What is digital preservation? - Arkivum

Archiving & Preservation / 15 Jul, 2021

What is digital preservation?

Following on from our previous article (What is Digital Archiving?), this second part of our back-to-basics series will focus on delving into digital preservation and look to explain why this is a far more encompassing option to maintain your data and digital assets for the long-term, rather other storage options.

As we divulged previously, a digital archive can ensure digital objects remain searchable and accessible, whilst on the flip side, digitally preserving them will maintain them in a readable and usable format long into the future.

To start with, it’s probably best to start with defining what we mean by digital preservation. Digital preservation focuses on storing data in such a way that it ensures it can be read and re-used for however long it is stored for. We’ll discuss how it does this a little later but it’s worth noting that a digital preservation solution isn’t a one-off fix. In fact, it encompasses several ongoing processes which not only protect assets but can also help in delivering additional commercial value by ensuring long-term access and readability.

The Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC) defines digital preservation as “the series of managed activities necessary to ensure continued access to digital materials for as long as necessary… and refers to all of the actions required to maintain access to digital materials beyond the limits of media failure or technological and organisational change.”

Why is digital preservation important for organisations?

Digital preservation is by no means a new area, but it is certainly one of increasing importance as we generate greater volumes of digital assets in a wider variety of file formats, from different data sources than ever before.

Traditionally, records and valuable assets have been preserved in a manner of environments, such as a physical archive which has strict atmospheric conditions which prevents damp and light from damaging its stored contents. However, these storage environments are not efficient, secure or robust enough to safeguard data for the long-term and extract additional value for the organisation.

We are living in the digital age with technology evolving at a rapid rate. As such, file formats are at a constant risk of becoming obsolete and unreadable. This could vary from being unable to read a document through to your document being corrupted, inevitably leading to data loss. When it comes to digital assets, preservation encompasses a different outlook and solution.

Regardless of the type, file or format of digital asset requiring long-term storage, it’s valuable to your organisation. You wouldn’t be concerned with the longevity of your data if this were not the case. Therefore, appropriate measures and protocols must be put in place to ensure they remain usable and readable.

For any organisation, being unable to open, use or even, read data they own has many negative implications. For example, you may be unable to use the documentation if an audit is requested meaning that compliance with regulations cannot be approved, or future stakeholders unable to read research data in the future (implying that they may have to spend budget on re-conducting the research).

Benefits of digital preservation

1.     Data will remain readable and usable

Where digital archiving ensures digital assets are safeguarded, searchable and accessible, digital preservation is the series of activities (often automated) that guarantees that a record is readable and usable, regardless of how long it is stored or retained for. It achieves this through ‘normalisation’.

Normalisation is a process whereby a copy of each original digital asset is created and maintained in a format that can be opened and read by future hardware and software. It also does not matter whether the data uploaded has been digitised or was born digital. This essentially means that whatever has been uploaded will remain in a readable and usable format, forever and in effect, negating the possibility of file obsolescence from occurring.

Not only is it a nuisance to be unable to use and read data, but file format obsolescence could also have many other business implications, including the prevention of sharing of knowledge within many different industries.

2.     Regulatory compliance

Data Regulations across many industries are brought in or expanded. Just recently, the new Medical Device Regulation (MDR) was made into a central European Union law, requiring the retention of medical devices and their associated software for 10 years for any organisation which designs or distribute the relevant device within the EU.

The life sciences industry also often requires digital preservation of data for regulatory purposes and in particular, the area of clinical trials. Not only must they (in principle) follow good data practices such as FAIR and ALCOA+, but they may have to adhere to international regulations dependant on where they are based. These may include the rules stipulated from the EMA for Europe, MHRA for the UK and the FDA for the US, to name a few.

Different solutions for different outcomes

We often see that people assume that other systems (such as backups and data storage solutions) offer the same capabilities. However, this comparison isn’t a fair one because these systems exist for different reasons. For example, a backup is primarily designed to restore a live system if something goes wrong – usually in the case of disaster recovery. A digital archive and preservation solution is specifically designed to ensure that your data is accessible, readable, searchable (etc.) for as long as you require.

Both are important solutions, but backups alone are not enough to preserve your data for the long-term and they do not usually include file format normalisation.

As demonstrated previously, a digital archiving and preservation solution will equip an organisation with data that not only remains secure for as long as it is retained for, but they can rest assured knowing they can access, read and re-use the stored data, without any concerns for file corruption or obsolescence.

If you require long-term protection, access and use of your data then a digital archive and preservation solution is what will help to you achieve this.

To preserve or not?

The question isn’t what you should preserve. The question is, how do you decide what does and does not need to be preserved? It can be an expensive and environmentally unfriendly strategy to preserve everything by default.

A good place to start would be to take a few moments to consider the below questions:

  • Will I need this data in the future? Is there long-term value attributed to it?
  • Who requires – or will require – access to the data now and in the future?
  • Is there a set time period for which your data must be preserved?
  • Are there any particular retention regulations your data and assets must comply with?
  • Can I keep it (e.g. GDPR)?
  • Do I have to keep it?
  • What internal resources do you have? Would it be more beneficial to outsource this responsibility to a third party?

We hope this blog series has helped define and explain what we mean by digital archiving and preservation and have illustrated their uses and benefits with examples you may be able to present back to your organisation to help with building your case for such a solution.

If you’d like further information on beginning your digital preservation journey, or to book a demo, please get in touch.

Tom Lynam

Tom is the Marketing Director at Arkivum. He joined the business in January 2020 tasked with driving new business growth and building the brand into new sectors such as Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences. He has over 12 years’ experience in several diverse marketing leadership roles across technology and professional services organisations.

To receive our latest news and blogs straight to your inbox, please enter your email address.

Follow us on