JISC InfoNet describes records management as the systematic management of all records together with the information or data that they contain. In the past, these records were stored in paper format and every large organization had a registry, sometimes manned by an army of clerks. Today electronic records management systems have taken over. Both manual and electronic records management systems have clear advantages as well as disadvantages.

Data Retrieval and Sharing

A leading reason why many organizations have gone paperless is the ease with which an electronic system allows for information retrieval and sharing. When data is held on paper and stored in a registry, retrieving it presents a challenge. Moreover, the information can only be used by one individual at a time. While electronic systems solve this problem, they too come with other challenges.

Equipment Cost and Potential for Obsolescence

When an organization goes paperless, there are huge volumes of data held on paper that have to be scanned and stored in a digital format. The hardware and software needed for this exercise cost a substantial amount of money. Initial costs aside, a significant disadvantage with electronic systems is that both hardware and software become obsolete in a relatively short time. Hardware could require changing in as little as 18 months while software changes every 2-3 years.

Electronic Systems and the People Issue

Implementation of an electronic records management system calls for a change in the employee's attitudes. Any radical change in an organization is viewed with skepticism by many employees who are not sure how such changes will affect them. When older ways of organizing files are replaced by new ones, the employee feels a loss of control and this needs to be addressed by assurances from the employer -- and backed by the success of the system implemented.

Security and Other Issues

With the increased info sharing that an electronic records management system makes possible comes the issue of security. Unless adequate measures are put into place, it becomes possible for confidential company information to end up in the wrong hands. Moreover, management of records could become a problem when the system is clogged with unnecessary records (such as document copies). It is not uncommon to find situations where a substantial amount of records held are actually junk mail.