Are Standards Useful?

By Julie Gable posted 05-16-2010 19:39


It depends on the expectation.  If you’re looking for a cookbook that tells you exactly what ingredients to combine in what proportion to produce a records management program, you’re going to be disappointed.  On the other hand, if you’re looking for help in outlining your company’s approach to records management strategy, standards are a good place to look. 

Records management standards have emerged to fulfill various purposes.  They represent the work of international standards groups, national standards bodies, professional organizations and industry consortiums.  They generally fall into two broad categories: Advice and best practice for recordkeeping programs; and considerations for selecting records management technologies.

The big daddy is ISO 15489, a standard in two parts.  Part 1 is for a general audience, and it explains concepts like records authenticity, reliability, usability and integrity.  It can help to get all ERM project players to a common understanding of recordkeeping issues fairly quickly.  Part 2 is for records professionals, covering adequacy considerations for the design of records policies, processes, and controls.  The DIRKS Manual, an acronym for Designing and Implementing Recordkeeping Systems, is an eight step methodology that expands on the ISO 15489 framework.  The only topic not covered in ISO 15489 is records preservation, at topic taken up in the Victoria (Australia) Electronic Records Standard. 

There are two metadata standards that pertain to records.  ISO 15386 is actually the Dublin (Ohio) Core, a set of standard metadata used to describe information objects.  It offers an extensive list of descriptors that an organization would find useful as a starting point for compiling its own metadata fields. ISO 23081, on the other hand, addresses the relevance of records management metadata in business processes, defines the roles and types of metadata needed for records management processes, and sets a framework for capturing metadata.  It could prove useful for projects contemplating a metadata repository approach. 

For software selection, there are the Department of Defense 5015.2 standard and the Model Requirements of the European Union.  DoD 5015.2 describes functionality that is the basis for testing records management software products and certifying them against the standard.  Most U.S. government entities must use records management software that is DoD 5015.2 certified.  MoReq, in contrast, is a standard originally written to assist with purchasing records management software products and it offers an extensive description of features and functions that an entity might need. 

Standards offer a wealth of information, advice and best practice, but not all of it is automatically relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish.  The best use of external standards may be as a starting point in formulating an organization’s internal standards to guide better design of information systems and the people who must use them.

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