Achieving digital continuity June 4, 2010

The National Archives (TNA) of the United Kingdom have defined digital continuity as: “establishing an ability to access and use digital information for as long as organisations need to, over however long the timescales are required, and through organisational, business and technology changes.” TNA also makes the point with this definition that: “It (digital continuity) is more than preservation as it necessitates a wide range of good information management policies and practices.”

To find out whether digital continuity risk is being managed effectively, TNA recently commissioned a study of a sample of local authorities in London and across Britain (similar to NSW local government councils). The study examined various digital continuity and information management practices via online survey, face to face interviews and desk research.  The summary findings of the study were as follows:

  • few authorities were applying a comprehensive and complete set of information management controls or information management strategy that is understood and supported by senior management
  • information governance and assurance was not high priority – it was difficult for authorities to identify information owners or risk managers for certain classes of information
  • structured information in line of business systems was identified as particularly at risk
  • the introduction of EDRMS solutions were often the only trigger for the introduction of information management controls and practices
  • contractual arrangements for outsourcing of IT services and other procurement processes neglected to address digital continuity
  • there needs to be more consistency in information management standards to support authorities working in partnership with other parts of government
  • there is a perceived lack of practical solutions to digital continuity problems, and
  • the various digital continuity stakeholders (records, IT, archives) continue to struggle to work productively together.

To view the full report go to: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/recordsmanagement/publications.htm

Unfortunately the study’s findings are all familiar realities for those of us who are concerned with the management of digital information – including in the NSW government sector. So what can we do to get digital continuity on the agenda when we are faced with these sorts of challenges? For us in the Future Proof team some of the key messages to take on board are:

  • senior managers need to understand the risks to the organisation of loss of digital information so they can support and drive information management / digital continuity strategy
  • records managers, ICT managers and others need to learn to speak each other’s language and commit to solving digital continuity problems together; and
  • the long term preservation of digital information is just part of the picture; access to quality, authentic digital information – including digital records – should be addressed as part of a comprehensive information management strategy that covers structured and unstructured information in EDRMS and line of business systems.
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