An electronic records management system is a combination of electronic hardware and software programs that work together to enhance the management of records during their entire life cycle in an organization. Records refer to the documents that are created, received or managed in an institution and they portray evidence of occurrence of an activity. A record can very easily depict the picture of a document. A record is however, different from a document in the sense that a document is just a means by which a record is created. The notion of a record goes further by including the role played by the particular document in the daily running of an organization’s activities and business transactions and even its effects on such events (Kakoma, I. and Zeleza, 2003).
Developing countries on the other hand have some common characteristics that make the implementation of electronic records management systems problematic and confusing all at the same time. Some of the causes of the confusing state of affairs in implementing electronic records management systems include the following:
- Versatility of information technology
Records management systems are the embodiment of information technology in the field of information management (Adrian Brown et al, 2009). Information technology is itself dynamic and versatile by nature. This means that requirements for developing and maintaining systems keep changing all the time and many of the developing countries do not have the capacity required to keep up with these constant changes. Those institutions that have managed to implement records management systems always have to content with this. Those that are yet to implement them have to seriously consider how they will handle the issue. The effect is that many are discouraged to implement records management systems.
- Over reliance on imported technology
Many institutions in developing countries lack the capacity to research, design, develop and test their own technologies including records management systems. The effect is that they end up importing technologies made in western countries. Such systems have been researched, designed, developed and tested in entirely foreign environments that are totally differently from those in the developing countries. The end result is that these systems do not perform as expected when they are implemented by institutions in developing countries. This is most likely to discourage those institutions that have not yet implemented records management systems.
- Antagonism between electronic and print resources
Most of the users of information materials are torn between using electronic resources and their print counterparts. The reason is that most of them have a personal preference for electronic resources but are forced by circumstances to use the print materials for reasons that some include academic and the need to use more reliable sources. Electronic records management systems are also reliant on power (whose availability is not always assured in developing countries), while the manual systems are always available at all times. Such observations by institutions that intend to implement electronic records management systems are likely to leave them in a more confused state of affairs.
- Digital divide
According to Wikipedia (the online encyclopedia), digital divide refers to the gap existing between individuals, households, businesses and geographic areas in terms of digital information literacy. Many developing countries lag far behind in terms of digital literacy among their populations. This implies that many institutions have an uphill task of educating their clients and the society at large on digital literacy to enable them to use information systems that also includes records management systems. Due to such low levels of digital literacy in developing countries, many institutions are therefore not able to effectively implement records management systems in their work places. Those that have implemented them may end up having very few users and therefore reducing the importance of such systems.
- Techno phobia
Technophobes are people who are afraid of technology especially that which is new and most likely to bring about workplace revolution or changes. Technophobes are afraid of what might happen to their jobs, they lack skills to make effective communication and use of computer systems and are even afraid to make use of technological equipment. Some forms of techno phobia could be inborn (Harry Bouwman, 2005). Instances of techno phobia are increased by an environment that has had very little or no technological experiences at all. This is usually the case in most of the developing countries like in Africa. Techno phobia does not only exist among the intended users of information systems such as records management systems, but also among the top managers of institutions who are expected to take charge of the implementation process. Such cases will leave the whole process in a bad state and attempting to implement a records management system under such an environment would be close to impossible.
- Infrastructural bottlenecks
Information systems work best when there is a supportive infrastructure behind such systems. Support infrastructure for a system like a records management system include power supplies and a networked environment to help avoid data duplication across various departments of an institutions among others. Many developing countries lack these basic infrastructural setups. Power supply systems are not reliable and systems are always down because of lack of power. Such infrastructural bottlenecks always work to reduce the effectiveness of installed systems and many would rather resort to having the old manual systems that they are used to having. It also discourages those who intend to implement records management systems.
- Limited budgets
The priority order in many developing countries is not always inclined to developing information access and usability. The statement is also true in many of their institutions. Budget allocations to the records management departments are merely meant to sustain their own existence. Ambitious projects such as implementing a records management system may not be able to see the light of day because there is simply no money to finance them. Information systems are expensive in terms of purchasing equipment, hiring skilled labor and setting up of support infrastructure such as a network for sharing resources. Many institutions will find such expenses to be too costly for their operations and implementing them is always the last option if at all they are considered.
- Security vulnerabilities
The existing technology today is more advanced than ever before. There exist very advanced techniques to fight and curb security threats from various sources. However, hackers and attack programs have also evolved with the same technologies and various security threats still pose a big challenge to institutions that intend or have already implemented records management systems. Records management on its own is a security sensitive exercise. Losing an organization’s records or leakage of certain information to unintended audience could be catastrophic. More reliable protection solutions like firewalls and anti-virus programs are usually proprietary and commercial. Some are very expensive to purchase. Security threats also exist in very many forms and always evolving with time such that it is difficult to keep track of them and control them. Such reasons are discouraging to institutions that intend to implement a records management system due to the vulnerability that their records will be exposed to.
- Inadequate skills
Literacy levels in many developing countries are low. Skilled personnel are likewise, very few. The impact of this on institutions is that they may not always have the required manpower to implement systems like a records management system. Such a factor coupled with high staff turn –over (available manpower may not always be willing to stay or work with the same institution) will always be discouraging especially if sensitive information is involved.
- Lack of supportive government policies
Many developing countries especially those in Africa got their independence barely 50 years ago. Most of them have not been able to enact necessary laws that regulate the implementation and use of such systems as records management systems. Laws and regulations controlling the records management itself may not even be in existence both at a national and even at the institutional level. Implementing a records management system under such an environment may even lead to more confusion. Regulations will help to deal with such sensitive issues as copyright, censorship, definitions and conflict resolutions if they arise.
Many institutions in developing countries have found themselves in a confusing state of affairs. This is mainly attributed to problems that most of them encounter in other sectors of economic, social and political development. The state of confusion therefore has worked to limit the implementation of records management systems in many institutions and organizations in the developing countries. However, there are many opportunities that these institutions can take advantage of and salvage the situation. This would greatly help to escalate the development and implementation of records management systems in many of the developing countries.
Adrian Brown et al. Preserving Electronic Records. London; International Records Manamegement Trust, 2009.
At the crossroads: ICT policy making in East Africa. Edited by Florence E. Etta and Laurent Elder. Nairobi: EAEP. 2005
Bouwman, Harry. Information and communication technology in organizations. London: Sage Publications. 2005.
Kakoma, I. and Zeleza, P.T. Science and technology in Africa. Asmara: Africa World press. 2003.