Technology and the Four-Level Information Hierarchy

By Daum, Patricia B. | Records Management Quarterly, October 1997 | Go to article overview
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Technology and the Four-Level Information Hierarchy

Daum, Patricia B., Records Management Quarterly

There are three significant classes of information within an organization: data, documents, and published information. What you will find in most organizations is that technologists are responsible for data management, librarians are responsible for published information management, and document management (paper and electronic) slips through the cracks with no assigned management accountability. Documents are records, and, yes, they are being managed, but often with little overall planning and without standard records management tools.

The advent of so,ware applications that provide document management features has, more urgently than ever, created the need for records managers to communicate records management controls to senior management, end users, and technologists. This article provides a model that makes communication of the retention and classification policy easy. The model also ensures that the retention and classification policy is successfully embedded in records and document management applications and in work processes.


While the discipline of records management has long had a definition of records and the management of them, the definition of a document is less established and is becoming important to senior management, end users, and technologists. This section will define records, documents, and management of these resources.

The definition of records is well known to readers of this journal. Records are defined as "recorded information, regardless of medium or characteristics ... that has been created or received by an organization and has been used by that organization or its successors as evidence of its activities or because of the information contained. In databases in electronic record keeping systems, a collection of related data fields."(1)

Records management means that systematic and scientific control is exercised over document-based information such that the recorded information is found by employees in the time required to perform job functions and for the least cost. This control occurs through all phases of the life cycle, from creation or receipt, through processing and distribution, maintenance and use, to the semi-active use and final disposition.

Records managers are well aware, in paper-based and electronic systems, that individual documents can be successfully retrieved when the records series to which a document belongs is identified. Therefore, records management control and document retrieval have been implemented by identifying folders to which documents belong. Individual document indexing, control, and management are not necessary, in many cases, to locate records because documents are successfully found through the index to file folders.

Documents are more difficult to define. Robek et al. define a document as "a record which constitutes the smallest unit of filing, generally a single letter, report, form, or other item contained within a record keeping systems. Also, the smallest unit of filing."(2)

In the fast-changing world of technology, electronic documents are defined as data, text, objects, or a combination of these in digital form produced from an image, word processing application, spreadsheet application, or database. Documents can be embedded in another (such as a spreadsheet in a word processed document). Documents can be compound if they have components such as images, sound, and/or video attached to a traditional document.

There is no mention of verifiable evidence in the technologists' definition of a document. Only when records management controls are applied to digital documents may this electronic form of records be accepted as verifiable evidence. Therefore, "document" may, in controlled instances, be considered a synonym for "record." When there is records management control over digital documents, then the digital document may well be the official record to be used for audit or legal evidence.

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Technology and the Four-Level Information Hierarchy


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