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How to future-proof corporate data: the biggest challenge in the digital age

Twenty-first century data is providing facilities managers with a modern dilemma: how to preserve corporate information when the speed of technological development is accelerating exponentially.

In fact, such is the pace of progress that vital corporate records could be virtually unreadable within just 10 years if facilities managers don’t begin to think about how they are stored and how they will be accessed in future.

Software obsolescence is happening all the time – from emails sitting on the Lotus Note server, files written in Word Perfect, audio stored on MP3, movie clips saved as .MOV files and even out-dated Auto Cad 7 files. All are very close to becoming totally unreadable if left in storage for much longer.

The need for key business information, content and data to be accessible in the long-term is virtually indisputable but it can look like a confusing issue with a daunting array of options wrapped up in technical language. However, it is possible to take small steps at first by uploading as little as 1 terabyte of only the most critical data.

Here is a six-point plan for facilities managers taking the first steps into long-term digital preservation:

  1. Audit: The first step is get an accurate picture of the information you currently have, before drilling down into what can be discarded and what needs to be retained – whether to preserve the ‘corporate memory’ or to comply with legal or regulatory requirements.From a legal and regulatory perspective the range of records that need to be retained will vary substantially by business, and may include data required to comply with building regulations, data protection regulations, contracts, patent and trademark data, and much more.
  2. Ingest: The next step involves working out how to ‘ingest’ or upload data that a business has identified as having value and which it would like to preserve for the future. When searching for the right partner it is worth considering whether tools are provided which allow non-expert contributors to ingest data as well as archival specialists. The most sustainable way for data to be uploaded in the long-term may be for it to become almost instinct for end users to do so. Simple upload wizards can be developed to make this possible. The automated ingest of some data – including BagIt bags, ISO disk images, digitised content and large collections over 10 terabytes should also be supported.Quality assurance steps should be in place to ensure content is properly preserved, checking that metadata is accurate for instance, as well as searching for viruses.
  3. Data preservation: Technology is now available which makes it easy to migrate away from obsolete file formats over time. The use of tools such as DROID, PRONOM and Linked Data Registries can automate much of this process and provide migration pathways for more than 1200 different file formats. Even zipped files or those embedded in MS Office can be preserved in this way.
  4. Data management: There is no point in going to huge lengths to ensure data is accessible in future if you don’t manage it in the present. Systems which provide data management tools and workflows are therefore key. It should be easy to manage and edit content metadata using models such as EAD, MODS, Dublin Core or a company’s own XML Schema.
  5. Storage: Having the freedom to choose where and how your digital content gets stored is vital – and the answer may depend on how frequently the content needs to be accessed. A hybrid storage model – combining local and cloud storage may prove most viable. Amazon S3/Glacier and Microsoft Azure are some of the more popular cloud applications at present. But also consider how systems allow you to save data to an external FTP server, for example a local disk, for extra peace of mind. Keeping multiple copies of data across different formats can help ensure it is never lost.
  6. Sharing: Many businesses don’t just want to preserve data for the future they also want to make it accessible and shareable – sometimes not only internally but also externally. So consider whether the proposed storage model meets this need.

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