Documents vs records – does it matter?

Documents vs records - does it matterV1_1

There has been much debate in records management circles of late regarding the difference between records and documents.

In a recent article, AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management) called on records managers to expand their role to include documents:

“You may not consider a business document such as an email to be something that needs to be managed, stored, and discovered, but the courts and the regulators do. They also care about instant messages, SMS, database records, and many other types of electronically stored information. Therefore, the role of record management must flexibly grow to include an ever-expanding array of electronic document types,” the article stated.

Does that mean that AIIM wants all documents to now be records and that you should file all your emails in your company’s records management system?

The answer is no. It all comes down to how you define a document and a record.

The National Archives of Scotland defines a document as any piece of written information in any form, produced or received by an organisation or person. It can include databases, website, emails, word and excel files, letters, and memos.

Some of these documents have short-term value, such as invitations and drafts, while others need to be kept as evidence of business transactions or as a result of legal obligations, such as policy documents. It’s the latter documents that need to be placed in a records management system and therefore, become records.

So in essence, all records start off as documents, but not all documents will ultimately become records. A good way to understand the difference comes from the popular web magazine, which provides the following definition of a record:

“Records provide evidence of the activities of a given organisation’s functioning and policies. Records often have strict requirements regarding their retention, access and destruction, and generally have to be kept unchanged.”

CMS Wired estimates that 90 per cent or more of all documents are records, meaning 10 per cent can safely be binned.

With the increase of technology, the lines between a record and a document are beginning to blur and it is up to records managers to adapt to these changes. That’s why Grace Records Management works closely with our sister company, Grace Information Management, to ensure all your records needs are met.


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