Records Management Matters; What Senior Managers Ought to Know

Records manager paradigm

Records managers are a loveable, likely bunch of people. They are dedicated to their profession, are passionate about preserving the past. They are also passionate about keeping true records of the information that led to the making of business decisions and the decision’s consequences.

Good recordkeeping practices have been the friend of those with an historical bent, in contexts ranging from understanding how we arrived at today’s social norms to satisfying the investigatory needs of royal commissions. Records managers have been at the forefront in ensuring that organisations have the systematic framework and practices that enable those who need to know, where and how to retrieve a particular piece of information.

Mostly, they go unheralded, quietly going about their roles, usually in the lower floors of a building; their location matching their distance in reporting lines from the most senior manager. Unheralded, that is, until a major issue arises. Major issues which threaten the reputation of an organisation are of particular not. They galvanise senior managers to seek out these phlegmatic characters and thrust them into a moment of fame searching for evidence that demonstrates the organisation did no wrong and the tarnish to their reputation is undeserved.

The advent of such issues from time to time, particularly in government, led, over many years, to the development of regulations. The regulations dictate what records must be kept for how long and increasingly how government departments should go about the business of keeping records. The role of the records manager is directly associated with these regulations by the profession and in the organisations within which they work. In a large majority of organisations the records manager is now considered responsible for compliance, not line management.

Records managers live in and are expected to live in, a paradigm of compliance with regulations and technical jargon rather than a paradigm of an integral part of improving business outcomes, realising value and reducing risk.

New opportunities and challenges

The digitisation of the economy over the last twenty years has led to new opportunities and new challenges for records managers.

Instead of records management being an activity that preserved physical records for one purpose or another, software development created the opportunity to work with records from their inception. The opportunity exists today to use record keeping practices and the functionality to do much more than preserve the information that informs investigators why a business decision may have been reached. The opportunity exists to improve productivity by managing workflow electronically. In addition, organisations are able to reduce risk by having a single source of truth accessible by all those with a need to know.

Concomitant with the digitisation of the economy has been the explosion of data created by organisations or about organisations. Deciding what of that data is information which should be kept as a record and what is an ephemeral record was often considered a responsibility of the records manager too. Today, however, the sheer volume of records means, that in large organisations the responsibility needs to be delegated to staff whilst records managers maintain the accountability for the framework. Delegated with that responsibility are many new elements of skills and knowledge for staff to master including, but not limited to:

  • Application of security protocols
  • Application of consistent titling rules so that searching for records is easier
  • Saving records documents using a concept of functional classifications rather than organisational
  • Learning new software
  • Integrating the software and recordkeeping practices into business processes (often unmapped) to achieve improvements in productivity or reductions in risk

In short, taking the digitisation opportunity means a lot of work for individuals and business units; work that is seen as the preserve of the records management unit.

The greatest challenge records managers face in today’s world of electronic recordkeeping, however, is not so different than pre-digitisation.

It is, getting senior managers to recognise the value to the organisation of good records management practices and Electronic Document and Records Management (EDRMS) software functionality.

Records managers are, in part, their own worst enemy in this regard. They talk too much about compliance, particularly in government sectors, with state and federal records management regulations.

Compliance does not drive senior managers to be enthusiastic about a project to have all staff adopt good recordkeeping practices and integrate the functionality of an EDRMS into business processes (Dwyer & Linton, 2011). Productivity and risk reduction does.

What Senior Managers Need to Know

Manufacturing Value Chain
In his book, Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance, Michael Porter defined a common set of activities which potentially added value to a manufacturing organisation (Porter, 1998)

Each activity, effectively and efficiently executed, adds value to its preceding activities.

The primary activities relate directly to the physical creation, sale, maintenance and support of a product or service. They consist of the following:

  • Inbound logistics – The processes related to receiving, storing, and distributing inputs internally.
  • Operations – The transformation activities that change inputs into outputs that are sold to customers.
  • Outbound logistics – The activities which deliver your product or service to customers, e.g. collection, storage, and distribution systems.
  • Marketing and sales – The processes to persuade clients to purchase from the organisation instead of competitors.
  • Service – The activities related to maintaining the value of a product or service to customers, once it’s been purchased.

The support activities are:

  • Procurement (purchasing) – What the organization does to get the resources it needs to operate.
  • Human resource management – How well a company recruits, hires, trains, motivates, rewards, and retains its workers.
  • Technological development – Activities related to managing and processing information, as well as protecting a company’s knowledge base.
  • Infrastructure – A company’s support systems and the functions that allow it to maintain daily operations, e.g. Accounting, legal, administrative, and general management.

Information value chain
It is insufficient now to manage information as a supporting activity to the primary activities of an organisation. It needs to be managed as an asset by senior management to increase productivity and reduce risk.

Information assets grow in value through their own value chain;

  • Creation – The processes related to creating, storing and retrieving data internally.
  • Information generation – The activities that transform data to information through sharing, collaborating and analysing data.
  • Business integration – The activities which access information and create new information during the execution of a business process.
  • Adaptation – The processes which adapt information for new uses.

