Standards: Providing a Framework for RIM Success: Standards Are Fundamental for Building and Improving Records and Information Management (RIM) Programs-And Establishing RIM as a Profession

By Bolton, John | Information Management, May-June 2011 | Go to article overview

Standards: Providing a Framework for RIM Success: Standards Are Fundamental for Building and Improving Records and Information Management (RIM) Programs-And Establishing RIM as a Profession


Bolton, John, Information Management


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In a 2003 Information Management Journal article, Bill Thomas, president of MicroD International and a technology industry executive, wrote, "... standards are a vital part of every industry and should be taken seriously." This absolutely applies to records and information management (RIM)!

Just as an architect needs to understand how a building is designed, it is fundamental for individuals interested in the management of records and information to have a similar understanding of the structure, people, processes, and technology that are components of a solid, safe, and functional RIM "house," or program. Standards are a key mechanism to gaining this understanding and indispensible tools for building, improving, and sustaining RIM programs.

Standards development history dates to the early part of the 20th century when the gauge of rails for railroads, the manufacturing processes for steel, and the size and strength of rivets were all key elements to the transportation age.

Standards in the RIM world didn't appear until later in that century, when they were first established in connection with materials like microfilm, fiche, and aperture cards. These film-related standards aided RIM by offering conformity, assured quality, and consistency. They particularly benefitted work in the areas of long-term storage, access, and retrieval of important and vital records.

As the shift from the transportation age to the information age occurred, the need for the development and use of standards for managing records and information--and, particularly, for the movement of information--became more prevalent.

Distinguishing Among Standards Guidelines, Best Practices

The terms "standard," "guideline," and "best practice," are frequently bantered about, and often the distinctions of each aren't clear or are misunderstood. Moreover, these terms are often used in the same sentence, as in, "Use this standard as a guideline to establish procedural best practice."

A key element in their differences is the process applied in their development. While that process includes documenting knowledge and expertise, as well as maintaining a certain amount of rigour leading to publication, developing standards is the only process that includes obtaining consensus among the participants.

In this context, consensus represents a formal process of public inquiry and consultation. According to a 2008 Information Management Journal article by ARMA International standards consultant Nancy Barnes, Ph.D., CRM, CA, "Consensus is characterized by openness, balance, and lack of dominance. In this context, openness ensures that there are no unreasonable barriers to participation, such as specific cost or membership requirements. Balance requires that participants in the development process are drawn from a variety of diverse backgrounds. Lack of dominance effects a fair consideration of viewpoints, such that one group or interest does not exercise undue influence or authority as the standard is developed."

While obtaining consensus can lengthen the time it takes to get a standard approved, it should not be viewed as a constraint. Rather, it provides more credence, weight, and authority to the resulting standard than is gained from the processes for developing guidelines, best practices, and similar documents.

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Table 1 on page 29 provides brief descriptions that show distinctions among standards, guidelines, best practices, and other guidance documents.

Establishing the RIM Standards Framework

A "framework" is something that helps provide structure, like the human skeleton. In slightly broader terms a framework contains potentially many components that work together. In the human body, this would include not just the bones, but the muscles and ligaments. The framework for a house would include the concrete foundation, wooden framing, steel support beams, and glass windows. …

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