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Computers and other electronic devices create many of the new records we use today. These records, although electronic in format, are the same as records in other formats. Electronic records show how you conduct business, make decisions, and carry out your work. They are evidence of decisions and actions. Fundamental records management principles apply to electronic records and all other record formats.
The technical nature of electronic records makes managing them a challenge. There are a variety of electronic records: email, voicemail, geographic information systems (GIS), webpages, word-processed documents, spreadsheets, databases, digital images, and video and audio files. They can be stored on optical discs, magnetic tape, diskettes, and an increasing number of other media. Electronic records are under constant threat from technological obsolescence - the rapid advancement of computer technology that can render records inaccessible due to lack of planning.
Learn the basics about the care of electronic records at our Managing Electronic Records workshop.
Preserving Electronic Records in Colleges and Universities and Improving Electronic Records Programs in the SUNY System are two detailed resources intended for colleges and universities, but useful for any organization charged with managing electronic records.
Conducting a records inventory is the first step towards starting an electronic records management program. An inventory requires collecting pertinent data on all records, including electronic records systems, to analyze and use for planning. See Publication #76, Inventory and Planning: The First Steps in Records Management for instructions on inventorying electronic records.
Electronic records inventories should include only major records systems; avoid inventorying files on individual hard drives. Use the inventory data to develop an electronic records needs assessment and program plan. If you don't have the necessary expertise, staff, or time, see our Electronic Records Management Consultant list to find someone who can assist you. To learn more about inventorying electronic records, attend our Electronic Records Inventory workshop.
The most effective approach to organizing your electronic records is to have a filing system that mirrors your paper files. Create a series of electronic folders and subfolders on a server, arranged hierarchically from the general to the specific in a series of directories.
For easy retrieval, develop naming conventions that are logical, consistent, and allow sensible sorting. For example, if you create town board minutes electronically, use the name of the records series followed by the year and month, indicated numerically so that the files sort in chronological sequence: "Minutes 2005_07."
In addition to fire, flood, and vandalism, computer users must contend with viruses, hackers and hard drive crashes. You can increase the physical security of computers by locking doors and installing intruder, fire, and water detection systems. In addition, implement and update virus protection software and firewalls, make frequent backups and store them offsite, and use a system of passwords to protect your information.
To help you assess whether your electronic systems are secure and develop preventive measures in case of disasters, see Publication #82, Managing Records Disasters.
For more advice on securing your electronic records, refer to the Office of Information Technology Services’ Information Security Policy.
The most challenging task in managing electronic records is long-term preservation. To learn more about common ways electronic data is stored and an understanding of how it fits in with records management, attend our Electronic Data Storage workshop.
Magnetic tape can develop read-errors and optical storage media can fail completely after only a few years, especially if they are not stored in the proper environment. To avoid data loss, refresh media by copying data to a fresh tape or disk every three to five years.
There are a few strategies to anticipate technical obsolescence. One is to copy electronic records to an eye-readable media such as microfilm or paper. This works best when the functionality of the electronic record is no longer needed.
Another strategy is to maintain data in a standard or non-proprietary format. These are not likely to change over time so the information should remain readable.
An effective but labor-intensive and costly solution is to migrate data periodically to a new software version or system, usually every three to five years. Migration should include the records and their associated metadata (system-generated information about the records). To learn more about preserving electronic records, attend our Preservation of Electronic Records workshop or view this set of online instructional videos, Preserving Electronic Records.
The State Archives administers the Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund (LGRMIF) to help local governments manage their records, including their electronic recordkeeping systems. To learn more, contact the State Archives at (518) 474-6926 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact your Regional Advisory Officer.