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International Standards and Best Practices in RIM.

National and international efforts in developing records and information management (RIM) technical standards and best practices are significant. The absence of such tools has historically been one of the biggest problems in the field. However, there have been many initiatives during the past several years that have the potential to revolutionize RIM practice throughout the world.

Indeed, public and private organizations worldwide are looking for models that they can apply to improve their RIM programs. In a larger context, increasing globalization intensifies the need to apply best business practices. Thus, new standards will be favorably received among multinationals throughout the world.

This column reviews important new international efforts at establishing best global practices in traditional and advanced areas and makes brief mention of some older initiatives as well. The terms standards and best practices used here refer to guidelines on aspects of managing business records issued by governmental bodies or standards-setting organizations for widespread adoption in specific countries or throughout the world. The guidelines are developed by soliciting opinions from a wide community of technical experts, and thus reflect a professional consensus as to recommended practices in given areas.

Standards nearly always embody best practices, but best practices are not always standards. Broadly, there are two types of standards: 1) de jure or legal standards -- those officially issued by governments or standards bodies and 2) de facto standards -- those not issued by such bodies but nevertheless considered valid standards because they have been widely adopted by a community of users. De facto standards are synonymous with best practices and often result from the practices of specific vendors who dominate a given market. Thus, whatever technical approaches they adopt to a given aspect of information management become, in effect, de facto standards for the entire industry and user community. Such vendors are in a position to dictate standard practices, regardless of whether any standards-setting body officially endorses them.

Standards and best practices are also characterized by whether compliance is mandatory or voluntary, monitored by any independent audit or review bodies, and whether any business benefits result from compliance (or, conversely, whether there are adverse consequences for noncompliance). In the RIM field, most standards and best practices consist of voluntary codes of practice; that is, compliance is not mandatory, nor are the organizations implementing them subject to audits or other reviews to determine compliance.

In some cases, however, compliance is either required or highly advisable if the organization wishes to be certified by some reviewing authority. Finally, in the case of standards that address computer hardware or software capabilities, compliance is often highly advisable (even though not required) if the vendor wishes to attain a favorable position in its marketplace.

The World's First International RM Standard

Probably the most significant initiative in records management today is the effort underway to develop the world's first international standard. A worldwide standard issued by an international body legitimizes records management as a discipline worthy of global adoption. Moreover, the standard provides an officially endorsed benchmarking model of best professional practices for global emulation. In its entire history, the RIM discipline has never had anything like this.

In 1996, Standards Australia (that country's equivalent to the American National Standards Institute) issued AS4390 - National Standard for Records Management. This document defined the scope of records management and included technical details relating to its implementation in the public sector and private organizations in Australia.

The Australian standard was a milestone in international records management -- no nation had ever before issued such a document. However, because it is a single-country standard, AS4390 is inherently unsuitable for global application. Its sponsors recognized the need for an international version, so efforts are underway to globalize AS4390 and issue the first-ever international records management standard.

Such efforts are under the auspices of an International Standards Organization (ISO) committee charged with developing and issuing the standard known as N149 Records Management Requirements. ISO states that the standard is in response to worldwide agreement to internationalize the Australian standard as the basis for international best practice in records management. The preface to N149's draft states that it

* applies to the management of records, in any format or media, created or received by any public or private organization, or any individual, in the conduct of its activities, acting as evidence of those activities

* provides guidance on records management in support of ISO 9000

* provides guidance on the design and implementation of a records system

* excludes the management of archival records within archival institutions

The ISO committee developing N149 comprises representatives from Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The first draft appeared in 1997. Subsequent drafts contained several parts: The main body provides general, high-level guidance concerning RIM policy and strategy issues; the second part is a technical report of methods and procedures; and an appendix defines terms used in RIM practice. N149's main sections are as follows:

* general principles of recordkeeping

* scope and objectives of recordkeeping

* characteristics of a record

* documenting business activities and transactions

* regulatory environment

* policy and responsibilities

* designing records systems

* recordkeeping processes and controls

* determining how long records must be kept

* records capture (creation)

* registration, classification, and indexing

* records storage, access, and retrieval

* records tracking

* applying disposition authorities

* monitoring and auditing

* training

As of December 1999, the committee had completed a final draft and forwarded it to ISO, which will solicit final comments from the various countries participating in the development. The standard is expected sometime during the year 2000.

