Organizations retain records related to day-to-day operations that are critical to the success of the business. It is imperative that organizations have robust record control policies and procedures to ensure electronic records are retained in a manner consistent with contractual obligations. In the digital age, many records are electronic. Managing electronic records requires additional considerations related to access controls, confidentiality, identification, and back-up.
Types of Electronic Records
Electronic records can be categorized in many different ways. Electronic record control policies and procedures need to consider the types of records, how they are created and how they will be stored to ensure that the records are stored and maintained appropriately and that access is controlled to the extent necessary.
Electronic records can be created actively or passively. Active electronic records include adding data to a database or loading a form into an information management system. An individual performs a task to generate the electronic record. Passive electronic records may include activities such as logging system updates or generating audit trails when data is altered. A system performs a task to generate the electronic record. Both types of record creation are important for organizations, and consideration should be given to the method of record creation.
Control of Data and Information Management
Many ISO standards have incorporated requirements for control of data and information management. These requirements are intended to mitigate risk related to information management systems used to retain electronic records. These systems can be off-the-shelf software packages implemented by an organization or internally created systems pieced together with numerous software programs, such as Excel, Word, and databases. Regardless of the system used, organizations must have confidence that the system functions properly and ensure that records are retained per established record control policies and procedures.
Managing Electronic Records
Tracking changes to records can be challenging when records are electronic. For paper records, changes are made manually and the change is often visible. With electronic records, however, changes may be made that overwrite the original record. Organizations need to consider how the original record will be maintained and retained when changes are made. This can be done in many ways, including the use of an information management system that tracks changes to records in a change log or audit trail. It can also be accomplished through track changes in MS Word or other document generation software or manually entering comments into a system when changes are made detailing why the change was made and who made the change.
Identifying electronic records is also important. Consider standardized file names, such as the date, type of record and content of the record. Naming conventions should be easy to understand when generating the file name, but also when retrieving records for later use.
Storage of electronic records should also be considered as part of the record control policies and procedures. Electronic records can be stored locally or in the cloud. Back-ups of electronic records should follow a planned schedule to ensure that electronic records are not lost if an issue occurs with the record storage system. Electronic records must be securely maintained, as well, to ensure that unintended access is prevented. Additionally, electronic records should be disposed of based on the record control policies and procedures. Consideration should be given to how long electronic records need to be retained and when disposal of the records should occur.
Benefits of Managing Electronic Records
Effectively managing electronic records allows for quick access to data and information needed to perform organizational activities. Electronic records can be easier to organize, facilitate remote sharing of data and information, and oftentimes provide a cost savings over paper records. Utilizing information management systems or electronic document and records management systems can streamline the electronic record control process, which can lead to increased efficiency, accessibility, and confidentiality of organizational records. Electronic records can be more easily updated, shared, stored, and retrieved than paper records, which can lead to a reduction in time needed to manage records overall.