The creation of value of information assets also has supporting activities:

  • Records Management Framework – The support systems and the functions that allow it to manage its records through their lifecycle, e.g. records management policy, records management processes, classification scheme, security protocols
  • Technological development – Activities related to managing and processing information, e.g. EDRMS, other approved business systems for records management, scanners, application add-ons.
  • Human resource management – Activities related to inducting, training, supporting, and motivating its staff to adopt good records management practices e.g. training needs analysis, training design, development and execution, communication, performance management
  • Continuous Improvement– Activities related to the measurement of the maturity of practice and level of adoption of good recordkeeping practices and the development or redesign of elements framework to improve the measures e.g. internal audit, key performance indicators, surveys, process redesign

Good Record Management Practices Create Value
Good records management practices create value at each step in the information value chain by providing advantages over the standard practice of using shared drives.

Value chain activity Value created examples
  • Search functions allow for rapid retrieval of the latest revision of any record. Search is better than Google and much better than searching shared drives
  • Relating records allows all records to be found once one record is found, for example, being able to find the hundreds of records associated with negotiations over a contract after the awarding of a tender
  • Functional classifications allow for a common file structure across divisions, reducing the learning curve when people move
  • Use of metadata enables searching by a wide range of criteria simplifying the searching process
Information generation
  • Storing information in a single location and sharing through a link using email rather than an email attachment improves the speed of collaboration and reduces the size of email folders
  • Maintaining the latest revision as the default revision to be viewed speeds collaboration
Business integration
  • Using functionality to create workflow of records shortens cycle times of cross-functional processes such as recruitment, enrolment, accounts payable/receivable and contract management, typically by 30 to 40%
  • Automation of records capture through scanning and other electronic means eliminates mundane tasks
  • The reliability of data/information and its ready accessibility from one location enables business process analysts to develop new processes and provide to access new points, e.g. giving automated feedback to applicants on the status of their application

Productivity example:

A training Institute, offering Diplomas, Advanced Diplomas and Degrees suffered decreased enrolments and increased customer complaints for five years. The primary cause of the loss of business was slow processing of enrolment applications. An increasing number of approved students were offered places and enrolled in other institutes by the time the institute completed the process of enrolment.

By implementing recordkeeping practices, automation and workflow, the institute was able to

  • Reduce the elapsed time for processing enrolments from 15 days to 4 days
  • Reduce the processing time from 7 hours tom 4 hours
  • Saved $150,00 per annum in costs with an Return on Investment (ROI) of 150%
  • Reversed the decline in enrolments earning an additional $5,000,000 in fees over five years

Good Records Management Practices Reduce Risk
Good records management enables risk reduction at each step in the information value chain.

Value chain activity Risk reduction examples
  • Viewing the latest version as a default ensures all people working with a record have the latest version, always. This eliminates the risk of people making decisions based on inaccurate information.
  • When a record has been accepted as the final version, all other revisions can be deleted at the push of a button, eliminating the risk of immature revisions being released through freedom of information searches.
  • Audit trails keeps track of who did what with a record, when
Information generation
  • Emailing links rather than attachments eliminates the risk of security breaches and of old revisions being used.
  • Managing security protocols ensures records are only seen by those with a need to know.
Business integration
  • Using software and hardware functionality e.g. scanners and scanning software to automate data collection processes reduces the risk of errors.
  • The risk of poor decision making based on unreliable data is reduced to negligible levels by good recordkeeping practices.

Risk reduction example:

A report into the records and asset management practices of Gosford City Council was released in March 2009 by the Minister for Local Government, Barbara Perry following recommendations by the Deputy Coroner into the tragic deaths of a family at a road collapse at Piles Creek.

Key findings from the report included:

  • A recent audit initiated by Council has identified approximately 800,000 electronic documents stored on individual computer drives rather than the central database system;
  • The integrity of councils data management systems relied on Council officers complying with that system; and
  • Emails with quotes for remedial road works that may have averted the collapse were not considered official records, and were not recorded on the computerised record system.

Good records management practices may well have eliminated, in this case, the risks to people, council assets and its reputation.

Senior Managers Need to Take Responsibility to Change the Paradigm

Modern records managers have many issues to contend with. They have to construct a framework in which records can be managed which increasingly requires the whole organisation to take responsibility for managing records. The framework they need to build is becoming increasingly complex with the explosion of data and data sources accompanying the digitization of the economy. In government departments they are being held accountable for complying with state and federal regulations.

They should not be expected to shoulder the entire burden for managing the whole information value chain often from junior level of the organisation. It would not be expected of junior positions to manage the whole of the physical value chain.

Senior managers need to spend the time to understand the benefits of managing the information value chain in their organisation and become the champions managing their information assets to create value and reduce risk. They need to support their records managers through appropriate budgets, governance structures and skilled project teams to enable those benefits to accrue.

They need to set the paradigm of good recordkeeping practices in the context of business improvement and the management of their most valuable asset.

Records manger then can advise and take responsibility, as they should, for creating and implementing the framework for delivering the productivity and risk reduction benefits and that is compliant with regulations.


Works Cited

Dwyer, K., & Linton, M. (2011). EDRMS Success – Experience the Difference. Retrieved 06 08, 2013, from Change Factory:

Porter, M. (1998). Competitive Advantage: Creating and Sustaining Superior Performance. New York: The Free Press.

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