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A rehash on the DIRKS methodology


This is a rehash of an article first published in 2012, but it’s still relevant today.


DIRKS – a tool for achieving better business outcomes

Few people outside of the records management sector are familiar with the DIRKS methodology. What is DIRKS you ask?

DIRKS stands for the design and implementation of recordkeeping systems and is a methodology which is compliant with, and expands on, the Standard for Records Management, ISO 15489 – 2002. DIRKS comprises eight steps:

  • preliminary investigation (Step A);
  • analysis of business activity (Step B);
  • identification of recordkeeping requirements (Step C);
  • assessment of existing systems (Step D);
  • identification of strategies for recordkeeping (Step E);
  • design of a recordkeeping system (Step F);
  • implementation of a recordkeeping system (Step G); and
  • post-implementation review (Step H).

DIRKS is neither new nor revolutionary. The methodology is based on traditional system design methodologies which have been adapted for the records management environment. It is an intensively analytical process examining every facet of an organisation – its structure, environment, stakeholders, processes and outputs. During the analysis, all relevant sources of information are collated and referenced.

Around 2000 DIRKS became the established methodology for Australian government agencies to follow when designing their recordkeeping tools. Commonwealth agencies undertook DIRKS steps A to C in order to obtain an approved business classification scheme and linked records retention schedule from National Archives of Australia (NAA).

The NAA approach to DIRKS resulted in a backlash against the methodology mainly due to the size and cost of the process. The scale of DIRKS projects was great and the skills required (research, language development and business process analysis) were in short supply. Therefore much of the work was outsourced to consultants.

Because the objective of most DIRKS projects was the production of recordkeeping tools, the relevance of the projects to the wider organisation was not generally known or understood. But the knowledge gained throughout the DIRKS process should have been realised as a valuable asset for the organisation, whether public or private, large or small.

To understand how DIRKS delivers value let’s take a closer look at the first three steps.

DIRKS Step A – Preliminary Investigation

The objective of Step A is to identify and document the functions of the organisation, its purpose, structure, the business, regulatory and socio-political environments in which it operates, and major factors affecting information management practices. All essential information about the organisation which is recreated over and over again to feed into publications like:

  • the annual report
  • the corporate web site / about us
  • responses to tenders
  • due diligence processes

DIRKS Step B – Analysis of Business Activity

The objective of Step B is to develop a model of what the organisation does and how it does it by examining its business activities and processes.
The output from Step B is a Business Classification Scheme (BCS) which describes the organisation’s business processes in a hierarchy of Functions, Activities and Transactions where:

  1. Functions represent the major responsibilities that are managed by the organisation to fulfil its goals. They are high-level aggregates of the organisation’s activities.
  2. Activities are the major tasks performed by an organisation to accomplish each of its functions. They form the second level of a business classification scheme. E.g. Tendering
  3. Transactions are the smallest unit of business activity. They form the third level in a business classification scheme. Uses of records are themselves transactions.

For example:
Function: Property Development
Activity: Tendering

  • Specifications for works and services are prepared
  • Requests for tender or quotation are issued
  • Responses are received from interested parties.
  • Etc.

Business Classification Schemes are one of the foundation taxonomies used by organisations. They are very stable as the functions and activities of a business don’t change much over time. This stability is one of the major reasons why the BCS model was adopted as a standard for classifying records – it stays consistent despite constant organisational change.

As a business tool the BCS provides the framework for organisational development and business process analysis:

  • Position descriptions (roles) can be mapped to the BCS
  • Access and security rights can be linked to the BCS
  • Transactional analysis underpins work process analysis

Using the BCS to underpin business structures builds inherent stability into these structures. As functions and activities are more or less constant, changes to organisational structure will have less impact on essential business systems.

DIRKS Step C – Identification of recordkeeping requirements

The objective of Step C is to identify and document the recordkeeping requirements of the organisation. Recordkeeping requirements are derived from an analysis of the business needs, legal and regulatory and community obligation. These requirements address the need to create, capture, secure, provide access to and dispose of records and the management framework the organisation needs to establish in order to have and accountably manage all the business information that is necessary.

A risk analysis is undertaken to identify what the organization’s exposure is if these recordkeeping requirements are not addressed.
For records managers the main output of the analysis is a records retention schedule -records with similar recordkeeping requirements are grouped together. The retention schedule is used for applying disposition rules to files and documents.
For the business the many outputs from this analysis can satisfy a range of business purposes:

  • The documented sources deliver a list of legislative and regulatory requirements to the legal and compliance team.
  • The recordkeeping risk analysis provides input into the risk management strategy.
  • The analysis of recordkeeping requirements are useful to IT to assist with determining access and storage strategies for electronic business records.
  • And the stakeholder analysis provides public relations and business development staff with valuable information about the requirements of external stakeholders and the community’s expectations.

Common outcomes

In many ways DIRKS is a reinvention of a wheel that is constantly turning in an organisation. Many businesses undergo functional analysis – the challenge is to integrate the DIRKS process in with other organisational or process analysis initiatives. Even without integration there is opportunity to share information between different projects resulting in less duplication of effort and less variation in outcomes. There could even lead to the use of common terminology. Now there’s a radical thought!


NSW State Records NSW DIRKS Manual

Conni Christensen
Founding Partner, The Synercon Group

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