Blog / 07 May, 2020

Preserving corporate memory through digital archiving

Take a minute to consider all of the digital assets your business has. Start with the website. As well as the design, copy and logos that make up the webpages, what other digital assets can be found? Blogs, guides, embedded videos, forms, etc. The point is, your website is bristling with digital assets!

This isn’t all. Consider the documentation you have in digital form – such as client agreements, disclaimers and receipts. In the same way a filing cabinet would store valuable papers, your servers are storing huge amounts of important digital documentation.

And then there’s your internal data assets, such as customer data – which is often connected to your websites to improve online experiences, content and documentation – along with the vast amount of resources created by every department across the business.

We all create and oversee vast amounts of digital assets and records today. However, unlike physical assets (which are protected by insurance contracts and security personnel), it’s often unclear how these should be preserved and protected aside from robust security controls and procedures.

Simply put, digital assets are most vulnerable to time.

All businesses, big or small, will increasingly face issues such as link rot, vendor abandonment along with storage formats becoming obsolete. This is why Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google and one of the original developers of the internet, fears we are heading towards ‘the digital dark age’.

“People think data bits are these ethereal things in cyberspace that will last forever, but they’re not and they’re based on physical media which decays. I’m worried the information contained in these will be gone as we don’t have a systematic way of ensuring the digital information we create will be readable 100 years from now. That’s why I’m worried about a digital dark age.” Vint Cerf, Vice President of Google and one of the original developers of the internet.

The considerations of long-term data preservation do not match the pace at which we create digital assets. For instance, studies have shown that the average half-life of a link is 10 years meaning a decade from now more users of digital assets will become increasingly frustrated with dead ends.

Obsolete media is also a worryingly prevalent issue for organisations of all sizes and types. To give you an idea of how bad this can get, in 2016 the US Government Accountability Office revealed that the US nuclear weapons system was still using a 1970s computer system with 8” floppy discs! As well as alarming considerations for safety and security, this wasn’t cheap either with the Pentagon spending $61bn (£41bn) a year maintaining these systems.

The Risks Associated with Digital Assets

To recognise the scale of the problem, here are just some of the risks you’re likely to encounter with your digital assets.

Web Content

What is it

This encompasses everything that makes up a website such as the design, artwork, blogs, downloadable guides, videos, CTAs, forms, podcasts and more.

This one of your primary communication channels, what you publish conveys vital information about your business and creates a brand perception with new and existing customers.

The risks this asset could face

As the most commonly accessed communication channel, web content can be extremely vulnerable to all sorts of risk. As well as the well-known dangers of cyber-attacks, what you market, sell and vocalise may need to comply with regulatory rules and you may have digital assets out in the public domain that could be subject to trademark infringement.

With so much value tied up in this content, if these digital assets were to disappear then the business risks financial losses and may even suffer regulatory penalties. If web records aren’t retained, your firm has no form of ‘digital truth’ that they can evidence. Through website archiving this challenge can be overcome, providing invaluable records if there’s a customer dispute or external investigation. For example, if someone lodged a complaint against a pharmaceutical firm, claiming they didn’t list all the T&Cs and the company had no way of proving or disproving this, then unfortunately they would find it difficult to defend themselves without adequate records.

Online financial promotions

What is it?

Specifically for financial services, a financial promotion is classified as “An invitation/inducement to engage in investment activity communicated in the course of business”.

In an online context, this could be a blog, CTA, banner, video, essentially any visual asset that invites a prospect or existing customer to purchase a product/service.

The risks this asset could face

With consumer protection high on the agenda, regulators are extremely vigilant in ensuring firms are not leading people astray with their financial promotions. Under the regulations, financial promotions have to be “clear, fair and not misleading”.

Being able to prove this is critical and while a firm’s marketing department will take steps to ensure the collateral they produce is compliant, evidencing this could be vital down the line. Upon request, a regulated firm should be able to produce records of its website at any point in time. If they fail to meet the record-keeping requirements, they could face serious fines and potentially significant reputational harm.

Key internal documents

What is it?

