We have been having some fantastic meetings lately with business, project, ICT and information managers about how to best integrate and manage diverse forms of information in new business systems.
Here are some of the things we have been recommending.
Plan any integrations with current business systems well
Integrating systems requires considerable effort and this is exacerbated by frequent software update schedules. If you are planning for your new system to draw data from an existing system, make sure that managing this software change and rewriting integration pathways as required is built into your current and future project schedules.
It is also important to keep monitoring the accuracy of data passed through integration pathways, as the frequency of software change can limit system compatibility and impact on data accuracy and completeness into the future.
Business systems are also implemented to serve their own specific purposes and these purposes may not always correlate specifically with the objectives of the integration pathway. Therefore maintaining the pathway, or maintaining the functionality that supports the pathway, may not always be in the best of interests of core business operations. Business areas may therefore be reluctant to prioritise integrations, or may be unwilling to compromise functionality in order to sustain an integration long term, so these issues need to be carefully managed and negotiated.
Plan for the longevity of your core business information
It is likely that some of the information in your system will need to outlive your brand new system and will need to make its way into new business frameworks and future business systems that evolve. It is crucial to consider this longevity requirement in your very early system planning and development processes.
Strategies can be built into system design that support information longevity, such as considering how information could be partitioned or segmented based on different business information retention needs, or using different workflows to facilitate the export of identified data or reports for ongoing management, or developing specific migration pathways for data of long term business value.
Plan for how you will sustain datasets
Many new business systems will leverage large datasets in order to present and repurpose information online.
This is a great strategy but when utilising this approach it is important to be aware that maintaining accessibility to and the specific meaning of data over time is a complex undertaking. Long term dataset accessibility, particularly spatial dataset accessibility is very challenging because of the complex and various data overlays and data formats used, which are often tied to specific proprietary software.
Any dependencies here in terms of licencing, support, format or software upgrades, connections with related datasets etc can cause a lot of complexity when trying to manage the data for long periods of time. These dependencies need to be sustained in order to maintain data accessibility.
Proactive planning can resolve these issues. Firstly, you should investigate whether maintaining accessibility is likely to be problematic for some of the forms of data you will be managing. If it will be, there may need to be arrangements made for regular dataset maintenance to ensure ongoing accessibility.
Build authorised purging into your system
Previously on Future Proof we have written about the problems caused by the lack of digital disposal occurring in government and more broadly – see Mythbusting: That storage is cheap and Urgent action required to prevent the data bubble from busting.
The problems identified in these posts are becoming very real and at State Records we urge all organisations to focus only on managing the information they need to manage within their systems and to design all systems from the outset so that they can appropriately destroy all possible information at regular time-appropriate intervals.
Digital data volumes in organisations are growing exponentially and unsustainably and the impacts of this are starting to be felt across government. Active management and appropriate planning decisions about:
- what data can be routinely purged and when and
- what data needs to be sustained and how
are urgently needed to ensure there is no ongoing digital legacy that organisations will have to fund and resolve into the future.
At State Records we are really happy to have conversations with organisations at any time about this issue, so please do contact us for advice.
Consider format vulnerabilities and their implications
It is crucial to consider format choices, the evolution of these formats and the impacts of system upgrades into system design and choices around work processes.
For example, large organisations like the US Defense Department have had challenges in maintaining ongoing accessibility and accuracy of its complex CAD records and it is worth considering and learning from case studies like these.
Defense has found that as their CAD operating environment constantly evolves, plans of complex assets such as aircraft carriers are slightly altered with each software upgrade. Mitigating this form of information risk could be a critical consideration in some business systems and processes.
Assess your need for extensive system documentation requirements
Documenting business systems is a critical form of recordkeeping. There is a post on our Future Proof blog about these issues that may be of interest – Systems are records of how we do business
When developing a business system, the system rules, validation and security processes, workflow authorisations, workflow processes etc you define are requirements that need to documented.
It is also important to capture point in time representations of these as if a validation process changes, it could be important to know how the validation operated for a specified time period before that change. Depending on the level of business risk linked to your system, this level of process governance could be critical.
So these are some of the issues we have been discussing with colleagues across government about system design. What are some other issues we need to cover? What are valuable conversations you have had?