Why is records management necessary?

All further and higher education institutions are large and complex organisations. They employ hundreds if not thousands of staff, undertake a varied range of functions and have complex administrative structures often straddling multiple geographical locations. In order to operate as modern, agile and efficient organisations able to sustain growth and manage change it is essential that they have effective control over the records they create and use. Historically the way in which internal records have been managed has developed in a piecemeal, organic fashion – often in response to local departmental requirements. It is now increasingly recognised that a more proactive, consistent and comprehensive approach is required for the institution to be able to cope with current and future demands.

All institutions and their staff are under pressure to do more for less. This might be as a direct result of an ever-increasing volume of students, or as universities are encouraged to branch out into new agendas such as business and community engagement. Creating accurate, reliable records; providing controlled, ready access to them and only retaining those worthy of preservation are all part of the essential infra-structure necessary to meet these challenges. This is especially true as it becomes less and less possible to rely on the knowledge and experience of individual members of staff. Increased staff turnover and regular organisational restructuring mean that the records an institution creates now represent its ‘collective memory’ to a far larger degree than ever before.

Institutions are also becoming increasingly aware of the potential value contained within the internal records they hold. This could be the lessons they contain from past experiences, allowing institutions to learn both from their successes and their failures. Alternatively as knowledge-rich, research-driven organisations it could be the competitive advantage or even commercial gain that can be acquired through the effective exploitation of their information assets.

As the evidence left behind from the activities we undertake, records are also an institution’s best ally in terms of protecting its rights and interests. Effective records management ensures that the institution can call upon a body of reliable evidence if required to justify its actions, or defend its position. This may prove a critical strength as we move into an increasingly litigious society.

Institutions are also under ever-mounting pressure to proactively demonstrate their accountability and good standards of corporate governance. This may take the form of internal audit, submissions to funding bodies or public scrutiny through legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act, Environmental Information Regulations and Data Protection Act. Compliance with all of these is only possible if the appropriate body of records exists to prove what actions were taken, why they were taken and on whose authority, and what their outcomes were. This is only possible with effective records management.

As with any other proposed expenditure, it is essential that a sound, costed, business case is formulated to support investment in records management.  Our Impact Calculator has been specifically developed to help institutions to predict and quantify the tangible benefits to be realised through a records management related change initiative.  We also have the experience of six higher education institutions who used the Impact Calculator to measure the benefit to their respective institutions of a range of records management projects including improvements to email training, improve retention management and retrospective records appraisal.