IRM – a strategic mechanism to organize data

IRM – a strategic mechanism to organize data

The business of managing information and records is an essential tenet of contemporary business best practices. It forms a core component of the organizational framework of most multinational agencies, sometimes acting as the rate-limiting factor for innovation and development. Understanding why it is so important starts first with understanding what it entails.

Per the Association of Record Managers and Administrators, information and records management is ‘the field of management responsible for establishing and implementing policies, systems, and procedures to capture, create, access, distribute, use, store, secure, retrieve, and ensure disposition of an organization’s records and information.’

Put simply, information and records management enshrines everything that allows for the efficient capture, utilization, and disposal of information through the course of its life cycle.

Physical Record Process
Figure 1.1. Physical Record Process

Access to information and the ability to manipulate it efficiently provides a privileged and pristine perspective. This singular fact emphasizes why competence in information and records management is a critical requirement for any enterprise looking to both sustain competitive advantage and comply with legal and regulatory standards.


The concept of information in this context is extensive, encompassing physical, electronic, and other iterations of the former. Among these various classes in which information can exist, there is no hierarchy or segregation, meaning that regardless of the form of storage and presentation, all information is treated equally.

Note also that while document management (the derivative of information management prevalent in most organizations today) bears marked similarities to information management since it too bothers on the capture, storage, modification, and sharing of data, it should not be confused with the latter.

In addition to capturing and manipulating data, the ideal information management protocol also seeks to make data storage efficient, data retrieval seamless, and data disposal traceless.

Document management merely centres on collecting and sharing information in an organizational setting.

So, in a way, you could say information and record management is a step up from traditional document management, and while it indeed takes this charge a step further, it’s also important to realize that both act on the same substrate – information and records (presented as documents in document management).

Is everything a document

What is a document? Contemporary definitions would describe documents in an organizational setting as company-related information outlined in a presentable format. Documents in this setting are usually created when there is a need to establish a plan, a roadmap, or initiate a process that would eventually culminate in completing company-related goals or objectives.

Figure 1.2 Document versus Record

Figure 1.2 Document versus Record
Figure 1.2 Document versus Record

Basically, anything presented in a format that can be comprehended (and shared) for the furtherance of recognizable goals can be categorized as a document.

This definition is, of course, quite distinct from what we would call a record. A record is a document that is created when something (like achieving an objective) is actually done. Records are meant to be unalterable, evidential information that remains consistent throughout their lifecycles.

The key distinguishing factor of a record from a document is the fact that records are meant to be retained; documents are intended to be maintained. In the institutionalized setting in which they are created, records are backed by set rules and enforceable actions, all determined by policy.  

Figure 1. Documents and Records difference according to ISO/CD 30300:2010 – Management System for Records

Figure 1.3. Documents and Records difference according to ISO/CD 30300:2010 – Management System for Records
Figure 1.3. Documents and Records difference according to ISO/CD 30300:2010 – Management System for Records

Documents, on the other hand, evolve over time, incorporating new bits of valuable information and excising those, which fall surplus to the going requirements for completing the objective that mandated their creation.

Historically, documents are known to originate primarily in the planning phase of the iterative 4-step Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PCDA) method of management used in traditional business settings. That is to say; they are usually created when something is about to be done. The key takeaway here is that information that is merely stored does not meet the statutory definition of a document in a business setting, even if it is essentially retrievable and disposable.

To be a document, it must contain information that propagates the furtherance of a defined organizational goal or objective. With this in mind, is a photo of your cat or a Microsoft Word document of an invite to a child party a document? Probably not.

A list of product suppliers of a product, however, ticks all the checkboxes of being a document since it is information that would prove relevant when that organization is attempting to purchase the product. Note that this supplier list is a document an organization would typically draft up when it’s attempting (planning) to make a purchase, resonating with the earlier assertion that documents mostly come up in the planning phase of the PDCA cycle.

The ISO 9001:2015 further describes documents/records or more appropriately documented information as ‘information that must be controlled and maintained.’

Controlling and maintaining information, however, goes past merely curating just the information; it mandates that enterprises must proactively manage the media through which the information is delivered. Controlling and maintaining where information stored and how it is shared ensures that the final condition, which classes information and record management above document management – the ability to seamlessly store, retrieve and dispose of data – is met.

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