OPSA is a SAQA recognised professional body for all administrative professionals in South Africa

Fundamentals of Records Management

What is a record?

A record consists of information created, received and maintained as evidence of business activities.  The records should correctly reflect what was communicated on or decided, or what action was taken.  The records should be able to support the needs of the business to which it relates and must be able to be used for accountability purposes.

Documents that are required by statute or regulation (financial records), have financial obligations (contracts) or legal claims (litigation case files) and communicates organisational requirements (policies / procedures) would be considered a record.

Records Management

Records come in many formats:

Correspondence systems

  • Physical paper in our files g. letters, memos, minutes, contracts, marketing materials and reports etc.
  • Electronic messages such as email content and their attachments, instant messages g. Hotmail, Skype, SMS, fax, voice, graphics, animation, sound, scanned images etc.
  • Content on a web site, documents that reside on Smartphones, flash drives, desktops, servers and document management systems
  • Information captured on various databases

Non-correspondence systems

  • Maps, plans, drawings, photographs
  • Microforms

Microfilm is the oldest type of microform which stores images of document pages side by side on 16, 35, 70- or 100-mm film.  Each reel of film has a standard size of 100 feet and can hold up to 2500 letter size images or up to 30000 smaller size images.  When a document that is stored on microfilm needs to be read, the film images are enlarged and projected on a visual display screen.

Microfiche is a sheet of film containing miniature images arranged in rows and columns on a card.  The number of images that can be arranged on one fiche depends on the reduction ratio being used.  The standard size of a fiche is 6 by 4 inches, with the fiche coded for retrieval purposes.  It can hold up to 98 images in 7 rows, with 4 images in each row.

Ultrafiche is like a microfiche except that the page images are reduced more than 90 times.  This storage form is still utilised by various industries.  The National Archives in Pretoria stores historical documents on microforms in order to protect them.  Car companies like Volvo keep all the parts of the cars on microfiche and newspapers store the archived editions on microfiche.

Audio visual – sound and video cassettes

Business applications – financial management systems, human resource management systems, supply chain management systems and customer relationship management systems

If there is a lawsuit, all of these – including the copies that individuals have retained, and any items deleted from the system, may be identified as discoverable.  This means that all the above could be used against an organisation in a lawsuit.

Analysing and classifying records

Record activity or use

  • Active records are records that are accessed on a day-to-day basis and are used for the efficient running of the organisation.
  • Inactive records are records that are no longer referred to on a regular basis. These can be destroyed or stored according to the importance of the record and the retention period.

Importance of records

When analysing your records, it is important to inspect the document and classify it as one of the following:

  • Vital record – a vital record is essential for the effective, continuous operation of the These documents would be required to re-establish or continue an organisation in the event of a disaster happening.  These documents are usually irreplaceable e.g. leases, legal documents patents, property deeds, trademarks.  If these documents have not been stored correctly and are lost, the company will be unable to start up the company again in the event of a disaster.  Think of the various businesses that had branches in the Twin Towers.  All the records, both paper and electronic, would have been totally destroyed.  If vital records were not stored off-site or at other branches of the company, where possible, it would be unlikely that the company would be able to continue the business elsewhere without considerable time, cost and effort.
  • Important records – these records contribute to the smooth running of the company and can be replaced or duplicated if lost or destroyed from other places inside or outside of the organisation, but it would take considerable time and money to replace them g.  case files, customer orders, financial records (could get them from your accountant) and tax records (SARS).
  • Useful records – these are documents that can be easily If they are mislaid, they will not disrupt the routine operations of the company e.g.  business reports, complaint letters, customer requests.
  • Nonessential records – these records are not necessary for the restoration of the business and have no predictable value g. subscriptions, survey results, telephone messages.

Once records have been identified, it is necessary to consider the natures of potential disasters – the likelihood of them happening and the consequences of what would happen should they occur.  All kinds of disasters should be considered.  People often have the attitude – “it will not happen to me” and have had to eat their words at some stage or another.  We may not be at risk of a Tsunami hitting us, but we can have severe rains and buildings can be flooded out.  If records are stored in cardboard boxes directly on the floor or stored in the basement, the records could be extensively damaged!

Think of your own personal records e.g. Identity document, birth certificates, mortgage papers, car papers, wills etc.   Try and group them into the above classifications.  In the event of your house burning down, your handbag stolen, or your house burgled, how quickly would you be able to replace any of those documents?  Do you have certified copies of documents, do you have duplicates etc.  Have you considered any of these as records?


Next week we will be looking deeper into Vital Records and Disaster Recovery Programmes.

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