Standards: Building Blocks for a Strong RIM Program: Multinational Organizations Require Records Retention Programs That Are Founded on the International Records Management Standard and Ensure Global Coverage

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Because the advent of standards is a relatively recent phenomenon in the records and information management (RIM) profession and most records managers have not operated in standards-driven environments, the realization of both the significance of standards and how to apply them has been slow in coming. Like other professional standards, the records management standards, if correctly applied, lead to results that are consistent, predictable, and desirable. This article focuses on translating segments of several records management standards to develop foundational components of a RIM program. Working together, ISO 15489 and certain ANSI/ARMA standards provide guidance and direction in developing elements of a comprehensive RIM program and improving existing programs using the best thinking in the RIM field as contained in the standards.

Why Use Standards?

In scientific and technical fields, it is common to mention in research reports that certain practices were followed according to a particular standard. Moreover, international standards transcend geographical boundaries. Such an attestation provides credence to the practice, whether it is a chemical analysis, a particular test method, or a calibration procedure. Many product specifications require adherence to such technical and scientific standards, thus leading to a systematized approach and one that is replicable (i. e., scientific).

Following standards also leads to a commonality of understanding across industry and organizational types. If a testing laboratory states that it has conducted a specific test according to, say, an American Society for Testing and Materials standard, those who review the results immediately understand the protocols that were followed, and this provides validity to the test results themselves. The protocols in the testing procedure were determined by a relevant body to be the "standard" method for conducting that particular test.

Standards carry more weight than best practices. While best practices may be useful points of comparison, they actually carry authority only for their own organization. They represent the viewpoint of that organization and its culture, business requirements, and practices. By contrast, standards are requirements, voluntarily agreed upon by professionals and experts representing officially sanctioned national and/or international bodies, whose job is to oversee the development of external, non-biased, and broadly applicable requirements.

As a profession, RIM essentially operated without standards until 2001, when ISO 15489-1 2001:--Information and Documentation--Records Management--Part 1: General was issued. This was a major groundbreaking event for the entire profession. This international standard was followed in quick succession by the issuance of five ANSI/ARMA standards that address key records management functions:

* Records Center Operations--ANSI/ARMA TR-01-2002

* Vital Records Programs: Identifying, Managing and Recovering BusinessCritical Records--ANSI/ARMA 52003

* Requirements for Managing Electronic Messages as Records-ANSI/ARMA 92004

* Retention Management for Records and Information--ANSI/ARMA 82005

* Establishing Alphabetic, Numeric and Subject Filing Systems--ANSI/ARMA 12-2005

In combination, the ISO and ANSI/ARMA standards define the key elements of a records management program and outline more specific requirements for each of the program elements.

Practically Applying Standards

Before deciding which standards to apply, it is important to understand the organization's overall goals and to assess how RIM can contribute to those goals. It is equally important to establish a baseline of an organization's RIM program--what exists in the current RIM configuration, what does not exist, and what needs to be strengthened. Conducting a gap analysis grounded in program goals, corporate strategy, and organization focus, provides such a baseline. …