With the growing importance of compliance and eDiscovery issues for many companies, it might be time to consider deploying a records management system. Chances are that your company already uses some kind of document management system. The question is, will your document management system also support records management?

At the core of this question is what is the differences between document management and records management. Let's examine six differences.

1. Documents v Records

What are documents?

Documents consist of information or data that can be structured or unstructured and accessed by people in an organization.

What are records?

Records provide evidence of the activities of a given organization’s functioning and policies. Records often have strict compliance requirements regarding their retention, access and destruction, and generally have to be kept unchanged. There are often very stiff penalties for not doing so.

By some estimates, and depending on the company, 90% or more of all documents are records (meaning a portion of them are not!). Conversely, all records are documents.

2. DMS v RMS

Document Management Software (DMS)

Document management software was developed to make it easier for users with a shared purpose, usually within an enterprise, to access and manage documents. Another important ability is that it also allows them collaborate on those documents.

Common access to the documents is enabled by existence of a library and/or a repository within the system.

Records Management Software (RMS)

RMS software is more concerned with identifying, storing, maintaining and managing data that is used to describe events in an organization’s work cycle that are related to statutory, regulatory, fiscal or operational activities within the organization.

Unlike document management systems, record management repositories are generally focused on keeping only what is necessary for a specified length of time.

3. Storage

One of the critical differences between document and records management relates to the reason and approach each takes to storing documents.

Document Management And Storage

The principal reason for storing the documents in a document management system is so users who need to access the information stored in those documents can do so quickly and easily.

In general, these generalized electronic document repositories provide for the checking-in and out of documents that can be revised and unlocked for future revision, with version tracking and histories.

Records Management And Storage

Records management requires that records be kept in their original format in case they are needed for compliance or legal reasons.

Good records management needs to place records in their proper context so that generally they are kept in series, or in indexes determined not by internal, enterprise-dictated rules, but by external rules.

In fact, record keeping has become such an issue that in addition to on-site records storage, many organizations operate an off-site records center too.

4. Automated processes

While all companies in the regulatory or compliance zone have to spend a lot of time ensuring that their records and document management do exactly what they’re supposed to do, many of the processes involved are now automated.

Document Management

Automated processes are one of the elements that make document management attractive to companies whether that means the mass capture of documents and placement of that information in the repository, or its placement in a records management system.

In fact, automated process are a core function of these systems controlling the document’s life cycle, security access controls and other key features like version control and short-term storage.

These processes automate workflows so that the right actions are carried out on the right documents by the right people at the right time.

Records Management

Records management uses automated processes to manage records in a consistent manner no matter what format those records happen to be in.

Electronic record keeping systems must be able to preserve not only the content of those records, but also the context and structure they came from and often for long period of times. The final records should be auditable in their original form long after they have been put in the records repository.

5. Security

There is no getting away from the security and integrity of documents in either system. The difference between the two, though, is that with document management software security is desirable, with records management essential.

Document Management

With document management, security has to be placed in the context of document accessibility for users. Authorized users have to have quick access to information with comprehensive document management security controlling access to the repository.

While all systems will have means of tracking who has been using a document, when it was checked it out and when they put it back in the repository, and any changes that were made to the document -- including new versions --  the security standards are not necessarily as stringent as those required for keeping records.

Records Management

At the moment, the standard to which records security and records security within records management software is judged is the US Department of Defense 5015.2 regulations.

If a system is compliant with the DoD 5015.2 standard or equivalent it sets the standard for management of records that will be eventually transferred to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

These include government personnel records, manuals, standards, directives and documents that are scheduled for declassification or redacted items. In Europe, MoReq 2 is the standard applied across the entire EU as a standard.

6. Disposal

Document Management

The disposal of documents in a document management system occurs when the life cycle of the document has been complete and is no longer needed in the business process. While this can mean destruction it can also means turning them into records.

The decision to turn a document into a record depends on the need of the company and whether there are legal requirements to hold onto the documents.

Records Management

The destruction of records is generally regulated by law with strict procedures so that the information contained in them will not be disclosed. Records management software plays a significant role in this by implementing retention and destruction schedules that are compliant with regulations.

However, with public bodies, the records will not be physically destroyed, but converted into a format that is acceptable to U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), or National Archives of the country you reside in.

Final Thoughts

Document management software was created to make it easier to use store, manage and collaborate on electronic information. Records management software was designed to manage the life cycle of records so that organizations can easily comply with regulations and support the eDiscovery process.

It's very likely that you require both document and records management capabilities within your organization. Depending on your needs, a document management system may be able to support most of your requirements. Understanding the difference between document and records management and the software that supports each, should help you decide your next steps.