Federal Records Management

Fast Track Products

ATTENTION! This product is no longer current. For the most recent NARA guidance, please see Guide to the Inventory, Scheduling, and Disposition of Federal Records.


This Fast Track product provides a survey questionnaire for gathering some of the baseline organizational information you will need before developing records management system requirements or evaluating Electronic Records Management (ERM) and Electronic Recordkeeping (ERK) solutions. This survey is also useful in developing records retention periods and identifying permanent electronic records.

Baseline information is essential in defining accurate requirements for your system, establishing evaluation criteria for system solutions and providing data for benefit-cost analysis. Many IT organizations have formal systems development methodologies that include methods for gathering baseline information, specifying requirements and evaluating alternatives. This survey is only one part of that larger process of determining requirements and evaluating potential software solutions.

Given the breadth of information being gathered in this survey, records management, information technology and agency program staff should all be involved in the process. Some of the information needed may be found in existing sources, such as information system inventories, lists of Privacy Act systems, agency records manuals, and current records schedules.

This survey questionnaire may be completed on an agency-wide basis for all electronic records, or it can be conducted within specific offices or functional units within an agency.

The key to setting the scope for this survey depends on striking an appropriate balance between too narrow a focus and an overly ambitious breadth. If the scope is too limited there may be important electronic records overlooked, requiring substantial revision and reworking of the electronic recordkeeping solution at a later date. If the scope is broader than necessary you will spend more time than you need to in doing preliminary analysis and data gathering. The scope of your survey should be dictated by the scope of the records management system you plan to implement and by your agency's high-level records management strategy.

Baseline Information Survey

A. Where in the organization are we collecting, capturing or creating electronic records?
Review the organization's records schedules, automated systems and computer applications and identify the systems and applications in which electronic records are being collected, captured or created. (For a definition of "electronic records" see the Fast Track document, Context for Electronic Records Management [ERM].) These systems may be organized around various agency operations such as budget and accounting, attendance and payroll, procurement and contracting, appointments and scheduling, programmatic records (e.g., case files, client records, patient records), and others. Systems that capture or create electronic records might include: computer databases, information retrieval systems, electronic mail systems, document management systems, web sites and pages, logging/tracking systems, report generation systems, statistics generation/analysis systems, office automation and personal productivity applications (word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software, etc.), agency- or program-specific custom applications or commercial software systems, system administration and maintenance logs/records for each of these systems.

B. What electronic records is the organization collecting, capturing or creating?
List and describe the groups of records that are being collected, captured or created electronically.

Each group or series of records identified in (A) should be described with as many of the following as possible:

1. Name of the record series  
2. Agency file identifier  
3. Disposition authority, if any  
4. Series date span  
5. Primary use of records  
6. What work processes do the records support  
7. Name of the system or database where the
record is collected, captured, created
8. Owner or manager of that system  
9. Type of application (e.g., e-mail)  

For each group of electronic records identified above, gather as much of the following information as possible:

10. The total current number of records?  
11. The size of each record?  
12. The estimated daily/weekly number of new records created?  
13. The number of individuals creating records?  
14. The number of individuals accessing records?  
15. How often are records accessed after initial capture/creation?  
16. The source(s) of the new records, and their individual contribution to the daily/weekly number of new records?  
17. Is this source internal or external to the organization?  
18. Are records created by individuals or generated by a computer, or both?  
19. Describe the types of individuals who create the records?  
20. Are the records subject to changes after they are created?  
21. Do the records contain links to external data (e.g., web pages, sytle sheets, databases)?  
22. How are the records being created, collected, or generated (e.g., forms, word processing, tape updates)?  
23. On what media are records typically created and maintained?  
24. What is the file format of the typical record?  
25. What software is used to create the records?  
26. What is the content of a typical record (data/document fields or sections)?  
27. What reports are generated from the system that creates/stores these records? Are the reports scheduled?  
28. Is there a standardized terminology available to index/classify the records?  
29. Who is the most likely to index/classify the records -- a creator, a records manager, other?  
30. Can the records be indexed/classified by some computer process?  
31. Are index/classification terms sufficient for records retrieval - or must words within the records be searchable as well?  
32. How long must the records be accessible after initial use creation?  
33. How quickly must the records be accessible?  
34. Must the records be accessible from multiple geographic locations?  
35. What level of security/confidentiality is required for the records?  
36. What should be done with the records when they are no longer need to be accessible?  
37. Are these records currently managed by an existing ERM/ERK?  
38. Are any changes in activity or volumes anticipated: number of records, number of users, number of records accessed (see 10-15)?  

