What is Records Management?

What is Records Management?

The International Standard ISO 15489 calls it “Records Management”.

What’s in a name? More appropriately, we should ask, “What is Records Management, RM’?” Where is it positioned, and what part does it play in the wider scheme of things?


  • Is it Information Management “IM”? Well, yes, it is. But it is much more.
  • Is it Knowledge Management “KM”? Maybe, but without RM there would be no Knowledge to draw upon so, as in IM, it is much more than KM. RM is the foundation upon which KM and IM are based.
  • Is it Intellectual Property “IP”? Well, as in IM and KM, it is but it is much more. RM is the foundation of IP for, without RM, how would we know what IP we held?
  • Is it Record Keeping “RK”? Yes, again! At the recent RMAA Convention in Sydney (3-6 December 2000), “Bridging the Gap”, David Roberts, the director of State Records, New South Wales “N.S.W.”, indicated that all of us as individuals, employees of Organizations, workgroups within Organizations and Organizations themselves be they Private, Commercial, Government or Educational are record keepers. I believe he is correct.
  • But is RK the end thing? We may all keep records, but do we manage them? Why do we keep records? So that we may find them in the future, whether that future point is in a millennium or a nanosecond away!
  • So, if we keep them but we don’t manage them effectively, and can’t find them when we need them, why keep them? RM is greater than RK, but RK is a part of RM and of Archive Management “AM”.
  • Is RM Webpage Management “WM”? Well, if it isn’t we may all be in for some rude shocks down the track. RM is Webpage Management and content management of www pages plus revisions and transactions.
  • Is it Document Management “DM”? Yes, it is, but it is greater than just single linked documents. RM gives content, context, and relationship of documents in a physical or virtual file structure.
  • Is it Electronic Document Management “EDM” or many of the other derivatives of the theme EDMS, KMS, IDMS, etc.? Undoubtedly! RM is all these things and more.
  • Is it Image Management “IM”? Well, yes, it is but, again, it is greater than IM.
  • Is it Data Management “DM”? It is, but RM is greater than DM, too.
  • Is it Digital Asset Management “DAM”? It is, but again it is greater than DAM.
  • Is it Financial Records Management “FRM”? Yes, but it is also greater than that.
  • Is it Medical or Health Information Management “HIM”? Yes! But HIM is a specialist sector of RM.
  • There are new processes and concepts coming to this industry every day, but only RM is providing the proven umbrella solution over time.

RM is the total picture. Whatever the name of the activity or the new buzzword, it is a part of the holistic RM environment.

So, what is Records Management?

To me, Records Management is a core business activity [and I mean business in the broadest sense], without which, no organisation, however large or small, can sustain its operational activities, its moral responsibilities, or can document proof of meeting its statutory, legal, financial or shareholder responsibilities, or provide for its history.

Records Management is the foundation stone on which all organisations are built and, without which, they cannot operate effectively or efficiently. It is A, or THE core business activity and not an add-on, which we are forced to implement by threat of penalties, or embarrassment.

Records Management is a good management practice and should be at the forefront of any executive mindset as a strategy for best practice, to provide efficient, effective, and cost minimisation initiatives. Without effective Records Management systems in place, inefficient and ineffective decision-making will be made, and remade, with mistakes repeated without the availability of a reliable decision-making information base from which to start to appropriately manage any situation. Efficient Records Management will provide returns in proportion to the effectiveness of the Records Management system in place.

Records Management is not a cost centre. It is a strategic investment from which all organizations will benefit greatly.

A Records Management Vision Statement could be:

The goal or vision for the operation of the management of records and information within any organization, Government or Private, should be that data is entered only once into the organizations records and information system, irrespective of it’s source. This data may be created internally or obtained from an external source, free, in the normal course of business or at the lowest cost and with the highest degree of purity. All data held within the Records and Information System Infrastructure should integrate with the total organizational environment without having isolated islands of data being inaccessible to any of the organizations personnel. The capture of this data should be made in cooperation with the IT Information Technology/Information Support Services Departments and with the support of the IS = Computer Information Systems/Applications Divisions. Without the cooperation of these partners success would not be possible. Once data is entered into the system it must be available to all personnel across the organization who have a need to know. This need-to-know requirement will be tempered by a management policy as to the level of security that any data may require, and which individuals or groups of individuals should have access to.

As David Roberts correctly put it, or asked the question, at the recent RMAA Convention in Sydney (3-6 December 2000), “Bridging the Gap”, why the Cringe Factor? Why do we need to call ourselves other than what we are, we are Records Managers or Records Management Professionals, not people limited to small sectors of this great and venerable profession?

I must admit that in recent times [the last 10 years] I have felt that inclusion of “Information” would have assisted the understanding of the situation with its addition to the title as Records and Information Management “RIM”. But, on deeper thought and prompted by David Roberts’ question, why the Cringe Factor? I wish to be known for what I am.

I am a Records Manager or a Records Management Professional, not a lesser being with a lesser role or buzz title within an organization or society, and I am proud to be just that.

I am a Records Management Professional.

Laurie Varendorff ARMA

The Author

Laurie Varendorff, ARMA, a former RMAA Western Australia Branch president & national director, has been involved in records management and the micrographic industry for 37 years. Laurie has his own microfilm equipment sales & support organisation – Digital Microfilm Equipment – DME – and a – records & information management – RIM – consulting & training business – The Varendorff Consultancy – TVC – located near Perth, Western Australia, & has tutored & written course material in recordkeeping & archival storage & preservation for Perth’s Edith Cowan University – ECU. Phone: +618 9286 3705; mobile: +61 417 094 147; email @ Laurie Varendorff

Please Note: This article has been reproduced with permission in the publication – TORONTO HI-LITES – The Newsletter of the Toronto Chapter of ARMA INTERNATIONAL in their June 2001 Edition on page (5) available online @ TORONTO HI-LITES June 2001

Please Note: Permission to reproduce this article has been given to the Gaithersburg, Maryland (US) chapter of ARMA for their newsletter – NEW IMAGES – for the February/March 2005 edition. The Newsletter will be available online @ Gaithersburg, Maryland (US) chapter of ARMA, Chapter Newsletter – NEW IMAGES.

The author, Laurie Varendorff gives permission for the redistribution or republishing of this article by individuals and nonprofit professional organisations without cost based on the condition that he as well as the URL of the article are recognised at the introduction of the article when redistributed or republished.

SPECIAL NOTE: Use of this article by publishers, commercial, government, or educational organisations requires a financial agreement to be negotiated with Laurie as the copyright holder for this work.