International records management was "born" during the 1990s and proceeded to evolve beyond the concept stage into real initiatives of global significance during and after this time. Although there were efforts during the 1970s and '80s (i.e., those of the International Records Management Council), they had no real and lasting impact on records management practice on a global scale.
When this author first became interested in international records management during the late '80s, there was virtually no high-quality literature available on the subject. Anyone who wanted to develop an understanding of recordkeeping and records management for the' purpose of advancing any professional initiatives, either globally or in a particular country, had basically nowhere to turn. During the past 10 years, however, we have witnessed something of a revolution in global records management.
This attempt at elucidating the most important things to have happened to records and information in a global context during the past 10 or more years includes ideas that have truly revolutionized RIM practice and that will continue to do so in the coming years. Some of these megatrends reflect the root causes of paradigm shifts in records and information management, while others are more reflective of the effect or result of those causes. All are discussed in summary fashion due to space limitations.
The Triumph of Democracy and Free Enterprise
In an article titled "Towards a Global Theory of Records Management" (Stephens 1992), this author attempted to answer two intriguing questions: 1) Why does records management exist in some countries but not in others? 2) Why does records management develop to a broadbased, advanced level of practice in some countries but not in others? These questions were particularly timely in light of the collapse of Communism's tightly controlled, state-run economies during the early 1990s. Indeed, that entire decade is generally characterized as the triumph of democracy and free enterprise.
The earlier article advanced the hypothesis that a strong democratic government, together with a vibrant, free-market economy, were the single most important determinants of successful records management development in countries. This author believed this to be true because free governments are inherently based on the open exchange of ideas and information. Moreover, free market economic systems offer the strongest incentives for adopting management practices that maximize efficiencies - and one such practice is records management.
Everything that has happened in the international arena during the past 10 to 15 years has only reaffirmed the validity of the foregoing principles. This first global megatrend is the root cause, the key determinant, of all those that follow.
The Increasing Globalization of Business
A second key megatrend for international records management during the 1990s was strong and rapid growth in global business. The major causes of this growth include greater economic integration through free trade agreements in Europe (EC 1992), North America (NAFTA) and the world (GATT); the emergence of new market-oriented economic systems in Eastern Europe, Russia, and a number of Asian and Latin American countries; and the explosion of the Internet and related global information technologies.
In the context of international records management, the significance of business growth is that it has created the climate and incentives for new solutions related to the management of information, solutions which are scaled for global deployment. Without this growth, it is unlikely that people would have witnessed anything like what has occurred in international records management during the past 10 years.
The European Union
Apart from the United Kingdom, the 15 member states of the European Union (E.U.) cannot be said to have records management as a separate and distinct discipline, at least not as defined and practiced in North America. In most E.U. countries, what is termed records...