Recordkeeping FAQs – records in EDRMS are not immune from format obsolescence November 30, 2017

File format obsolescence used to be a source of great concern for recordkeeping professionals. And while we haven’t exactly forgotten about obsolescence, our attention has lately been focussed on the diversity, variability and quantity of digital records being created.

Some recent enquiries from agencies have reminded us of the need to maintain our vigilance against format obsolescence. And it’s important to remember that electronic recordkeeping systems, like EDRMS, are not immune.

This is particularly crucial as many agencies pursue a strategy of integrating key organisational business systems with their EDRMS. One of the drivers for such integrations is the inability of some business systems to protect and maintain records for as long as required. Where agencies are relying on EDRMS for protecting and maintaining records, they need to be vigilant against obsolescence.

As we note in our FAQs on EDRMS, EDRMS do not automatically manage the long term needs of records.  Records captured in an EDRMS can still be affected by technological obsolescence.

We recommend that organisations implement a ‘technology watch’ to monitor the condition of records of ongoing value:

  • What is the ongoing viability of the systems they are contained in and the formats they are stored in?
  • Are there imminent changes by vendors, forthcoming obsolescence, impending withdrawal of vendor support or other factors to be aware of?

In our advice on metadata for records and information we note that agencies can use metadata as a tool to proactively plan for and then perform ongoing accessibility and preservation activities such as migration:

  • Metadata can document software and hardware dependencies for records and information. This helps to manage the vulnerabilities which occur when software and hardware are changed.
  • Metadata can also be used to tag records in vulnerable and unusual formats, as these may require specific management in order to be accessible and useable for as long as they are needed.

In this advice we highlight the example of audio visual formats, which are often subject to rapid change and therefore threatened by format obsolescence. However these strategies can also be used for more common, Office-type formats.

If you would like to share the strategies your organisation uses to combat obsolescence, please get in touch!

photo by: Dean Hochman
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