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Electronic Records

Electronic records show how you conduct business, make decisions, and carry out your work. They are evidence of your decisions and actions.  Fundamental records management principles apply to electronic records as all other record formats. 
 
Many electronic records projects benefit from the participation of information technology staff who may be more knowledgeable about the technology and systems involved.  
Image. Laptop with binders coming out of the screen.  Illustrates electronic records

Inventory 

Conducting a records inventory is the first step towards starting an overall electronic records management program. An inventory requires collecting relevant data on all your 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 record needs assessment and program plan. The following resources are available on our Forms & Tools page:
 
Electronic Records Inventory Instructions (2021)
 
Learn about electronic inventories, including a sample database, forms, and instructions to complete them here. 
 

Retention of E records 

The legal retention period for records is not determined by their format. Instead, retention depends on the function of the records and their legal, administrative, and fiscal value. If you are from a local government, check the LGS-1 retention schedule for the appropriate retention periods for your records.  If you are from a state agency, use the State General Schedule and your agency-specific records schedules to determine how long to keep your records. (If your records are not scheduled, contact your State Archives representative.)  
 
Records in all formats (hardcopy and electronic) must be retained beyond the minimum retention period when they are relevant to a FOIL request, audit, legal or any other ongoing investigation. 
 
Some believe that digital images of paper records or electronic records in general, cannot be used as evidence in court. Electronic records or digital images can be used as evidence; however, you will need to be able to prove that the system that maintains the records is secure and maintains accurate, authentic records.  This means ensuring all metadata associated with an audit is captured.  
 
For more information on the retention of records, see the updated Publication #41, Retention and Disposition of Records. The Archives also has online recordings of our training and webinars on the retention schedule as well as changes brought about the consolidation of schedules in the new LGS-1. Be sure to contact your Records Management Officer or the State Archives if you have any questions concerning the legal disposition of records. You can reach us at (518) 474-6926 or via email at recmgmt@nysed.gov

Security   

Electronic records are under constant threat from cyber-attack via hacking, viruses, and other forms of malware such as ransomware.  Governments and other public institutions are being targeted by cyber criminals so all appropriate measures must be taken. 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.  Ensure staff is up to date on the latest phishing scams and other methods cyber criminals use to gain access to your network.  
 
In addition, there are the dangers of fire, flood, and vandalism and hard drive crashes. You can increase the physical security of computers by locking doors and installing intruder, fire, and water detection systems. 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, including information on data classification to help restrict access refer to the Office of Information Technology Services’ Information Security Policy

Imaging/Scanning   

Electronic document imaging, what many people simply call "scanning," can be an important records management technology. However, imaging isn't the solution to all problems. If you need help deciding if imaging makes sense for you, contact the State Archives Regional Advisory Officer in your region of the state or (especially if you are an Albany-based state agency) contact the State Archives central office at (518) 474-6926.  
 
You can find more information on our Imaging and Microfilming topic page. 
 

Managing/Maintaining Electronic Records 

The very nature of electronic records can make managing and maintaining them difficult. 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 remote web servers in the cloud, in-house network servers, or physical media such as: optical discs, magnetic tape, diskettes, or external and internal hard drives. Learn the basics about the care of electronic records at our Managing Electronic Records webinars and training sessions.  The State Archives has information specific to data storage vendors as well.  
 
One way to maintain your electronic records is to ingest or upload them to a Content Management System or CMS.  The State Archives does not endorse any particular product.  However, we developed the training, Electronic Content Management Systems.  If you are interested in scheduling this trainign, please email us at archtrain@nysed.gov.
 

Managing Social Media Records 

Given the popularity and all-encompassing nature of social media in our lives, many local governments and state agencies are using social media to communicate with citizens and gather feedback. Agencies and governments must be aware that social media is also a records creation platform, and those records must be managed throughout their lifecycle, just like any other record.  
 
For more information and suggestions on the benefits and risks of using social media as well as managing the records created by these websites/applications, you can look at our recently updated publication, Understanding the Importance of Managing Social Media Records, and related training on Managing Social Media social media.  
 

Working with Vendors for Electronic Records 

There are several basic issues you need to address whenever working with vendors.  This includes how to choose a vendor, how write up a contract, and how to oversee a project. Local governments typically ask vendors for references to obtain additional input regarding their services to local governments with similar records management issues. Such questions usually focus on the quality of the vendor's services and products.   
 

Organizing 

Part of the maintenance of your electronic records is ensuring they are organized. 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, when you create fiscal records electronically, use the name of the records series followed by the year and month, indicated numerically so that the files sort in chronological sequence.  
 

Preservation 

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, view our online training on electronic data storage, ECMS or preserving electronic records.     
 
Physical media like tapes and discs can develop read errors or fail after only a few years. To avoid data loss, refresh media by copying data to a fresh tape or disk every three to five years. 
 
Another strategy is to maintain data in a standard or non-proprietary format. Look to standard formats that accepted by International Standards Organization or ISO standards. These standards will not change over time so the information will remain accessible.  
 
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 all its associated metadata (system-generated information about the records). To learn more about preserving electronic records, consider attending our workshop, Preservation of Electronic Records or viewing the recorded webinar, Preserving Electronic Records.  
 
Remember, placing electronic records in a ECMS does not guarantee the long-term preservation of the record.  The system must be maintained and updated accordingly over time, formats will change and software, applications will need to be upgraded to ensure long term preservation of any electronic record.  
 

Funding 

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 recmgmt@nysed.gov, or contact your Regional Advisory Officer
 

Training 

The State Archives provides training online via webinars and workshops free of charge to local governments and state agencies.  Recordings for many of these electronic records topics are available on our website or YouTube channel.  You can also contact your RAO for specialized training for individual governments, agencies, or associations. For more information on training, contact the State Archives Regional Advisory Officer in your region of the state or (especially if you are an Albany-based state agency) contact the State Archives central office at (518) 474-6926.