The Global 'Bit List' of Endangered Digital Species

Blog / 05 Mar, 2024

Long-Term Preservation of Digital data: The Global ‘Bit List’ of Endangered Digital Species

In the digital landscape, there is a fragile ecosystem of vital data in the Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences industry. Within this ecosystem, similar to endangered species in the natural world, there are digital materials at risk of disappearing if not carefully preserved. With this in mind, what would you think if I said Microsoft Office suite was among those at risk?

Welcome to the realm of the Global Bit List of Endangered Digital Species, a valuable resource when looking at the preservation of data. With the regulatory requirement for GxP data to be preserved for up to 25 years, the significance of safeguarding these digital assets becomes even more important for Pharmaceutical and Life Science organisations.

What is the Bit List?

A free-to-access and open resource, the Global Bit List of Endangered Digital Species (or Bit List) is essentially an alarm bell for digital preservation. Organised into several categories ranging from “Concern” to “Practically Extinct”, the Bit List provides a full overview of the various levels of risk faced by hardware, software, online data etc. Organised by the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), the report undergoes regular updates every two years, ensuring its relevance in an ever-evolving digital landscape. 

Why Does it Matter to Pharma and Biotech?

The findings in the Bit List are significant for pharmaceutical and biotech. It provides a poignant reminder of the potential consequences of losing critical digital records and data, especially in the circumstances of clinical trial data. Furthermore, it emphasises the importance of managing your data over time.

If we look at the 2023 update of the Bit List, the DPC confirmed that commercial software is at risk. The list contains some well-known names such as SAP, Oracle, Adobe Photoshop, and Microsoft products including the Windows Operating System and the MS Office suite, all of which are classed as critically endangered. This poses great concern to Pharma and Life Sciences who not only use commercial type software, but also smaller, more bespoke type software within the industry.

If commercial software as large a Microsoft Office Suite is at serious risk of endangerment, then there should be more concern about smaller and more niche systems within Pharma and Life Sciences, e.g. ePRO, eCOA and EDC.

Furthermore, we must consider ALCOA+. Principles such as “Enduring”, mean records and information should be accessible and readable during the entire period in which they might be needed, potentially decades after recording. Naturally the loss of support for these systems present major obstacles with this.

Be Proactive Not Reactive

The Bit List is not only a warning signal but also as a call to action, urging industry players to adopt a risk-based approach, introducing proactive measures in digital preservation. By embracing innovative technologies and fostering collaborative efforts, we can ensure the longevity and accessibility of critical clinical trial data for generations to come.


Nick Keppe

Nick joined the Arkivum team in late 2023 as Business Development Director, bringing with him 12+ years of Sales experience from both New Business and Key Account Management roles. Since 2016, Nick has been heavily engaged in the Life Science sector by supporting Biotechs, Large Pharma and NHS with their, data driven, strategic planning and execution.

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