The Fundamentals of Electronic Archiving, Part 1 of 3: Records Management in the 21st Century

The Fundamentals of Electronic Archiving: Records Management in the 21st Century
Part 1 of 3

Before embarking on an electronic archiving project and addressing which solutions to deploy, an enterprise must ensure that all employees understand the fundamental differences between paper documents and electronic documents (“e-documents”). E-documents differ from paper documents in scale, mutability and readability:

Scale: An employee in a traditional business may send and receive one to ten letters or memoranda a day. The same worker in an information technology enabled business may send or receive fifty plus electronic letters or e-mails in a day.  It is quite common for a global enterprise to produce upwards of one million e-mails a day. This creates challenges for storage and retrieval of information, making scale the leading factor in electronic archiving cost and complexity

Mutability: Albeit subject to forgery, intentional physical obfuscation or destruction, written or printed information is, for all intents and purposes, more or less immutable. The same is not true of information content stored within an e-document. E-documents can be easily modified without leaving an immediately visible trace, which may change the document’s meaning completely. In addition, e-documents can be destroyed without leaving any visible record of the document’s existence behind. Mutability is the second most significant challenge in implementing electronic archiving solutions because demonstrating the authenticity of a document, and ensuring that it has not been altered after retrieval are of prime importance in any litigation or regulatory setting.

Readability: Due to changing technology and evolving computer systems and applications, e-documents may vary in format and physical media across heterogeneous computing platforms as well as within variations on a given platform. For example, few can retrieve information stored only a few years ago on floppy discs. An enterprise is hard pressed to guarantee that certain forms of e-document will be able to be decoded and that their content and format will remain understandable or readable in the future. This disparate and intangible nature of e-documents, combined with the unproven durability of associated support mediums forms a third significant challenge surrounding electronic archiving.

In order to safeguard corporate intellectual property and to reduce the potentially bankrupting effects of litigation involving massive amounts of electronic information, the enterprise must not delay in implementing some form of electronic information infrastructure.

** This is the first part in a three-part series which comprise an abridged version of the article “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Electronic Archiving,” written by Daniel Garrie and published in the Los Angeles Daily Journal.