It is hard to overstate the new standard's significance. It has the potential to add a stamp of global legitimacy to records management as a business practice and elevate it to a new level. The standard has potential general relevance to multinational companies' efforts to implement world-class RIM programs. Multinationals would do well to monitor the standard's status, determining what is relevant to their RIM program implementations.

The European Commission's Best Practice Guidelines for Electronic Records

In 1997, the European Commission (EC) published Guidelines on Best Practice for Using Electronic Information, possibly the first (certainly the most significant) effort to define best practices in electronic records management in Europe. These best practice guidelines, different from standards since they have not been issued by a standards body, stem from the DLM Forum on Electronic Records, an EC-sponsored, Europe-wide conference held in 1996.

The guidelines are the concept of M. Jean-Michael Cornu of France, in close cooperation with the Historical Archives of the EC and with substantial input from some 300 entities throughout Europe. These guidelines take a multidisciplinary approach, with input from vendors, information managers, research organizations, and the archival community.

Guidelines on Best Practice for Using Electronic Information provides technical advice to help organizations define their own strategies for managing electronic records and information. They address the following:

* data and structured electronic information

* information life cycle and allocation of responsibilities

* design, creation and maintenance of electronic information

* short and long-term preservation of electronic information

* accessing and disseminating information

The DLM Forum's October 1999 conference was expected to produce additional best practice guidelines, which will be reviewed here if they are indeed forthcoming.

DoD Standard for Electronic Records Management Software Applications

In 1997, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) approved new standard requirements for managing electronic records maintained by federal agencies under its jurisdiction. While the standard has no applicability outside the DoD, it nevertheless has important implications.

Design Criteria Standard for Records Management Applications, formally known as DoD-STS-5015.2, was developed in cooperation with the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It is the world's first effort to establish detailed technical requirements and best practices in the management of electronic records by software applications.

The DoD standard prescribes mandatory baseline functional requirements for records management software applications, defines required system interfaces and search criteria, and describes the minimum records management requirements that must be met under NARA's regulations.

In brief, the DoD standard covers file plan implementation, electronic document filing, records classification by users, e-mail as records, records storage repositories, retention applied to stored records, and other areas. The standard also contains requirements and guidelines for software products designed to manage electronic records.

DoD 5015.2 mandates that all DoD records management systems use software products that have been certified as complying with these requirements. The Defense Information Systems Agency has responsibility for managing the software compliance process. Software products not directly targeted to the RM market can also be certified as 5015.2 compliant if they contain the requisite functionalities, for example, capabilities for deleting electronic documents according to established retention policies.

DoD 5015.2 has important international implications. Many observers believe this standard has the potential to spread to other levels of government, the business community in the United States, and other countries as well. Thus, it may become the de facto standard for electronic records management software systems in this country and perhaps worldwide.

Multinational companies cannot have world-class RIM programs without a viable records management software solution. Multinationals should review the DoD standard, determine the functional and technical requirements needed to support their RIM initiatives, and implement a software solution as a key element of their enterprise RIM strategies.

ISO 9000 Quality Records Standards

In 1987, the ISO published a group of international quality standards, known collectively as ISO 9000. While not new, these standards remain significant to global RIM initiatives, particularly among multinational manufacturing firms and those that produce or sell products in Europe.

Multinational companies that wish to obtain ISO 9000 certification -- within any country -- must apply the requisite professional expertise to assure that recordkeeping systems for quality documentation meet ISO 9000 standards. Although ISO 9000 initiatives are not as popular as they were in the early 1990s, these standards remain a significant driving force for stimulating globalized records management activities in multinational corporations today. (See the related article by van Houten in this issue, page 28.)

Electronic Document Management Standards

Technical standards are crucial to the development of electronic document management systems as they evolve from proprietary, application-specific workgroup environments to technology families that provide enterprise-wide electronic records management on every desktop. For the IT community, the Internet's global architecture and the movement from proprietary to open systems have spurred the need for global computing standards.

