Records management is a must-have function of companies, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, social agencies, medical, commerce, financial, schools, colleges and universities and all other types of entities that generate information that needs kept for a defined amount of time. Individual households also need to practice good records management.

Records management is a systematic, organized, planned and controlled process of managing or tracking the life cycle of records. A record can be a tangible paper object or it can be in digital or electronic form. Records can be kept on financial, medical, informative, formal documents, office documents, payroll, government forms and emails among hundreds of other types of records. Records management addresses the three phases of the life cycle of records: The creation or the receipt of a record; the maintenance, safe storage, retrieval, or general use of a record; the disposal of a record.

Creation of Records

Creation or receipt of records is what creates the demand for records management. Be it an employment application, an invoice or an inventory control report, once the record has been created, all other operations or management functions for that record have to be employed. One function of the records management process is to determine the flow of the record once it has been created or received.

Who has to view the record? Where does the record go after everyone has viewed or acted upon the record (such as recording a payment on account)? Who is responsible for ensuring the safe storage of the record? All of these questions need well communicated answers.

Maintaining and Storing Records

Maintaining the record involves developing operations to store the record. A number of considerations have to be realized when storing records, including making the record available for retrieval by those who need to reference the information or have access to the personal nature of the record. The other side of making the record available is denoting who cannot have access to the record. When the record is out of its storage, it is vital to good records management to have a system in place to determine who has the record, where they have the record and when they intend to return the record.

Ensuring proper return of the record is also an important part of the records management system. Safe storage of records may include storing digital copies of each record off premises in another office or in a safe deposit box at the bank. Records should be stored in a dry, cool location to prevent damage to either paper or electronic copies.

Archiving of Records

Archival processes are part of the maintenance phase of records management. Determining when a record becomes eligible for archiving is part of records management. Selecting where the records are archived and how long the records are archived are also part of this function.

Some records such as historical records may be kept for the life and sometimes beyond of the company. For cities, states, and townships, historical records may have to be stored for an indefinite amount of time.

Disposing of Records

Disposing of records in the proper time frame is critical. Disposing of most records should be completed by shredding. Considerations for disposal include determining how long the record has to be stored. The time frame for keeping records is dependent upon the nature of the record.

Some record storage is dictated by government regulations such as tax records, some by banks for loan management and some by legal guidelines such as incorporation papers. It also includes determining how records are disposed of such as by shredding within the company or hiring an outside company to shred and developing a tracking system of disposal can also be helpful. Listing which records by category where disposed of, how they were disposed of and where can be beneficial to long term records management. Further, implementing a sign-off mechanism for records disposal can help ensure everyone who needs to know does know before any records are destroyed.

Other Considerations for Records Management

Several other options to accommodate with a records management system include documenting and communicating the policies and procedures associated with all records management, developing and implementing control mechanisms and procedures for every phase of records management and keeping the records management systems simple and easy to communicate and easy to manage.

Resources for Learning Records Management

There are hundreds of resources available to learn effective records management. Technical schools, colleges and universities, online training, and reference books abound at the local bookstore or college bookstore that can help with developing an effective and law abiding records management system. Also always check with local, state, and federal regulations regarding specific rules for records management.