Federal Records Management

Fast Track Products

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 This product is no longer current.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


Electronic recordkeeping [ERK], a subset of electronic records management [ERM], is simply the development of automated techniques to facilitate the management of electronic records.

Assuring the creation and maintenance of authentic and reliable electronic records are basic requirements of records management, which apply equally well in the automated realm. These requirements are based in statute, ensuring "adequate and proper documentation," which contribute to efficient and economical agency operations. This is accomplished by not only guaranteeing the authenticity and reliability of information documented in official electronic files but enabling such information to be accessible to all authorized staff who may need it. Electronic recordkeeping is the automated process of managing an agency's electronic records in a manner that ensures authenticity and reliability.

This product presents high level discussions of what electronic recordkeeping [ERK] is, potential architectures for ERK systems, and several objectives and critical success factors of electronic recordkeeping.

Various Architectural Facets of ERK

The Federal Chief Information Officers [CIO] Council published the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework Version 1.1 in September 1999. [Replaced by FEA Consolidated Reference Model Document http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/egov/documents/CRM.PDF ].
The Framework defined "Federal Enterprise Architecture" as a strategic information asset base that defines the business, information necessary to operate the business, technologies necessary to support the business operations, and transitional processes for implementing new technologies in response to the changing needs of the business. Enterprise architecture can be decomposed into (1) business architecture, (2) data architecture, (3) applications architecture, and (4) technical architecture.

ERK is intimately involved in enterprise architecture since it touches on the business data assets and may be implemented as an application or as an integral part of the technical architecture to meet the current and developing needs of Federal agencies. Business needs and technology are the drivers in the development and evolution of enterprise architecture.

There is a variety of system designs for an electronic recordkeeping system [ERKS] which may meet the business needs and fit into the existing technical architecture of a Federal agency.

The following discussion is intended to provide CIOs and senior IT managers with a starting point when thinking about the application architecture and technical architecture alternatives available for electronic recordkeeping systems.

  • Degree of isolation of the ERKS

    One important architectural consideration in the design of ERK systems is the degree of isolation, or conversely, the degree of integration of the ERKS with other electronic-record-generating applications and the operating system environment. A number of options exist:
    • Stand-alone: The ERKS does not directly interact with any other electronic-record-generating applications. RM or other staff (not the record creators) explicitly "file" electronic records into the system.
    • Integration with desktop software applications: The ERKS is integrated with various desktop applications (e.g., word processing, e-mail, spreadsheet). This type of integration usually requires that the record creator actually classifies and files the record and that the ERKS automatically receives RM metadata from the record generating application. The DoD 5015.2-STD certified records management applications function in this manner.
    • Integration with an EDMS: Record creating end users interact with an electronic document management system [EDMS] in the foreground, while the EDMS interacts with the ERKS, which is running in the background as part of the services supported by the enterprise technical architecture. Many DoD 5015.2-STD certified records management applications that have their origins as EDM systems function in this manner.
    • Total integration within EIS design: The ERKS functionality is integrated into the requirements definition of an agency, mission-supporting, electronic information system [EIS] design when that EIS contains data qualifying as a Federal record. This is likely to be the case when an agency has established an enterprise mass data storage solution for the management of terabytes of data. Implementations of storage area networks and hierarchical data management systems are examples of enterprise technical architecture solutions.
  • Number of records repositories/indexes

    ERK systems may employ one repository with replication of indexes and frequently requested records on multiple servers or may have multiple repositories with one centralized index. ERK systems may also create multiple copies of both indexes and records at remote sites to support business continuity and disaster recovery strategies.
  • Location of records repositories

    ERKSs may hold their records internally or may simply contain pointers to records contained in other repositories (e.g., an EDMS) or mass storage arrays.

Objectives of Electronic Recordkeeping

The objectives of electronic recordkeeping are to:

  • Meet the requirements imposed on Federal agencies by laws.

    Electronic records created or received by the Federal Government must be managed as Federal records, as required by the Federal Records Act, to support the business of government agencies and to assure the public that government employees are accountable for their actions. Well-implemented ERK systems will manage Federal electronic records throughout the records life-cycle and ensure the reliability and authenticity of the agency records as legal evidence of their actions and decisions.
  • Expedite fulfillment of EFOIA and legal discovery requests.

    Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the standards for litigation discovery, an agency is required to make a reasonable search to locate all relevant documents, including electronic documents. In addition, the discovery process can require agencies to search system back-up tapes for relevant information. It is important to note that for both FOIA and litigation discovery, the definition of a record is much broader than the statutory definition under the Federal Records Act.

    An ERKS can lessen the burden imposed by the FOIA and litigation discovery requests because: 1) Searching for electronic records is simpler; 2) The access controls of an ERKS can help establish the authenticity of the records being produced from that system; and 3) The system can produce a listing of the relevant records found as a result of the search.