The document management solutions available today vary widely in functionality, flexibility, and scalability. Each system is proprietary and lacks interoperability. Global standards in document technologies are important because with them, multiple-vendor systems and applications can be linked and new technologies integrated with older legacy systems. For multinational companies, standards provide the foundation for global e-commerce: the seamless flow of business transactions and other mission-critical information on a worldwide scale.

Key electronic document management standards relevant to RIM specialists are as follows:

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). EDI is an old standard for connecting computers and transferring data between different companies' computing environments, but it is still the solution of choice for most of the world and, thus, a prime strategy for multinationals as they establish electronic links with their trading partners. However, as the traditional standard for e-commerce, EDI's notable limitations are that it is not text-based, can be difficult to read, and is often considered inordinately complex, particularly for smaller companies.

Extensible Markup Language (XML). Approved by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in February 1998, many believe this standard will supplant EDI. The successor to SGML (standard generalized markup language, an ISO specification widely adopted as a de facto standard for electronic document management), XML is considered more accessible, less expensive, and easier to implement than EDI as a platform for e-commerce. XML version 1.0 provides specifications for document linking, security, and other functions associated with intercompany exchanges of electronic documents. However, XML is not universal as a global standard for e-commerce; thus, many industry-specific versions of XML are currently under development.

Document Management Alliance (DMA). The most significant electronic document management standards activity has come from the Document Management Alliance, a consortium of vendors and users working under the auspices of the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM). DMA 1.0 is a technical standard that outlined the software interfaces required to support interoperability among proprietary electronic document management software systems from different vendors. The standard defines requirements for both client and server sides of computing infrastructures and addresses Internet/ intranet architectures. Because it supports international multilanguage conventions, it is also language-independent. DMA 1.0 was a milestone in the development of electronic document management technologies and their global deployment.

Open Document Management API (ODMA). In 1997, AIIM issued ODMA version 2.0, an application programming interface (API) technical standard that enables different desktop applications (e.g., word processing or spreadsheets) to interface with a single vendor's electronic document management system. ODMA makes it easier for users to interact with electronic documents, without regard to file format or location. Its main difference from the DMA standard mentioned above is that it is client side only. Since its issuance, ODMA has enjoyed widespread adoption by vendors in the electronic document management community.

Web Standards. The Internet is the world's best example of standardization's benefits in supporting global digital information exchange. To date, more than a dozen Internet and World Wide Web standards have been adopted -- mostly by W3C and the Internet Engineering Task Force -- to support Internet compatibility and interoperability. Two major standards include transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) and hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP). In a RIM context, one noteworthy new standard development is Web-distributed authoring and versioning (WebDAV). Today, the Internet is primarily a read-only medium. However, this new standard would provide Internet users the ability to read and write documents over the Web in much the same way as internal electronic document management environments. Many observers believe that WebDAV could potentially turn the Internet into a global document management environment, which would have major implications for RIM everywhere.


Drinkwater, Lawrence. "Industry Standards in Document Management: The Next Business Imperative After Y2K." Inform, May 1999: 26-33.

Guidelines on Best Practices for Using Electronic Information. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Commission. Available at www.dlmforum. (accessed February 18, 2000).

Mandel, Mark. "XML: The Key to Knowledge Portals." Handout from KMWorld '99 Conference Proceedings. 21 September 1999.

"IT Executives Praise XML and Pine for a Standard." Information Week, 8 November 1999: 96-98.

Stephens, David O. "ISO 9000 and International Records Management." Records Management Quarterly, July 1996: 67-73.

Stephens, David O. and David Roberts. "From Australia: The World's First National Standard for Records Management." Records Management Quarterly, October 1996: 3-7; 62.

Design Criteria Standard for Records Management Applications (DoD-STS-5015.2). United States Department of Defense. Available at, mil/recmgt. (accessed 21 March 2000).

David O. Stephens, CRM, CMC, FAL is vice president for the records management consulting division at Zasio Enterprises Inc. He has been a consultant in the field of records management for more than 18 years, and has published books and articles about information management in the United States and abroad. The author may be reached at
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Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
Previous Article:The KM Technology Infrastructure.
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