Blog / 04 Sep, 2018

How much is doing nothing really costing your organisation? Why digital preservation shouldn’t be ignored.

In collections-focused organisations, the weight of responsibility for the archive can feel pretty heavy. You know that the decisions you’re making now will have a direct impact on the future accessibility and legibility of the items entrusted to you. When making the leap into carrying out digital preservation activities, such as file format normalisation, the myriad of options and fear of a misstep can be quite daunting.

Waiting for perfection

Added to that, the digital preservation equivalent of Moore’s Law, i.e. the rate of growth, might play its part as there may be something better and more economical around the corner, so perhaps waiting is the right move? It’s inevitable then, that some organisations suffer from action paralysis.

It’s comforting to know that even Titans like the British Library don’t get (or seek) perfection when preserving their digital collections – British Library Digital Preservation Capability Assessment.

Doing nothing about your digital preservation needs is indeed a “move”, right or wrong. It’s an action in its own right, of course. It’s important to emphasize this to stakeholders in your organisation if you’re making a case for a digital archiving and preservation system. The decision to wait has consequences which need to be weighed.

It’s a “nice-to-have”

I sometimes hear that non-specialists view digital preservation capabilities as a nice-to-have. Conversely, financial institutions, pharma, life sciences & research organisations already understand how vital long-term data lifecycle management is for regulatory compliance. Tracking the audit trail and provenance for clinical trials across decades or reconstructing historical financial trades are all part of the vital nature of digital archives. It applies to collections organisations too. GDPR, Data Protection, Public Sector Information, Copyright, Freedom of Information – all legislative reasons for dispelling the “nice-to-have” argument. What is the cost of non-compliance to your organisation? There are two to consider; reputational and financial.

Data in all its types is sometimes referred to as the “new oil” and heritage collections form a key part of the value of this commodity. It’s vital that the organisation as a whole – not just those directly responsible for the archive –  understand the significance and the related risk of losing the collections they’re custodians of.

It’s complicated

Preserving digital media isn’t easy. In my travels around conferences and customer sites, it’s the thing worrying people the most. What should I do with born-digital and digitized content? Or, I really MUST look into that soon. It makes sense. We’ve had a couple of thousand years to get physical analogue archiving and preservation right – and archivists are now expected to have expertise in a media that may not have even existed 5 years ago. Social media feeds for example. Website preservation. Any media likely to be transient, is a challenge for digital preservation.

We don’t have the budget

Many organisations can’t wait to get started in safeguarding and preserving their precious digital assets, and it’s not perfection or a lack of understanding of the legislation or media types that’s holding them back … it’s budget. That’s why getting your argument across to the right people within your organisation is the most important thing you can do to solve your budget issues.

Engaging stakeholders

When making your case – be that on paper or verbally, making sure it’s benefits driven is key. The benefits however, need to be drawn up from the stakeholder’s viewpoint. The ability to access precious, irreplaceable digitised collections for the good of future generations is of course an enormous benefit, but your Vice Chancellor, IT Director, Finance Manager, Information Governance Officer – whoever is holding the purse strings – may not have this at the top of their list. Compliance, reduced costs, time savings, reduced risk of fines, loss or reputational damage are all very compelling reasons for investing in a digital preservation solution.

A phrase attributed to Theodore Levitt, an economist and Harvard Business School Professor, springs to mind here: you’re providing the ability to make a hole, not selling a drill. In other words, make the argument compelling for your audience’s expected outcomes, and not focused on the tools.

As we outlined in our recent eBook on Making the Case for Digital Preservation and Long-Term Access, “By outlining the ‘doing nothing’ scenario, which should include ‘doing the minimum’, you are giving stakeholders a baseline from which they can assess the solution you’re proposing and should highlight the risks of the incumbent arrangements.”

We’ve also created a short checklist to help get newcomers to digital preservation systems started. You can download it here:

Download the Checklist

Paula Keogh

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