One of the most significant advances in computing began in the mid-1980s with the integration of telecommunications and computing to form computer networks.
Network technology allows organisations to connect a number of PCs into a local area network (LAN) to enable groups to share software applications and file storage space and to transport documents and messages electronically.
Local area network: A computer network located within a relatively limited area such as a building, agency or university campus. Also known as a LAN.
Computer network: A grouping of computers and peripherals connected together by telecommunications links to enable a group of users to share and exchange information.
By the late 1980s, wide-scale adoption of telecommunications standards, such as TCP/IP, made it possible to link hundreds of thousands of LANs and PCs into regional and global networks. The best known global network is the Internet, which, as of 1998, was estimated to have over 100 million users in over 110 countries.
Internet: A collection of local, regional and national computer networks that are linked together to exchange data and distribute processing tasks.
Standard: A definition, format or specification that has been approved by a recognised standards organisation or is accepted as a de facto standard by an industry.
Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP): The de facto standard used by the Internet for transmitting data over networks.
The integration of computing and telecommunications into networks has important implications for how records are created, stored and used. Networks combine the autonomy of a PC with some of the central controls of a mainframe. They make it technically feasible to process and communicate all of the information needed to conduct business activities in modern organisations.
See Understanding Computers: An Overview for Records and Archives Staff for a more in-depth discussion of network capabilities, distributed computing and client-server architecture.
In a networked environment, records can be located in centralised databases, in shared network filing space and on the hard drive of an individual’s PC. The ability to keep information in several places makes it more difficult to control the creation, revision, distribution and deletion of records. Where systems allow individuals to share electronic records and data, the provenance, or origin of creation, of these materials becomes more complex since several different administrative units may contribute to the creation of a document.
It is also possible for several different individuals to use the information at once. Increasingly, people prefer to receive information in electronic form, and printed versions become convenience copies. This trend has led to the growing acceptance of electronic records as evidence in a court of law. As a result, organisations must manage their records in a much more disciplined manner than they have in the past.
Does your organisation have any computer networks? Who has access to the network? What software applications are available to its users? What records are stored in shared filing space on the network and how easy is it to retrieve them (that is, how are they organised)? Do any or all of the computers have an Internet connection? Who is responsible for maintaining the network? Are there backing-up procedures for the information stored on the network, if so, what are these procedures? Who is responsible for maintaining backups and where are they maintained?
Computerisation has innate consequences for the way we create and keep records; manually as well as electronically. Having recognised these consequences, the remainder of this lesson aims to provide a basic introduction to the concepts of electronic records and electronic record-keeping systems.