Because good research needs good data

ISO 15489

By Sarah Higgins, Aberystwyth University 

Published: July 2007

1. Digital Curation and Workflow

Successful digital curation relies on a robust workflow, which considers the complete lifecycle of a digital resource from inception to disposal or selection for long-term preservation. The development and documentation of policies, responsibilities, authorities and training schemes for digital resource management is as important as the design and implementation of a system to ingest, manage, store, render and enable access. There are many benefits associated with the development, documentation and adherence to workflow methodologies including the ability to design a system which is effective for all users, the ability to readily comply with legal, regulatory and standards requirements, asset recognition, and the ability to curate and preserve information over the long-term. ISO 15489:2001 preceded another well known digital curation workflow standard, OAIS (Open Archival Information Systems Reference Model — ISO 14721:2003). ISO 15489 is considered by many to be more easily understood, as it provides more concrete guidance on the management of records.

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2. ISO 15489: Information and Documentation — Records Management

The international standard ISO 15489: Information and documentation — Records management was published in 2001, and provides a high-level framework for records management workflow. The standard supersedes the Australian Standard for Records Management (AS4390:1996) from which it is derived.

Primarily developed for the management of business records, ISO 15489:2001 can be applied to the management of records created by any activity, and is equally applicable to digital or hard copy information.

The standard is made up of 2 parts. ISO 15489-1:2001, Part 1: General outlines a framework for best practice, and is intended as a general briefing document, on the basic principles of managing records, for all staff and management of an organisation. ISO 15489-2:2001, Part 2: Guidelines builds on the best practice framework to give more detailed recommendations for managing records, including a design and implementation framework for records systems, based on the 8 step DIRS methodology (also known as DIRKS methodology).

The standard provides guidance to ensure that records remain authoritative through retention of their essential characteristics: authenticity, reliability, usability and integrity. It explains how to ensure records are properly curated, easily accessible and correctly documented from creation for as long as required.

A series of three books published by the British Standards Institute complement the standard. Entitled Effective records management, they give more practical advice on using the standard efficiently for management, implementation, and performance management.

The standard is complemented by ISO 23081-1:2006 Information and documentation — Records management processes — Metadata for records — Part 1: Principles. This standard does not define an implementable metadata set for records management. Rather it provides a framework for the creation, management and use of metadata for managing records within the framework of ISO 15489. It reviews the use of metadata to support business processes and the relationship with other existing metadata sets for ISO 15489 implementation. The proposed parts 2 and 3 are intended as technical reports providing further advice and practical implementation guidance. Part 2: Conceptual and implementation issues, will be published in July 2007.

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3. Functionality

ISO 15489 identifies how systematic management of records can ensure that an organisation, an individual or a project's future decisions and activities can be supported through ready access to evidence of actions, and past business activities, while facilitating compliance with any pertaining regulatory environments. The need for clearly defined and well documented records management policies and responsibilities, within an organisation or project, along with the benefits which will accrue from development and implementation is outlined. Detailed advice concerning a number of elements that should be addressed is backed by definitions, and development methodologies for management of records over time. These include:

  • The characteristics of both records and record systems (figure 1)
  • The principles to adhere to when managing records (figure 2)
  • Model workflow for the implementation of a records system (figure 3)
  • Instruments required for the management of records, and consequently the implementation of a records system (figure 4)
  • Records management processes (figure 5)
  • Audit and monitoring requirements and methodologies
  • Training requirements

Figure 1: Characteristics of a record and a records system

Record characteristics

To be authoritative, records must prove to be:

  • Authentic
    • what the record purports to be
    • to have been created or sent by the purported person
    • to have been created or sent at the purported time
  • Reliable — trusted contents which accurately reflect the business transaction documented
  • Have integrity — complete and unaltered
  • Useable — can be located, retrieved, presented and interpreted
Records system characteristics
  • Reliability of complete, organised, accessible and protected records
  • Integrity is protected by authority control systems
  • Compliant with appropriate business requirements
  • Comprehensive range of appropriate business activities reflected
  • Systematic creation, curation and management of records

Figure 2: Principles for managing records

  • Decide what records need to be created and what should be included in them
  • Decide the format and structure of the records, and the technology used to create and capture them
  • Decide about metadata creation and management, including persistent linkage between records
  • Identify use requirements
  • Decide what records to keep, why and for how long
  • Decide how to organise the records
  • Identify the organisational risk of not maintaining records
  • Ensure safe storage, effective delivery and preservation over time
  • Comply with legal policy, organisational needs and relevant standards
  • Evaluate and improve the processes

Figure 3: ISO 15489 Records System Implementation Model (DIRKS Methodology)

Figure 4: Instruments required for the implementation of a records management programme

  • Classification system — the development and use of a controlled method of classifying records
  • Controlled vocabulary — for controlled subject access
  • Dispositions — formal documentation concerning what records should be made, what records should be kept and how long to keep them (including pre-determined criteria for disposal of records in a transparent manner)
  • Classification scheme — for access rights and restrictions

Figure 5: Records management processes

  1. Capture
  2. Registration
  3. Classification
  4. Access and security classification
  5. Identification of disposition status
  6. Storage
  7. Use and tracking
  8. Implementation of disposition

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4. Selected Implementations

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5. Additional Resources

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6. Related DCC Resources

  • DCC Briefing Paper: Using OAIS for Curation — information on OAIS (Open Archival Information Systems Reference Model — ISO 14721:2003), another prominent workflow standard used for digital curation
  • DCC DIFFUSE Standards Registry — a registry of standards relevant to the Information Society, originally maintained by TIEKE (the Finnish IT Development Centre), IC Focus and The SGML Centre but now repurposed and maintained by the DCC

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