Vital records can be defined as those categories of record which are required by the organisation to be able to carry out its essential core functions in a legally compliant manner. As such they make take many forms ranging from historic charters, through to estate records, insurance certificates, staff payroll information and emergency out-of-hours contact details for key staff.
Protecting your vital records is likely to form part of your overall risk management strategy, further guidance on which is available from our risk management guide.
Why is this important?
The quickest way to describe the importance of such records is to imagine the situation without them. The institution may have no legal mandate to provide education, may not be able to prove ownership of its built estate nor allow those few staff who are willing to work without payment to operate without appropriate insurance cover.
This may represent the most extreme, apocalyptic vision but even the ‘milder’ consequences resulting from the loss of vital records are certainly to be avoided at all costs. These include loss of intellectual assets and competitive advantage, inability to protect the interests of stakeholders (for example, providing proof of qualifications gained by former students) and of course severe damage to your reputation.
How to protect vital records
Clearly the first requirement is to be able to identify and locate those records which are deemed to qualify as vital. This process may prove easier if broad categories of types of vital record are first defined. Some example categories are included in the table below. Identification of the master copy as outlined in the previous section will assist in this process
Additional management controls will be required for vital records. These are likely to include routine duplication together with off-site storage of back-ups, specific finding aids which allow vital records to be found quickly and easily in the event of a disaster and ensuring that management of vital records is co-ordinated with other aspects of the institution’s disaster recovery and business continuity planning measures
Measures put in place to manage vital records will need to cover both existing records, plus all new vital records created in the future. The information audit process described in a later section will prove invaluable for locating existing vital records. When it comes to preparing for future records it will prove useful to identify the processes which will create the records in question.
Example categories of vital records plus examples
|Legal||Charters, insurance certificates, deeds etc|
|Financial||Accounts, payroll, pensions etc|
|Operational||Timetables, exam papers, student records|
|Commercial||Contracts, memoranda of understanding etc|
|Intellectual capital||Research data|
|Disaster recovery||Out of hours staff contact details, estate plans, utility and emergency service contact details|