Implement a Records Management Program in Your Department

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Good records management is critical to maintain efficient business practices and procedures.

Records Management Program

An effective departmental records management program optimizes the use of records while limiting the costs and risks that can come with poorly managed records. Organized records should meet the following tests over time:

  • Authenticity – The record can be proven: to be what it purports to be, to have been created or sent by the person purported to have created or sent it, and to have been created or sent at the time purported
  • Reliability – The contents of records can be trusted as a complete and accurate representation of the activities to which they attest
  • Integrity – The record is complete and unaltered
  • Usability – The record can be located, retrieved, presented and interpreted in context

Key Steps

Following good records management practices has many benefits including:  

  • Improving access to information
  • Meeting legal requirements
  • Safeguarding vital information
  • Reducing operating costs
  • Minimizing litigation risks
  • Controlling the proliferation of materials taking up office space
  • Supporting better management decision making
  • Preserving university history

There are several steps to implementing a records management program in your department. 

Step 1: Identify Responsible Individuals

Identify the individuals responsible for maintaining records

  • The Record Coordinator interprets policies and retention requirements related to a specific record type and provides  guidance about the retention and destruction of records
  • The Record Custodian oversees departmental records

When developing or improving a filing system, the record custodian should gain the support of both the administration and the users of the system. Administrative support legitimizes the project and confirms the cooperation of all members of the department.

Every member of the department should be involved in the process. The record creator may provide important insight when analyzing the records. Staff can help determine which aspects of the present system work well and should be retained. Staff can also help identify specific problems that must be changed. Most importantly, involving others in the process makes them more amenable to using the system once it is implemented.

Step 2: Identify Departmental Records

Identify departmental records

  • Understand the type of information and records your department creates and maintains
  • Determine what records are created, why they are created, and how they are used

Consider the following criteria to identify a record:

  • Who creates the records
  • Who uses the records
  • How are records requested
  • How often are various types of records requested
  • What is the volume of records created
  • How long do records remain current
  • How many people need access to the records
  • How much equipment is available to store the records
  • How much space is available for equipment and growth
  • Which records are confidential
  • What are the legal requirements for retaining the records

Step 3: Inventory Records

Conduct an inventory of departmental records

  • Determine location, quantity and format (e.g., paper, electronic)
  • Identify filing cabinets, shelves, desks, computers, and other areas where information may be stored

An inventory will help identify:

  • Records
  • Materials which are not records (e.g., reference materials, personal papers, extra copies of documents, publications, forms), 
  • Records that would need to be immediately available in the event of an emergency

Step 4: Determine the Office of Record

Determine if your department is the Office of Record

  • The Office of Record is the unit responsible for retention and timely disposition of the original copy of official university records
  • For many records, only one department is considered the office of record; it is usually unnecessary for other departments to keep a copy

Step 5: Identify Retention Periods

The university is required to follow the retention guidelines in the State University of New York (SUNY), New York State (NYS), or Research Foundation (RF) record retention schedules. Use the appropriate schedules to identify the retention period for the records (regardless of medium) your department maintains.

Transient records, regardless of medium, convey information of temporary value, have a very short-lived administrative, fiscal or legal value and can be disposed in an appropriate manner once the need has expired. Typically, the retention is event-driven and not a fixed period of time.

Step 6: Disposition Records

Clean out records that are beyond the approved retention period

  • Dispose of records in a safe and secure manner
  • Timely disposition of records that have reached the end of their retention period will reduce future audit and litigation risks as well as unnecessary storage expense

Step 7: Develop a File Plan

List the departmental records and describe how they are organized and maintained.

An effective file plan will help to:

  • Document activities accurately
  • Identify records consistently
  • Retrieve records quickly
  • Disposition records no longer needed
  • Meet statutory and regulatory requirements

Develop a file structure, which is the framework for the file plan

  • Use the arrangement that works best for the records and the department (e.g., chronological, numerical, alphabetical, alpha-numeric)
  • Arrange folders or documents within a records series; a record series are those files or documents kept together because they relate to a particular subject or function, result from the same activity, document a specific type of transaction, take a particular physical form, or have some other relationship because of their creation, receipt, maintenance or use

Document the file plan (i.e., recordkeeping requirements and procedures) and provide details on:

  • How departmental records are organized
  • Who is responsible for doing what
  • When it should be done
  • What happens to records when they are no longer needed in the department

Step 8: Organize Records

Organize and store remaining records

  • Store records consistently to provide protection against misplacement, misuse, damage, destruction or theft
  • The most efficient and economical filing system is one that works well for the department and is easily understood by its users
  • Consider easy identification and retrieval of records and files
  • Identify records requiring special protection

Step 9: Communicate the Program

Implement and communicate the records program

  • Train department users on how to organize, label, store and dispose of departmental records
  • Determine that staff has sufficient knowledge of records handling and retention requirements

Step 10: Monitor the Program

Monitor and revise the program as needed

  • Dedicate time each year to focus on records
  • Apply records retention schedules and records management principles to all university records, regardless of media or format
  • Routinely dispose of records that meet retention requirements
  • Meet with separating employees to discuss records in their care
    • Identify and review records under the control of that employee including records about which the employee has sole knowledge
    • Manage paper and electronic records in the possession of separating employees so that important university information is not inadvertently destroyed or made public

Contact an Expert

Carrie Woodrow.

Carrie A. Woodrow


Policy, Compliance and Internal Controls

420 Crofts Hall

Phone: (716) 645-1786