Adopting Electronic Records Management: European Strategic Initiatives

Article excerpt

In Europe, records management has been traditionally viewed as an activity for long-term archiving and one of little actual business value. However, several elements are currently driving the implementation of records management programs and the development of a corporate business and information strategy in the public and private sectors. For example:

* European Commission (EC) directives on e-commerce and e-signatures are driving the need for electronic records management (ERM) across public and private sectors.

* The EC's Model Requirements for the Management of Electronic Records (MoReq) is becoming widely adopted across European Union (EU) member states. Developed for use in the public and private sectors, it addresses a wide range of information management requirements and operational needs outside records management.

* ERM and archiving have a high profile both at the European Commission and national government level with major initiatives and investment, plus demanding targets and timescales for government departments.

What's Driving ERM in Europe?

Europe is going digital. Year by year, more business is done without paper because of electronic processing's competitive advantages and efficiencies. But what is the legal situation in a dispute when there are no paper records? The European Commission and national governments have recognized the need for legislation and put in place a legal framework for electronic commerce. The goals are to ensure that electronic records are legally acceptable in the same way that paper records have been and that rules for admissibility are defined. This has led to standards and codes of practice for managing electronic records; organizations that do not follow the code will find their records are more likely to be questioned and theft legal stance compromised. So, in a sense, adoption of ERM is enabling a digital Europe.

Also driving ERM in Europe is the increase in regulations affecting both private and public sector organizations. Regulations have spread to virtually all sectors, not just traditionally regulated ones such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace. More companies must implement strategies for managing business information and plan for long-term data storage and retrieval. Not only must these entities act properly, but they must also have proof of doing so, and such records are not limited to financials but include personnel records and others covered by new laws. Increased regulation intensifies focus on ERM as the discipline needed to meet compliance requirements.

Who Is Leading the Way?

The 1990s saw individual European countries develop their own schemes and recommendations on best practice for records management, but Europe-wide approaches--or at least EC-wide approaches--are now gaining ground.

The Document Lifecycle Management Forum (DLM) has had significant influence. Initially created and funded by the European Commission, it now operates as an independent body. It consists of most EC member states' national archives, including new Eastern European EU members. The DLM forum's most significant publication to date is MoReq. (See "More About MoReq" on page 34.) Western European states have been fostering better recordkeeping practices with some commonality of approach, galvanized by the wide acceptance of MoReq as a best-practice standard.

The European Commission's efforts stem from the eEurope initiative, the European Union's overall scheme for guiding Europe's transition into the digital age, launched in 1999. The objectives of eEurope include:

* Bringing every citizen, home, school, business, and administration online and into the digital age

* Creating a digitally literate Europe, supported by an entrepreneurial culture ready to finance and develop new ideas

* Ensuring the whole process is socially inclusive, builds consumer trust, and strengthens social cohesion

Heads of state have agreed on an action plan (http:// europa. …