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Megatrends in international records management. (International).

International records management was "born" during the 1990s and proceeded to evolve beyond the concept stage into real initiatives of global significance during and after this time. Although there were efforts during the 1970s and '80s (i.e., those of the International Records Management Council), they had no real and lasting impact on records management practice on a global scale.

When this author first became interested in international records management during the late '80s, there was virtually no high-quality literature available on the subject. Anyone who wanted to develop an understanding of recordkeeping and records management for the' purpose of advancing any professional initiatives, either globally or in a particular country, had basically nowhere to turn. During the past 10 years, however, we have witnessed something of a revolution in global records management.

This attempt at elucidating the most important things to have happened to records and information in a global context during the past 10 or more years includes ideas that have truly revolutionized RIM practice and that will continue to do so in the coming years. Some of these megatrends reflect the root causes of paradigm shifts in records and information management, while others are more reflective of the effect or result of those causes. All are discussed in summary fashion due to space limitations.

1. The Triumph of Democracy and Free Enterprise

In an article titled "Towards a Global Theory of Records Management" (Stephens 1992), this author attempted to answer two intriguing questions: 1) Why does records management exist in some countries but not in others? 2) Why does records management develop to a broadbased, advanced level of practice in some countries but not in others? These questions were particularly timely in light of the collapse of Communism's tightly controlled, state-run economies during the early 1990s. Indeed, that entire decade is generally characterized as the triumph of democracy and free enterprise.

The earlier article advanced the hypothesis that a strong democratic government, together with a vibrant, free-market economy, were the single most important determinants of successful records management development in countries. This author believed this to be true because free governments are inherently based on the open exchange of ideas and information. Moreover, free market economic systems offer the strongest incentives for adopting management practices that maximize efficiencies - and one such practice is records management.

Everything that has happened in the international arena during the past 10 to 15 years has only reaffirmed the validity of the foregoing principles. This first global megatrend is the root cause, the key determinant, of all those that follow.

2. The Increasing Globalization of Business

A second key megatrend for international records management during the 1990s was strong and rapid growth in global business. The major causes of this growth include greater economic integration through free trade agreements in Europe (EC 1992), North America (NAFTA) and the world (GATT); the emergence of new market-oriented economic systems in Eastern Europe, Russia, and a number of Asian and Latin American countries; and the explosion of the Internet and related global information technologies.

In the context of international records management, the significance of business growth is that it has created the climate and incentives for new solutions related to the management of information, solutions which are scaled for global deployment. Without this growth, it is unlikely that people would have witnessed anything like what has occurred in international records management during the past 10 years.

3. The European Union

Apart from the United Kingdom, the 15 member states of the European Union (E.U.) cannot be said to have records management as a separate and distinct discipline, at least not as defined and practiced in North America. In most E.U. countries, what is termed records management is practiced as a function of other professional disciplines (i.e., archival management and information technology). Thus, in these instances, records management has not evolved into its own distinct professional discipline. Nevertheless, the E.U. has made some very significant contributions to international records management worthy of the megatrend label, including the following:

* In 1996, the European Commission, comprised of the E.U.'s member states, launched the DLM Forum on Electronic Records (see The forum's primary objective is "to achieve multidisciplinary Europe-wide cooperation to produce guidelines and information and to disseminate these to provide support to solving the issues faced in dealing with electronic records." The forum is the most significant European initiative related to electronic records management, and it is of global significance.

* In 1998, the E.U. issued its directive on data protection, which relates to privacy issues associated with data on individuals. The directive contains stringent provisions pertaining to the maintenance, use, and dissemination of such data, including transmission to countries outside the E.U. It has been a major factor influencing records management initiatives throughout Europe, and the E.U. is currently exerting pressure on other countries, including the U.S., to adopt data protection measures that mirror its own.

* During the past decade, the E.U. has issued dozens of other directives that contain provisions related to various aspects of recordkeeping, including records retention. These will be of interest to any multinational company that has major business operations in the E.U.

4. The Globalization of Legal Compliance/Litigation Risk Avoidance Initiatives

Legal compliance and litigation risk avoidance are the two most significant factors that influence records management in the United States. The U.S. leads the world in laws and regulations that contain provisions relating to records retention or other recordkeeping requirements. The total number of such requirements - promulgated by all jurisdictions - is variously estimated at between 10,000 and 20,000. These requirements create a climate of uncertainty regarding how records should be managed, and they also create a compliance problem for regulated parties. The U.S. also leads the world in lawsuits to resolve business disputes. This has created strong incentives for businesses to implement various records management initiatives designed to reduce the risks of documents in litigation.

Both of these factors have created a strong need for professional expertise in records management among U.S. business corporations. Until the last few years, however, it was assumed that these issues were largely confined to the U.S. This, however, has changed. The records management specialists of virtually every multinational company have initiatives planned or underway related to global legal compliance and/or litigation risk avoidance. Mostly, these take the form of international records retention initiatives. Ten years ago, such initiatives were rare; now they are commonplace.

5. The Growth of Global e-Commerce Initiatives

In 1996, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law developed the world's first global legislative model, which prescribed legal standards for record-keeping in "all-digital" environments. This model law has been widely adopted, in various forms, by national governments throughout the world, including the U.S.

One of the law's main purposes was to remove impediments in existing country laws that restrain the assimilation of new electronic record-keeping technologies. For example, the laws of many countries contain provisions that require original records or documents bearing "authenticated signatures" in order for business transactions to be legally binding or enforceable. The U.N. model law is designed to overcome such impediments as long as the electronic recordkeeping systems and the documents they contain can be demonstrated to possess the requisite integrity and trustworthiness; that is, they must be accessible, legible, true and accurate, and retained for appropriate periods of time.

