Electronic Records

The advancement in electronic records in the past ten years has been astounding. It is now possible to access records that would have one time taken up a whole room on one small, hand-held device. While the space savings and efficiencies of electronic records are rapidly making paper records obsolete, electronic record keeping is not a perfect solution. There are many issues an office should take into account when considering transferring to an electronic system or when considering the necessity of preserving a current system.

Electronic records can include, but are not limited to:

  • Text
  • Images
  • Moving images
  • Sound
  • Databases
  • Spreadsheets
  • Geographic Information Systems

Electronic records are technology dependent. Unlike a piece of paper, they require a computer, specific hardware and sometimes proprietary software systems in order for them to be eye-readable.

Constant vigilance is needed to protect the reliability, authenticity, integrity and usability of electronic records. The generally accepted timeline for the frequency of significant computing changes (known as Moore's Law) is every eighteen months to two years. This means an office must be prepared to frequently update its computers and software or to migrate the records to new systems. Security of the records is also an issue. Steps must be taken to insure that one employee or someone from outside the system does not have the power to wipe out all of its information.

Transient and short-term records are ideal candidates for being converted to electronic records as long as steps taken to insure their preservation for the duration of their retention period. County-wide electronic document management systems, such as OnBase, make records accessible and assure their preservation by using off-site servers as back-up.

The preservation of long-term and permanent electronic records, however, is a major concern. The possibility that a current electronic record will be eye-readable in its current format in ten years much less fifty years is extremely doubtful. Electronic records are at their essence impermanent. Anyone who buys a new computer knows the hazards of transferring files and documents from an old computer and expecting them to be accessible on the new one.

Each office has a legal responsibility to maintain its long-term and permanent records for the entire length of their retention periods.