The following discussion gives additional background information that may be helpful in answering these last three survey questions.

C. Which of these groups of records should be maintained in an electronic format? (Question #39, above)
For each group of records, determine whether they should be maintained electronically, or whether the records would be best kept in paper, computer output to microform (COM), or other non-electronic format.

This determination should be made by records management and program staff within the agency, based on their analysis of what purpose the records will serve, who will use the records, how they will be used, over what period of time they will be in active use, and for what period of time they must be kept for legal purposes. Factors of purpose, users, nature of use, and time periods can be evaluated in several ways, for example:

  • Records that are active for 5 years and need to be maintained for an additional 10 years for legal purposes, but are rarely accessed might be candidates for conversion to paper or COM.
  • Records that are used intensively by many users during the first 2 years, and continue to be used by a variety of people primarily for reference after the first 2 years, might be a good candidate to be kept electronically throughout their life.

For records that originate electronically but will be kept in paper or other non-electronic format, identify any other actions (technical or procedural) needed to manage these records. Retention decisions should be made in conjunction with NARA appraisal archivists.

D. Which of these groups of records must be kept in the system in which they originate? (Question #40, above)
For each group of records to be managed in electronic format (identified above in C) determine whether the records should continue to be managed within the system that is collecting, capturing or creating them.

Various factors may influence this determination. For example: national security classification may require that some electronic records must be preserved but must not be copied or removed from the system in which they originate; some electronic records may only be rendered and viewed using special-purpose software, so that records removed from their originating system would become unusable; or some records may be stored in formats that are incompatible with existing ERM/ERK software solutions.

E. Which of these groups of records do you plan to keep together in a single enterprise ERM/ERK system and which will be kept separately in one or more specialized ERM/ERK systems? (Question #41, above)
For each group of records that are to be stored in an electronic recordkeeping system, determine whether these records are best managed in a single ERM/ERK system (i.e., segregated from other groups of electronic records), or in multiple ERM/ERK systems.

A number of factors may influence this determination, for example: there might be records management software that is optimized for the management of electronic mail or for web site pages, etc., so these records might best be managed using a specialized records management application; or there might be agency-specific reasons to manage some groups of records at the agency/enterprise level and allow lower organizational components to manage other groups of records at their organizational level; or there might be functional areas that are running document management systems with electronic recordkeeping functionality that provides the best solution for that group of records. These and similar issues should be considered in determining how each group of records will be managed.

Next Steps

The data gathered here will help IT staff, records management staff, and agency program staff specify and document the minimum set of ERM/ERK functional requirements for each group of records identified in this survey.

For more about functional requirements, see Examples of System Functions for Electronic Recordkeeping (ERK) and Electronic Records Management (ERM).

As further preparation for specifying functional requirements, agency IT staff may identify additional factors that will influence or constrain the choice of viable ERM/ERK solutions. These might include:

  • Are there agency standards for software, hardware or system architecture that must be complied with?
  • Are there other IT projects in development or planned that will influence a possible electronic records management project?
  • How does an ERM/ERK system mesh with agency IT priorities, and how can an ERM/ERK project fit into and make use of the agency's IT systems development methodology?
  • Are there organization-specific policies or strategic initiatives that should be taken into account (e.g., enterprise information architecture initiatives, data management standards, document format standards, etc.)?


Page updated: April 25, 2019