Long-term preservation of electronic records

By Joan Decker posted 06-14-2010 15:28


The growth of electronic records has had positive impacts on many diverse organization operations.  Internal efficiencies are achieved and service to customers is faster.  In a government environment, access to information is also improved with self-service data access and on-line payment options.

As with every positive improvement there are some drawbacks.  From a government office perspective, a major concern is the long-term preservation of information.  Unlike private industry where legal retention requirements are relatively short-term, government records may need to be retained for very lengthy periods of time – decades – and even permanently.

For this reason, the life cycle of electronic systems - volatility of operating systems, hardware and software and rapid obsolescence - are cause for concern. 

Records managers are left “holding the bag” when creators and owners of data lose interest in data as it moves through its life cycle.  Unfortunately, only in very well endowed organizations is sufficient attention and funding allocated to this function.  Investment in appropriate care and preservation is lacking.  Records management is usually at the bottom of the organizational food chain and is very poorly funded. 

There are many other requirements that need to be addressed.  Is sufficient thought given to security, role conflicts particularly for financial data, separation of duties and access to data, annual audit of systems and appropriate backup and restoration of data that is periodically validated?  Is the integrity of index and image data reviewed on a regular basis?  How is he possible corruption of the index / image data detected? And very important over the long haul, how is the authenticity of the data confirmed? Is this issue addressed?  Who created the record? On what date was the record created?  What is the metadata and is it organized to provide access and retrieval in a way that will work over the long haul?   Can we confirm that the data has integrity, that parts of the official record have not been lost or changed?  How are privacy concerns addressed? Is there an exchange with professional organizations and user groups that access these records or is contact limited to the internal organization group?  Government organizations are subject to public right to know requirements.  This requires that public records are not only stored and preserved appropriately but also available for access on an on-going basis. 

The response to the concerns is always met with a short and simple question:  “Haven’t’ you heard of migration paths?” Why of course!  The problem is the funding for migration is really at the bottom of the least.  Most typically interest is in the next new system and product to develop.  There is usually no political capital to be gained by updating what has become old hat.

Anyway, the purpose of this comment is to ask for some feedback on any and all of the items mentioned.  How are you handling long-term preservation, migration and funding?  If you are a member of the marketplace, how are you addressing these issues? Is there a magic bullet for the long-term preservation of electronic records?  If so, how has any solution been proven to endre?

#electronics #Migration #ElectronicRecordsManagement #records #preservation