Federal Records Management

Context for Electronic Records Management [ERM]

ATTENTION! This product is no longer current. For the most recent NARA guidance, please visit our Records Management Policy page.

Context for Electronic Records Management


The figure above is meant to place both the definitions that follow and the subsequent four Fast Track products in an appropriate context. A discussion of this follows.

As denoted in the above figure, records management, as defined in the Code of Federal Regulations definition cited below, is the rubric "umbrella term" for the discipline defined by an agency's policies and processes for managing the records that document its activities. This is denoted in the above figure as the top-level, overarching box.

Records management activities subsumed under that umbrella may be accomplished in either a manual or automated manner. This is denoted in the bifurcation at the next level down in the diagram. When records management activities are manual, this is the traditional approach to records management. When records management activities are automated, the Fast Track Guidance Development project refers to those activities as electronic records management [ERM]. It is important to note that the electronic in ERM refers to automation, not to the nature of the record media. It is entirely possible to have manual processes and procedures to handle electronic records (e.g., shelf lists of boxes of floppy disks). Conversely, it is possible to haerm" for the discipline defined by an agency's policy automated procedures to handle paper records (e.g., bar coding, box tracking, etc.). Electronic records management simply implies automation of records management processes and procedures.

These first five Fast Track products focus specifically on automated processes and procedures used in the management of only those records maintained in electronic form; Fast Track has termed this arena as that of electronic recordkeeping [ERK]. This is denoted in the darkest box at the lower right of the figure above.

As such, and as is discussed in Preliminary Planning for Electronic Recordkeeping: Checklist for IT Staff, one of the first decisions that agencies must make when deciding to move towards automation of records management processes is to determine whether the system is to manage only paper records [ERM], only electronic records [ERK], or both [ERM].

This Fast Track product provides a context for ERK, specifies the records management and information technology [IT] terminology associated with ERK, and provides a context for the following four strategic Fast Track products.

Context: Terminology

Shared terminology, scope, and framework are fundamental to our understanding of electronic records issues. This is especially true when more than one profession, each with its own vocabulary and point of view, must work collectively to solve the challenges electronic records present. The focus of this particular set of Fast Track products concerns electronic recordkeeping concepts that need to be understood in the larger context of records management, electronic records management, and other aspects of information technology.

What Does NARA Mean By:

  • Records

    Records include all books, papers, maps, photographs, machine readable materials, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law or in connection with the transaction of public business and preserved or appropriate for preservation by that agency or its legitimate successor as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the Government or because of the informational value of the data in them. (44 U.S.C. 3301)

    Information technology uses the word record to describe a particular set of information. In this data processing context, records are composed of fields of information, and a collection of such fielded records comprises an electronic file. The Fast Track documents, however, use the term record as described in the above definition per the Federal Records Act.

  • Electronic records

    Electronic, or machine-readable records, are records on electronic storage media (A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers, Society of American Archivists: Chicago, 1992 p. 12). Electronic record, as defined in NARA regulations (36 CFR 1234.2), means any information that is recorded in a form that only a computer can process and that satisfies the definition of a Federal record per the Federal Records Act definition supplied above. Federal electronic records are not necessarily kept in a "recordkeeping system" but may reside in a generic electronic information system or are produced by an application such as word processing or electronic mail.


  • Metadata

    Metadata is a term that describes or specifies characteristics that need to be known about data in order to build information resources such as electronic recordkeeping systems and support records creators and users.


  • Records Management

    There are many (similar) definitions of records management. One common one is "...the field of management responsible for the systematic control of the creation, maintenance, use and disposition of records." (A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers, Society of American Archivists: Chicago, 1992 p. 29.) From the Federal perspective, it is the planning, controlling, directing, organizing, training, promoting, and other managerial activities involved in records creation, maintenance and use, and disposition in order to achieve adequate and proper documentation of the policies and transactions of the Federal Government (36 CFR 1220.14).


  • Electronic Records Management [ERM]

    Electronic records management [ERM] is using automated techniques to manage records regardless of format. Electronic records management is the broadest term that refers to electronically managing records on varied formats, be they electronic, paper, microform, etc. Electronic recordkeeping [ERK] is a subset of ERM, because ERK focuses on electronically managing electronic records.

  • Electronic Recordkeeping [ERK]

    Electronic recordkeeping [ERK] is the development of automated processes an agency uses to manage its electronic records. These automated processes support not only the preservation of an electronic record's content, but also its context and structure over time. These first Fast Track documents specifically address ERK issues.

  • Electronic information system [EIS] (From WhatIs.Com, term=INFORMATION SYSTEM)

    "The collection of technical and human resources that provide the storage, computing, distribution, and communication for the information required by all or some part of an enterprise. A special form of information system is a management information system (MIS), which provides information for managing an enterprise."

    Electronic information systems automate certain business functions. Other programmatic electronic information systems may automate agency mission-specific business functions, and as such, may produce Federal records in the process. These electronic information systems may or may not incorporate all aspects of appropriate electronic recordkeeping, depending on their design characteristics.

  • Electronic Recordkeeping System [ERKS]

    An electronic recordkeeping system [ERKS] is an electronic information system that meets an agency's recordkeeping needs. At a high level, NARA has defined an ERKS as an electronic information system in which records are collected, organized, and categorized to facilitate their preservation, retrieval, use, and disposition (36 CFR 1234.2). From a records perspective, an ERKS will ensure that the records it maintains will have sufficient authenticity and reliability* to meet all of the agency's recordkeeping needs.

    *The International Council on Archives document Guide for Managing Electronic Records from an Archival Perspective states "The reliability of a record is its ability to serve as reliable evidence....Authenticity refers to the persistence over time of the original characteristics of the record with respect to context, structure and content. An authentic record is one that retains its original reliability."

  • Electronic Document Management System [EDMS]

    An electronic document management system [EDMS] is software that manages the creation, storage, and control of semi-structured documents. It consists of several technologies including, but not limited to document management, COLD (Computer Output to Laser Disk), imaging, and workflow. See Preliminary Planning for Electronic Recordkeeping: Checklist for RM Staff for a more detailed description of these technologies.

    In part, because an EDMS does not support the preservation of the business context of an individual record (i.e., EDMS systems manage a content item as an individual unit, as opposed to preserving its relationship to a larger group of documents that provide evidence of the same particular organizational function), EDMS systems are not electronic recordkeeping systems.

  • Records Management Application [RMA]

    Records Management Application [RMA] is the term used in DoD 5015.2-STD, Design Criteria Standard for Electronic Records Management Software Applications, for software that manages records. Its primary management functions are categorizing and locating records and identifying records that are due for disposition. RMA software also stores, retrieves, and disposes of the electronic records that are maintained in its repository. DoD 5015.2-STD requires that RMAs be able to manage records regardless of their media. The DoD maintains a list of software products that have been tested and certified to comply with the mandatory requirements of DoD 5015.2-STD.

    See NARA endorsement of DoD 5015.2-STD.


Context for Subsequent Fast Track Products

Given the relationship that has been explained here between electronic records management [ERM] and electronic recordkeeping [ERK], the next four products focus specifically on ERK. This is not meant to imply that the larger context of ERM is being ignored, or that some of what is contained in the subsequent products is not equally applicable to ERM systems development efforts. It is simply a reflection of the focus of questions that were submitted to the Fast Track Project Team by Federal agency personnel.

Version date: 03/27/00


Updated: April 25, 2019