Digital Awareness Month at State Records – what were we thinking about? December 3, 2012

Last year we blogged about our Digital Awareness Month initiative. Digital Awareness Month (aka DAM) is an internal professional development program aimed at raising State Records employees’ awareness, knowledge and skills in the area of digital recordkeeping. Each year during DAM we promote various issues and exciting new developments in this area through a series of presentations and newsletters.

This year, DAM2012 occurred in November. On 1 November we kicked things off with a panel discussion by those State Records employees who had attended the recent ICA Congress in Brisbane. This lively and thought-provoking discussion ranged across some of the issues and new developments and projects that had been discussed at ICA which had most interested, resonated with or inspired the State Records crew.

The following Monday saw the publication of the first newsletter for DAM2012. This newsletter looked at digital disposal, cloud computing and digital audio-visual records. To find out what State Records employees were reading about during DAM2012, read on!

And if you were inspired by last year’s post about DAM to start a similar initiative in your own organisation, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Digital disposal

In October 2011 State Records surveyed NSW public offices on attitudes and practices in relation to digital disposal. The key issues that emerged from this survey were:

  • limited record destruction is taking place in electronic document and records management systems (EDRMS) and business systems
  • the disposal of records in business systems is often regarded as costly, time consuming and difficult
  • many organisations are unaware of the retention requirements that apply to their records held in business systems
  • there is a widespread belief that digital disposal can ‘wait until later’, and paper record disposal is often seen as a much more pressing issue
  • most records managers are not confident that their significant records can be maintained for more than 10 years.

Find out more about the findings of this survey

The difficulties with digital disposal are not unique to the NSW public sector: in September 2011 Janet Knight ran a workshop on disposal in a digital environment at the Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia (RIMPA) InForum 2011 convention in Darwin, which examined some of the obstacles to digital disposal.

So why can’t we just keep everything?

In a recent article in IQ, Kate Cumming and Janet Knight discussed some of the implications of failing to dispose of digital records. Kate and Janet identified two major risks arising from this situation:

  • the ongoing creation of immense legacy data problems that will need to be dealt with in the not too distant future
  • the ad hoc, uncontrolled destruction of key long-term business information assets that cannot be proactively identified and managed in amongst vast organisational data pools.

What about big data?

McKinsey Global Institute defines ‘big data’ as data sets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyse.

When the Sloan Digital Sky Survey started work in 2000, its telescope in New Mexico collected more data in its first few weeks than had been amassed in the entire history of astronomy. By 2010, its archive contained 140 terabytes of information. A successor, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope due to commence in Chile in 2016, will acquire that quantity of data every five days.

In a special report on big data, The Economist stated that big data makes it possible to do many things that previously could not be done: spot business trends, prevent diseases, combat crime etc. Managed well, the report claimed that big data can be used to unlock new sources of economic value, provide fresh insights into science and hold governments to account.

Social media analytics can be used to relate comments on blogs, Twitter and other sites with data from other sources. The United Nations used social media analytics to predict unemployment rates based on consumer sentiment expressed on social media: half a million blogs, forums and news sites from the US and Ireland over a period of two years were examined for references to unemployment and how people were coping. The results of the examination were compared with official unemployment statistics, and found that increased chatter about cutting back on groceries, increasing use of public transportation and downgrading one’s car could predict an unemployment spike.

But The Economist report also identified some serious consequences associated with a reliance on big data: for example, during the recent financial crisis it became clear that banks and rating agencies had been relying on models which, although they required a vast amount of information to be fed in, failed to reflect financial risk in the real world.

There are also the costs associated with storing vast quantities of information. In a recent blog post David Rosenthal estimated that the cost of keeping all the data stored in 2011 would consume 14% of 2011’s gross world product (GWP). He also estimated that, based on growth trends, the cost of keeping 2018’s data will consume more than the entire GWP for the year!

DNA as a storage medium?

Perhaps we don’t need to worry about disposing of digital records if we can start storing data in our skin (!!)

A bioengineer and a geneticist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute have successfully stored 5.5 petabits of data – around 700 terabytes – in a single gram of DNA.

