorded form is found easily
(II) Controls the creation and growth of records.
- Creating and storing records costs money
- Records management allows only the creation and storage of only those records that are required by the organization and the rest destroyed.
- Enormous amounts of money hence saved.
(III) Reduces operating costs
- Without records management records will accumulate demanding more storage units, personnel, office space and other overheads.
- Records will be retained longer than they ought to be.
V) Improves efficiency and productivity
- Retrieval is normally enhanced if records management is in place.
- Efficiency means that the correct information will be relayed to to the correct person at the correct time in the correct format and in the correct amount.
- You take minimal time to locate and retrieve.
(V) Ensures regulatory compliance
- Various regulations or legislations govern how long records should be kept.
- To ensure that all regulations are compiled with, records management principles must be adhered to.
(VI) Preserves the corporate memory
- Corporate memory is the accumulated knowledge and information found within an organization
- Memory is the history of the organization, the background to decisions that have been made and the decision which will be made in the future.
- Such preservation is essential to ensure that the identity of an organization is protected.
(VII) Fosters professionalism in the business.
- When office records and files are poorly maintained, the pride and morale of the employees suffer.
- Such ensures that every record is exactly where it should be all the time.
- Information becomes readily available.
(VIII) Facilitates the implementation of new records management technologies
- Before automation is made possible the entire manual systems must be up to scratch.
- If the manual system is chaotic, chaos will reign even after automation.
1.7 PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH LACK OF A RECORDS MANAGEMENT PROGRAMME
The temptation by staff to hoard information/records.
- Very high costs for maintaining useless records – Too much records being created without a clear purpose.
- The organization does not make a difference between active and inactive records.
- Vital records are not identified and accorded the necessary protection.
- The right classification system is not used for the storage and rapid retrieval of information.
- Poor or delayed service delivery
- Poor planning
- Administrative inefficiency and ineffectiveness.
- Faulty decisions – possibility of Action Officer’s taking decisions or making plans without careful analysis using available data or due to loss of critical information required for making, planning and controlling.
- Thriving corruption – due to loss of critical information.
- Unnecessary wastage of time being spent on looking for records.