Records and information management FAQs – Things to think about when it’s time to migrate (especially in relation to metadata) December 9, 2015

During the month of December we are blogging on the topic of decommissioning.

Decommissioning legacy systems may result in the migration of data to new systems. We have published some advice on effectively managing the migration of records, which outlines some important things to consider when migrating records and information between systems. This advice notes that records and information professionals have an important role to play in any migration of records and information.

We have recently been contacted by a number of records and information professionals whose organisations are migrating data from legacy systems. This post summarises some of the recordkeeping issues that have arisen in these projects.

Migration involves more than just extracting documents

An agency contacted us recently for some advice about the proposed migration of documents from their legacy EDRMS to a new EDRMS. The proposed method involved copying documents from the legacy EDRMS to a network drive, then copying them from the drive to the new EDRMS.

We flagged a number of concerns with this approach. Our key concern was that the approach, as described, seemed to involve simply extracting documents and did not consider the related information which is essential for authoritative records and information.

In order to serve as evidence and information, records are comprised of a complex of related information:

  • structure – the form and layout of the record
  • content – the informational value of the record
  • context – information about who created the record, why and when they created it, how it has been managed and what other records it is related to.

All of this information must be maintained during a migration to preserve the evidential and informational value of records.

Metadata is critical

Metadata is used to find, understand, authenticate, trust, use and manage records. It is generally the means by which much of a record’s context is documented, and is the ultimate means by which the authoritativeness of a record can be proven. It is essential that metadata is preserved and that connections between a record and its metadata are maintained during migration.

In the example described above, simply extracting documents from an EDRMS and saving them into another EDRMS would not enable the key metadata contained in the system to be persistently linked with the records. There is likely to be a lot of contextual information contained within the legacy EDRMS which needs to be appropriately assessed and managed.

An agency contacted us recently for some advice about exactly what metadata needs to be migrated along with the records from one system to another. We advised that an organisation will need to identify the metadata which provides meaningful context to the records over time – this metadata will need to be migrated. It is important to think very broadly about what system metadata documents the transactional context of what was done in the system (the who, what, when and why), as well as who had the right to see and take actions in the system. This metadata can be critical for providing essential context for records and information.

We have recently published advice on the minimum metadata required for authoritative records and information – in the majority of cases, this metadata, at a minimum, should be migrated together with the records.

Documentation is very useful

It is important to have a documented view of the metadata (and all its dependencies) in the legacy system before beginning a migration. Having this information will help to ensure that the metadata can be mapped to the new system so that it is effectively migrated and results in trustworthy records.

If a system is not well documented, it will make it more difficult to ensure that authoritative records and information are preserved during the migration.

Source records must be appropriately managed

The general retention and disposal authority for source records that have been migrated (GA33) establishes conditions that must be met before NSW public offices may destroy source records that have been successfully migrated.

As part of the planning stage, NSW public offices must ensure that:

  • all records that are to be migrated are complete, with accurate and appropriate metadata
  • a metadata mapping between the original and target systems is performed to ensure that all necessary metadata elements, their corresponding functionality and relevant business rules can be migrated between the systems
  • a migration method that will convert the records, including all metadata and essential characteristics, from their current state to the target state is developed.

When documenting a migration project, NSW public offices must document:

  • all decisions, including decisions not to migrate certain metadata components of a record because they have no ongoing business or accountability relevance for the organisation
  • all system configurations, including metadata definitions and mappings
  • any necessary variation in records design, metadata, format or content that will or have resulted from the migration.

A migration cannot be considered successful unless:

  • all records requiring migration are migrated
  • the entire record, including all necessary metadata, is migrated
  • all essential characteristics have been preserved.

GA33 also requires that NSW public offices retain source records for a period of no less than six months following their successful migration. In many cases their retention period will be longer than the mandatory six months minimum. The specific retention period will be based on organisational risk assessment.

What are your experiences?

As always, we would love to hear from you about your organisation’s experiences in migrating records and information. What challenges did you encounter? What strategies worked? How did you identify the critical metadata that needed to be preserved through the migration.

Please comment below or contact us.

Image credit: “Dotting the Ridge Line” – USFWS Mountain-Prairie (CC BY 2.0)
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