Electronic Records Management on a Shoestring: Three Case Studies

By Young, Jeanne | Information Management, January/February 2005 | Go to article overview

Electronic Records Management on a Shoestring: Three Case Studies


Young, Jeanne, Information Management


Developing and implementing a full-fledged, certified ERM system requires time, resources, and a big budget. But the records manager who takes low-cost, high-value steps can reach a successful outcome.

Business entities, both private and public, have come to appreciate information as an asset, and they realize that it must be managed effectively to provide the maximum benefit to business efficiency and economy. However, resources for managing records - including human, financial, and electronic - have not always been generously supported in business budgets. Records managers often face an uphill battle to incorporate electronic records management (ERM) into their programs.

But starting with almost nothing in the way of basic tools and funds is not as daunting as it may seem. With a bit of ingenuity, a records manager can build a more effective program than if he or she started with a huge budget.

Integrating ERM is not primarily a battle with management for resources; it is a culture war for the hearts and minds of the people who create and use records. People are generally comfortable with the way they do business and are usually skeptical of "outsiders" seeking to "improve" the process. Cooperation of the business staff is what the records manager and the IT staff need to successfully implement ERM. Converting a manual program piecemeal to an electronic records program may seem frustrating at the outset, but the extra time it takes allows the records manager to plan carefully, spend very little money initially, and start with small projects or changes that have a greater chance of success than a huge enterprise-wide initiative.

Low-Budget Ways to Implement ERM Programs

Case Study 1: Digitizing Bank Examiner Work Papers

The records manager in a federal banking agency was facing the challenge of converting a manual records system to an ERM system. She sought a business unit that was already doing business electronically. The bank examination staff was using a software package, developed in conjunction with several other federal bank regulators, to create and store examination work papers. The creation and preservation of complete, accurate, and trustworthy bank examiner work papers are paramount because bank ratings depend on examination results. The records manager asked the IT staff to develop a small set of computer code so that when a set of examiner work papers was saved by a bank examiner, a copy would be automatically sent to a folder controlled by the records manager. IT added appropriate codes to ensure that only the records manager had access to the folder.

The records manager did not consider the new procedure a bona fide ERM system. However, the project achieved several goals. The records manager gained control of an important set of electronic records. She established a working relationship with IT and the business unit. The bank examiners were able to send electronic records to the records manager through a seamless process. She used the metadata developed for the records in this project as the foundation for agency-wide metadata standards. The project cost a fraction of what the agency would eventually pay for an ERM system. By undertaking a small, low-budget project, the records manager was able to demonstrate that the ERM system was workable and to make a more informed recommendation for an enterprise-wide system.

Case Study 2: Implementing ERM in a Small Federal Agency

Prior to implementing an ERM program, a records manager will want to find out what other people in the organization do. When developing a records management program in a small federal agency, a staff of two set up a series of one-hour "show-and-tell" sessions for work groups in various business units. One session featured the fundamentals of records management and related them to the general work of the audience. In another session, business units were asked to describe their business processes, explain interactions with other business lines, list the documentation created or received, and recommend the length of time the information needed to be available. …

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