These can vary from business to business but will typically cover assets such as customer records, contracts and terms, agreements, business plans, company forecasts, strategy documents and essentially anything critical to internal functions and business operation.

This could also mean documents specific to certain teams such as marketing plans, analyses etc.

The risks this asset could face

This kind of material can obviously contain commercially sensitive information and be targeted by cyber-attacks. However, what about the long-term preservation of these documents? Will they still be accessible and available in 5 years, or even 10 years?

With the digital world moving at such pace, businesses must recognise that there’s a real risk in losing these files and the impact could be costly down the line. Ensuring storage formats and file-types don’t go obsolete should be top of the agenda for any digitally-focused business.

Customer data

What is it?

As explained under GDPR, the customer data to protect is “any information which are related to an identified or identifiable natural person.”

Essentially, this means anything that can identify them (such as name, age, address, bank account data etc).

The risks this asset could face

Customer data is extremely valuable and people are willing to do a lot of things to steal it. This is why large-scale data breaches have become so prevalent, as criminals realise customer data a business holds is worth more than most physical assets.

As well as the risk of losing peoples’ personal data, firms can then be open to serious GDPR fines (see above) and reputational risk. If you were to lose consumers’ data, it is also likely they will lose a lot of trust and not give you their business again.

Ownership of Preservation

Some businesses believe that because we’re talking about digital assets, the responsibility for long-term preservation is a job for the IT department or solely Archivists.

This is not the case though, everyone in your organisation is responsible for this. In Arkivum’s recent blog, how to build the case for digital preservation, it’s evident that businesses must look for ownership across the C-Suite to meet future business, legal, and knowledge management needs. Conveying just how significant the risks are will be vital in driving enough engagement to digital preservation initiatives that will ensure information and assets are protected and available when needed.

Too frequently, the attitude is one of letting their successors worry about the corporate videos that can’t be viewed, the warehouse of tapes crumbling to dust, and the company strategy decks full of “404 not found” links. Companies with a strong sense of mission, purpose, and innovation will engage from the top down and support the role of the digital archivist to preserve digital information for long-term accessibility.

However, responsibility will differ depending on who we’re talking about. For a starting point, it’s worthwhile looking at the Library of Congress’s Digital Preservation Outreach and Education programme (DPOE). This framework has defined three levels of staff roles within their model for digital preservation:

  • Executive – those in senior management roles. This can include heads of departments and those on your management board. Though they may not be involved in digital assets on a day-to-day basis, they still have a huge say in the solutions being used and the investment these receive.
  • Managerial – those managing digital preservation programmes and services. This can include some at an executive level but more often than not will cover team leaders and those with the responsibility to manage tech solutions. It’s vital these people communicate to their teams the best processes to establish and the importance of retaining digital assets.
  • Practical – practitioners working hands-on with digital materials and preservation solutions. This term can refer to people working on all levels throughout departments. Essentially, anyone who is managing digital assets in a hands-on nature has to be up-to-speed on the importance of digital preservation and the processes around this.

To understand the risks associated with your digital assets, we recommend businesses carry out an audit across their entire digital presence. With the channels and associated risks categorised you can then source a digital archiving solution that meets your requirements.

To help businesses along this journey, MirrorWeb and Arkivum have brought different archiving specialisms together to provide an end-to-end digital archiving solution that solves these challenges.

MirrorWeb’s intelligent crawl tech is capable of archiving websites and social media channels to ensure key digital communication channels are captured and retained. These web records are then fed straight into the Arkivum system which ensures every communication, file and digital asset is safeguarded, preserved and accessible for the long-term. In addition, this process is fully auditable throughout its lifecycle.

The partnership fills a major gap for institutions seeking digital preservation as a comprehensive service with open-standards and a no-vendor-lock-in philosophy.

Businesses that recognise the lifetime value of their digital knowledge and brand assets will take the appropriate steps to archive now, minimising future risk and experience benefits beyond simply compliance and digital heritage preservation.

This post is a guest article, written by Sam Roberts, Digital Marketing Manager for MirrorWeb.

Sam Roberts

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