March 14, 2017

Building a File Plan Part 4: Determining Record Types

6 minute read

This is Part 4 in a series of 6 posts around creating and executing an effective file plan for your organization. Click the following links to read the previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

As we move through this blog series focused on creating a usable, automated and simple file plan we will build the "house" in steps until there is a finished and beautiful looking building. With that in mind, today's post will cover determining the record type. Determining the record type lays down an organizational framework that will determine the triggers on all of our records.

One of the most important principles in record keeping is classifying information into its appropriate bucket so that it can be properly managed and disposed of. Doing this means you need to create a solid file plan which requires that you understand the two types of record categories that may exist.

Case Records vs. Admin Records

All record categories can be divided into two overall types, case or admin. Knowing the difference between these two types is critical to information and records management.

An admin-based record category, represents information that consists of the same topic or type of document. Usually this represents an ongoing business activity that does not have an end date. Some common examples of a admin-based record category would be: accounts payable, travel, and maintenance. Each document classified as an admin-based record category is managed individually based on its age or some other date that is already known or will be known and set in the future.  This is known as a True Document Date and the record is disposed of according to the lifecycle defined for the record category.


A case-based record category, also known as a case record, represents an entity with a beginning and an end date such as a person, place, project, or organization. Some common examples of a case-based record category are employee files and client projects. Typically, some sort of event in a case system (i.e. HRS, ERP, CRM) will establish the existence of a case-based record category, such as employee hire date which would result in the creation of an employee file record category for the hired employee.

Information relating to the category will be collected by matching a case identifier (i.e. Employee ID) until another event occurs, such as employee termination, signaling cutoff for the case. Each case file will reference a parent record category which defines the retention period from cutoff for a case file. All records classified as an individual case record must be managed as a single, consolidated unit and will therefore be disposed of at the same time.


The following table provides a good summation of the difference between case and subject record categories:

Admin Case
  • One document = one record
  • Retention based on True Document Date
  • Time based Retention
  • Ongoing business activity
  • Represents on a common topic
  • Examples:
    • Accounts Payable
    • Travel
    • Maintenance
  • Many documents = one record
  • Collected together with Case Identifier
  • Event-based Retention
  • Represents a single person, place, project, or organization with a beginning and an end
  • Examples:
    • Employee File
    • Client Project


The review process is the next step and should not be underestimated. Complete buy-in from the entire organization is the only way for a file plan to be effective. Let all of your stakeholders review the record types and offer notes and changes. Give a firm deadline for when these reviews need to be conducted to ensure the project stays on track.

Once the first round of review is complete, the records manager should set up a detailed review with the inside counsel or compliance team. This confirms that everything is completely compliant and ready for the final review at the executive level. Who exactly is in this meeting will of course vary from company to company, but C-level approval will be crucial going forward, especially since this project (and the file plan overall) will involve the allocation of resources.

Next Steps

Next week we will discuss the next step in the overall file plan process: determining the trigger type. As we move through this process and add layers, we must still keep in mind the general principles we rely on: automation, simplicity and completeness. This mindset will certify your information governance program is truly effective and providing value to the business.

Click here to read Part 5

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