From the perspective of megatrends, this model law and the many country laws that have been enacted in its wake have had the effect of enhancing the need for professional expertise in records management. In order to remain competitive in the global economy, all multinational companies must accelerate their transition from a paper-based to an all-digital recordkeeping environment. Without a high order of records management expertise, this cannot be done.

6. The Internet as the Pre-eminent Platform for Global Information

The expression "the Internet changes everything" has long since become a cliche, but it could not be more true. Because it is inherently global in character, the Internet has enormous significance for international information management. Not only has it completely rewritten the rule books of enterprise computing, but it has become the pre-eminent platform for global information in nearly all forms. It has made many international records management initiatives feasible that would otherwise not be. The Internet has the capability to provide instant global reach for even the smallest organizations. Without e-mail and the Web, without the global accessibility of legal research sources, without technology solutions built around Internet technologies, many global records management initiatives simply would not be practical.

7. The Evolution of Business and Technology Solutions of Global Reach

This is, perhaps, a weaker megatrend, but one that is nevertheless worthy of note. Most solution providers in the records management marketplace tend to serve local, regional, or national markets. However, without solution providers of global reach, multinational companies must rely on local or regional vendors for solutions to records management problems. True global reach means doing business throughout Europe, the Americas, Asia, and the South Pacific, as well as the Middle East and parts of Africa, at a minimum. In the records management marketplace, however, very few solution providers can lay claim to doing business on this scale. In fact, as the 1990s began, Japanese microfilm and document imaging companies (i.e., Canon and Minolta) probably came the closest to achieving true global reach.

During the last 10 years, the evolution of global solution providers has been slow but significant. During the early '90s, Australia-based Brambles (now Recall) proceeded aggressively with global expansion in the commercial records storage sector. Later during the decade, U.S.-based Iron Mountain also began to compete aggressively in this space. In the records management software industry, Australia's Tower Software can probably claim having the most international clients.

As noted above, Internet technologies are changing everything, including the feasibility of serving global markets. Thus, this is listed as a megatrend, even though much remains to be accomplished.

8. The Growing Global Agendas of International Professional Groups

This has been a significant trend during the past 10 years, one in which substantial progress has been made. In brief, every major professional group representing records management interests either began significant international initiatives or else continued those already underway. The following are examples:

* AIIM International - At the beginning of the '90s, this U.S.-based association's major international activity was an affiliate relationship with what was then called the International Micrographics Congress. Since that time, AIIM's international reach has expanded substantially. It has established overseas operations and, through ISO (The International Organization for Standardization), it plays a prominent role in the development of international standards in filmbased and electronic document imaging (see

* ARMA International - During the late-1980s, this U.S.-based association ( embarked on international expansion. It already had chapters in Canada and Puerto Rico, and it added chapters in Japan and New Zealand. Its most significant achievements during the '90s were to establish a chapter in Jamaica and an accord with two other major players in international records management matters: the International Council on Archives and the International Records Management Trust. Finally, ARMA International also participated in the development of ISO 15489 - the world's first international standard for records management, discussed in detail below.

* International Council on Archives - Unlike AIIM or ARMA International, which executed a single-country agenda for many years before expanding internationally, this Paris-based organization ( has always been inherently global. Although it primarily represents archival interests - those associated with the preservation of records of enduring value - it plays a significant role in international records management activities as well. Through its Committee on Electronic and Other Current Records (CECR), the ICA develops technical guidelines and best practices for records management. These initiatives grew rapidly during the 1990s.

* International Records Management Trust - Like the ICA, this organization ( has been inherently global in character since its establishment in 1989. Its primary mission is to sponsor records management projects in developing countries throughout the world.

* Prism International - This U.S.- based association (www.prismintl. org) represents commercial records storage companies throughout the world. In recent years the organization has increased its international initiatives to include conducting conferences at overseas locations.

9. International Standards and Best Practices

This is, arguably, the most important megatrend affecting international records management that has evolved during the past 10 years. It is largely the result of all the preceding megatrends. Historically, the absence of standards and best practices has been one of the biggest problems in records management, and this has been particularly true for international records management. During recent years, however, a veritable revolution in international standards-setting activity has been witnessed, which has the potential to substantially elevate records management practice throughout the world. The major standards initiatives include the following:

* The ISO 9000 Standards for Quality Records - Issued in 1987, these were the world's first truly international standards that prescribed records management practices. They are, however, limited in scope to quality records maintained by organizations that desire to attain certification under ISO 9000. Perhaps their larger significance is that with their issuance the International Organization for Standardization, the world's prominent standards-setting organization, entered the records management standards business, which paved the way for later initiatives.

* AS 4390 - The Australian National Standard for Records Management - Issued in 1996, this was the world's first general standard for records management.

Although it is inherently single-country in character, it opened the door for subsequent international standards development activities.

* DoD Standard for Electronic Records Management Applications -- Issued in 1997, this was, and remains, the world's first standard prescribing functionality requirements for electronic records management software applications.

* ISO 15489 - This soon-to-be-issued standard will be the world's first global model for records management, a true milestone in the history of the profession. As an ISO international standard, it will add a stamp of legitimacy to the discipline's viability as practiced throughout the world.

10. The Globalization of RIM Programs in Multinational Corporations

The last megatrend is actually the result, the sum total, of all those previously discussed. Every multinational company has global RIM initiatives either planned or underway. Ten years ago, such projects had barely reached the concept or discussion stage. If the next 10 years bear witness to anything like the progress made during the last 10, it will be the most exciting time ever to practice records management.

David Stephens, CRM, CMC, FAI, is Vice President for the records management consulting firm of 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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COPYRIGHT 2001 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
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Author:Stephens, David O.
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2001
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