    The Fast Track Project Team understands that both the scope of ERK implementation (i.e., capturing all vs. some of an agency's records) and the fact that discovery requests are inclusive of non-Federal Records Act record material will serve to mitigate ERK's fulfillment of this objective.
  • Meet agency business needs.

    As they carry out their missions, core business processes, and functions, Federal agencies create a multitude of records on a daily basis that need to be managed. Each agency has both unique and common business needs they must consider when planning and implementing records management generally and ERK specifically. Agencies maintain records of their essential activities and decisions for their own use, to support oversight and audit of those activities, and to permit appropriate public access. For example, providing customers with better service while guaranteeing appropriate privacy of their records is a common business need across all Federal agencies that ERK must address.

    Implementing ERK systems helps agencies define their critical business records. Using ERK helps preserve those business records and thus is an important element in business continuity, contingency and disaster recovery planning, which must be considered under Presidential Decision Directive 63 (PDD-63), "Critical Infrastructure Protection."

    Additionally, Federal agencies are becoming distributed enterprises that interact not only with the public and corporate customers but also with state agencies and the agencies of other nations. ERK systems need to address the needs of such distributed business models as well.
  • Position agencies to meet requirements of current and proposed legislation.

    ERK must be flexible enough to meet requirements of current and proposed legislation that will result in a sharp increase in electronic transactions with the public and state governments (such as the additional recordkeeping requirements associated with the maintenance and use of electronically signed agency Federal records per the requirements of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act [GPEA]).
  • Leverage agency investments in information and the technology that supports it.

    Federal agencies are required by the Government Performance and Results Act [GPRA] and the Information Technology Management Reform Act [ITMRA] (aka Clinger-Cohen) to approach IT budgeting as an investment with quantifiable benefits. This requirement compels Federal agencies to reduce costs and make records an information asset.

Critical Success Factors

For ERK to succeed, managerial, technical, policy, and human factors must be addressed in both implementation and use. These factors include:

  • Senior Managers

    Senior management must understand and support the move to electronic ways of working and changes in the current business process. Senior management needs to understand, support, and respond to the high level legislative, administrative, and departmental direction to implement an electronic government as well as the business case for ERK.
  • Agency Staff

    ERK needs to be implemented in agencies so that the resulting changes in work processes are practical and make sense to agency staff. For example, an ERK implementation may require that agency staff index and classify records at the time of creation. Depending upon how this is introduced and integrated into existing work processes, this task could be viewed as either an overwhelming burden or a reasonable duty.
  • Information Systems/Information Technology [IS/IT] Staff ERK requirements must be presented to agency IS/IT staff so that it is clear that the requirements go beyond end user needs; ERK requirements also must meet the legal and policy burdens placed upon an agency. Records management must become a central component to the design of automated information systems. The business case for a well-implemented ERK, including how it meets the standards of the Government Performance Results Act, must be expressed in ways that make sense to the IS/IT staff.
  • Records Officers/Managers Records Officers/Managers must understand ERK issues well enough to articulate persuasively records management requirements for electronic records to a number of different audiences including the IS/IT staff. By doing so, Records Managers will be recognized as having a significant role in the development of electronic information systems [EIS] that create and/or manage agency records. Records Managers need to be the legitimate source of records management requirements and take an active role in the development of ERK systems.
  • Re-engineering

    Before implementing ERK, agencies should take the time and effort to re-engineer both their business and recordkeeping processes to take full advantage of the efficiencies that ERK can present over paper based systems, and integrate ERK into the re-design of business processes and mission-supporting information systems.
  • Piloting Depending on the architectural design of the ERKS, whether or not it is a COTS (Commercial-Off-The-Shelf) product, and the ultimate scope of implementation, all ERKS projects benefit greatly from the use of pilot projects. This is in large part due to the way in which pilots elicit the human factors issues associated with the move to an electronic recordkeeping environment.
  • Education Educating senior management, agency program staff, IS/IT managers, records managers and others (such as an agency's legal staff) to understand the roles and responsibilities they need to undertake, is critical to the successful implementation of any ERK.

  • Training While ERK deployment would ideally be 'transparent' to the record creator, given the current state of ERK technology, this is never the case. As such, it is critical that any move towards ERK is accompanied by sufficient end user training to enable records creators, records users, and records managers to both understand and feel comfortable with the technology.
  • Policy and Standards Development/Implementation

    Standards to ensure the capture and retention of electronic records in ERK systems must be developed and implemented as well as standards for the auditability of ERK systems themselves. Policies and procedures for the development and use of ERK systems are needed. This includes addressing the migration of records during their retention period in response to changes to system equipment, software, media, and document standards.
  • Technical ERK standards must be defined or adopted to support multi-vendor solutions that are enterprise-wide, scalable and feasible for agencies to implement and maintain.


Updated: April 25, 2019