Electronic records management (ERM) was originally developed as a standalone application, frequently managing physical items as well as electronic documents. It has subsequently become one of the key elements of any integrated enterprise content management (ECM) implementation. It is the robust cornerstone underlying compliance and legal discovery, which increasingly call for electronic documents to be treated in the same way as paper documents. In a recent report, AIIM has compared policies and effectiveness between the management of electronic records and that of traditional paper.

Overall, the findings show that in most organizations, electronic records are still taken less seriously than paper records. Responsibility for applying good records management practice to electronic records would seem to reside in the IT department rather than in the records department, and even where good policies exist, they are often not monitored or enforced. Having said that, an encouraging number of organizations are homogenizing their electronic and physical policies and practices, and many are moving to an all-electronic model, linking their repositories together in order to improve the legal discovery process and enhance operational efficiency.

Electronic records are twice as likely to be unmanaged as compared to paper records, with 26% of organizations admitting that no records management disciplines are applied to the majority of their electronic records. The survey also found that policies for applying legal hold to electronic records exist in only 56% of organizations compared to 71% for paper records. More than one-third of organizations, if challenged, would not be confident that their electronic records had not been changed, deleted or inappropriately accessed.

The survey clearly shows that the spectrum of applied practice in electronic records management is now broader than it has ever been. There is a growing core of high-maturity organizations (10-15% of the sample) that are removing paper from their business, have best-practice procedures aligned to standards, are linking their electronic and paper repositories together under common rules and have a view to the long-term archive issues. At the other extreme are still organizations, including quite large ones, who have rudimentary practices even for paper records and simply no view that electronic documents and emails might represent records in any way, both as information assets and as potential liabilities.

In between these two extremes, there is a definite sense that in most organizations electronic records are playing catch-up. Compared to paper records, they are less rigorously managed and maintained by less well-trained staff and with less confidence in their authenticity were it to be questioned under litigation. The volume of paper records is still increasing, but much less so than electronic records. Responsible for much of the increased volume, emails might be considered a special case. But treating important emails as records and providing easy access to a suitable repository is crucial to maintaining a reliable and complete record set. At a much lower volume, but still important to include, are records generated within other enterprise applications and line-of-business systems.

We have found encouraging signs of continued investment in records management systems, both for electronic records and as electronic management of paper records. The more recent developments of dedicated e-discovery and legal hold applications seem to be in tune with user demand, particularly in the larger organizations.

The AIIM research report is entitled "Electronic Records Management: Still playing catch-up with paper." Part of the AIIM Industry Watch series, the full report is free to download from the AIIM website. It is underwritten by Autonomy, EMC Corporation, FCS, HP, Mimosa Systems and StoredIQ.

Doug Miles is the Director of Market Intelligence for AIIM, an international community that provides education, research and best practices to help organizations find, control and optimize their information. AIIM offers training courses in ECM, ERM, BPM, Email Management and E2.0, both online and as public classes. See www.aiim.org/education for more information.

Note: AIIM is offering a discount on the ECM, ERM and BPM courses for all DOCUMENT readers. Use code DM9EBX to activate the discount.