The work basically treats DNA as just another digital storage device. Instead of binary data being encoded as magnetic regions on a hard drive platter, strands of DNA that store 96 bits are synthesized, with each of the bases (TGAC) representing a binary value (T and G = 1, A and C = 0).



Tea room discussion points

  • The challenges of digital disposal might result in State Records receiving few digital records transfers because public offices simply aren’t sentencing their digital records and identifying those of archival value. What will this mean for State Records’ ongoing services and the provision of public access to the records of government in NSW in the future?
  • If public offices increasingly create and maintain vast quantities of data, how will we identify what should be kept as part of the State’s archives? Would we require public offices to ‘cull’ datasets prior to transfer?
  • If DNA does become a commonly used storage medium, where should we build the skin archive? And what procedures would we need to implement for skin transfers?

Cloud computing

State Records has published FAQs on cloud computing which address some aspects of the use of cloud computing services.

There are a number of risks associated with storing records in the cloud, and State Records has heard about specific instances where the use of cloud computing services has resulted in issues for the organisation:

  • Sometimes when organisations have had their records returned to them at the conclusion of an outsourcing arrangement, they have not been in a format that the organisation can readily access or use. Some organisations have been faced with the need to purchase expensive software in order to access and reuse their data.
  • Some of the records sent to the cloud have long retention periods (e.g. some construction project management records) and so the ability of the service provider to return data to the organisation is important to meet business needs and legal requirements.

  • Another common problem is the ability of the service provider to perform and then document any records management operations needed, most frequently registration and disposal actions.

State Records has issued a retention and disposal authority which permits the use of cloud services based outside of NSW for managing and storing State records, subject to certain conditions.

A recent article in The New York Times looks at the environmental impacts of cloud computing. The article claims that, worldwide, data centres use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants. An analysis of energy use by data centres found that, on average, they were using only 6-12% of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations. The rest was essentially used to keep servers idling and ready in case of a surge in activity that could slow or crash their operations.

Digital audio-visual records

There are a number of issues to consider regarding the management and preservation of digital audio-visual records over time. State Records has published guidance on the digitisation of analogue audio and video and on what digital audio and video file formats are suitable for the creation and preservation of audio-visual records.

At the recent ICA Congress in Brisbane, Brendan Somes delivered a paper on the challenges posed by audiovisual preservation and the projects being undertaken by the National Archives of Australia to meet these challenges. This paper included a section on the specific challenges presented by the preservation of digital audio-visual records (both ‘born digital’ recordings and digital recordings created through the digitisation of analogue formats), and an outline of two initiatives that the National Archives is working on to assist in addressing these challenges.

The National Archives has realised that selection of digital audiovisual preservation formats is a critical decision, as the formats must be able to capture the full performance of the content on the original format, must be robust and, preferably, should be openly specified and not subject to patents or intellectual rights. Acknowledging that the field of digital audiovisual preservation and digital audiovisual formats is dynamic, the National Archives plans to monitor developments and alter, where required, its policies and procedures.

What would you do?

The Conservative government in Canada has used Twitter a number of times to announce new policies in 140 characters or less. Sometimes the announcements were not made initially at a press conference or in the House of Commons and then advertised via Twitter, but rather announced in the first instance via Twitter.

‘The policy of the government of Canada was made via Twitter’ said Greg Elmer, director of the Centre for the Study of Social Media at Ryerson University in Toronto. ‘So the way in which it is framed, the language that’s used, the time it’s posted, the names associated with those policies – those are all key components of government communications that we need to pay attention to and keep records of.’

For a chance to win much honour and glory among your fellow Future Proof readers, can you suggest in 50 words or less how a record of these government communications could be captured?* Post your suggestion as a comment below.

*Hint: An issues paper published by the Public Records Office Victoria (PROV) discusses capturing and disposing of records of social media usage. There are also several posts on social media on the Future Proof blog.

Matt December 5th, 2012

Take screenshots & convert 2 pdf 4 storage in rms

Emma Harris December 5th, 2012

Thanks for your excellent suggestion, Matt – capturing screenshots of tweets in an EDRMS is a relatively straightforward way of capturing a record of these communications.
And well done on composing a response using less than 50 characters!

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