Why long-term digital preservation tops the list of hottest topics for information management in 2017

The world of information management is fast-moving, driven by rapid advancements in technology - and the biggest challenge in 2017 will be how to ensure data assets remain accessible for the long term.

All the signs are that the issue of long-term digital preservation is going to be a hot topic, perhaps the hottest in the industry, in the coming year.

Businesses are suddenly realising that keeping information up to date is not the only thing to worry about – they also need to consider what happens when the format it is stored on becomes obsolete in future.

As a result companies are seeking to put in place watertight solutions to hold onto their ever-growing corporate footprint.

It is estimated that 98 per cent of organisations need to keep digital records for the long-term because of issues including compliance, legal defence, litigation and harnessing the corporate memory. This throws up important considerations as technology changes so quickly.

A lot of people may remember The BBC’s Blue Peter Domesday project, when more than a million people helped compile a new multimedia edition of Domesday to celebrate the survey’s 900th anniversary in the 1980s.

Data collected included maps, colour photographs, statistics from the 1981 national census and ‘virtual walks’ as well as video footage – with the entire project costing more than £12m. 

Difficult tasks

The project was stored on adapted laserdiscs in the LaserVision Read Only Memory (LV-ROM) and viewed using an Acorn BBC Master with an additional Phillips ‘Domesday Player’. 

With hindsight it’s not difficult see how 20 years later it was almost impossible to access these files. 

The software for the project was written in Basic Combined Programming Language (BCPL), which is no longer used, while photographs were stored as single-frame analogue video - because image-compression formats such as JPEG had not yet been invented.

It took the BBC vast amounts of work and significant investment to recover and re-present the content in a web-based format.

Throw that situation forward another 15 years and the pace of technological advancement is even faster. 

The reality is that any digital content older than ten years old is massively at risk – and so businesses need to plan for that if they want to protect their corporate memory.  Other businesses are legally required to keep information for many years ahead. Building regulations, for instance, mean construction companies need to keep blueprints and records way into the future. Law firms and government departments likewise.

Of course digital preservation is not the only issue likely to shake the industry this year. We expect to see more companies putting measures in place for the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which is edging ever closer. Plus, increasing storage costs and a boost in global data handling are also likely to have a major impact.

Here are the top five issues for information management in 2017:

1. Long-term digital preservation

How many formats of the past are in danger of becoming obsolete in future? There have already been warnings that material written in Word Perfect will soon be impossible to access – and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Technology moves so fast and operating systems are updated so often that preserving information for the future and ensuring it can be read in 10 or 20 years’ time is a logistical challenge.

With such vast amounts of corporate information needing to be saved, for legal and legacy reasons, we are seeing more companies utilising cloud services to keep it. This is a cheap and effective short-term solution but poses a real threat in the long-term as, in reality, that content is still at risk of becoming obsolete within 10 years as hardware, operating systems, programmes and file formats rapidly develop. Long-term digital preservation could be one of 2017’s hottest topics.

2. EU General Data Protection Regulation

Regulation in the data world is evolving and the next big shake-up we can expect is the impending EU GDPR. Coming into force in May 2018, the new regulation will have major implications for all sectors regarding the way data is collected, stored and accessed. As a result, we expect to see more companies putting in place comprehensive information management systems and processes which will allow them to identify what information they have, where it is, how it can be utilised and who is responsible for it. At the end of the day Brexit Britain may not be part of the EU, but almost all businesses will handle the information of European citizens – and British data protection regulation will almost certainly be just as stringent if not more so.

3. Dark Data

The International Data Corporation estimates that as much as 80 per cent of customer data is 'garbage'.  As such, millions of pounds are wasted each year on storage and countless opportunities are being missed as information hidden in dark data, which could inspire new products or services in the future - or at least provide some useful insights - is ignored. In the New Year, more companies will wake up to the importance of unlocking this value and of understanding its risks. Or most importantly not ignoring the fact it is there.

4. Hidden cost of storage

With the cost of rental space expected to increase in 2017 and digital storage continuing to drop, it is not unsurprising that more companies are expected to move from paper storage to digital storage in a bid to save space and money. However, unlike paper, digital storage is continually being improved and updated. This means the information must be updated too so that it remains compatible with new software. If it isn’t, the price to retrieve it could prove costly in the future. 

5. Global data handling

Impending Brexit has given the UK a chance to become the de facto standard in information management and data storage in future as legislation affecting America and Europe will no longer apply. Because of this demand, we are seeing more data centres being built in the UK. In fact, according to Data Centre Map, there are nearly 250 data centres in the UK alone - a figure that is likely to increase over the next year. 

Dominic Johnstone, Head of Information Management Services, Crown Records Management
Image source: Shutterstock/Carlos Amarillo