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Accessing digital documents in the future

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“Notwithstanding all the benefits of digital document storage – How do you answer the sceptic that asks how are you going to guarantee that you can retrieve this document in ten years or twenty years time?” – Michael Burgess ML Burgess Consulting.

This question is something I address on a very regular basis. I spend a great deal of time working with state and municipal governments with their records management programs. In my opinion, the main two elements to address are media type and document type.
When answering the media type, you need to know you the document type and then the corresponding retention policy. Long story short, for long-term archiving (10 years and longer), and to avoid the issue with technological backwards compatibility, you must use a simple, unalterable media format. And today, that answer is still microfilm. I know many people bristle at the thought, maybe even laugh. Before you tune me out, ask yourself a few basic questions. How many times has your own digital environment failed? Servers and shares that everyone thought were on a scheduled back-up that turn out not to be. Hardware failures, human error, non-standard or non-existent records policies and the like all contribute to failed and compromised archives. And, be sure to clearly define, internally, your business definition between back-up and archive. Microfilm is certainly not your best day-forward active data solution. For access and distribution, film is cumbersome as compared to digital media. However, a roll of film or especially microfiche is not alterable. You cannot pull out page or file. And ultimately, all you need is light to view the data. You can write over 6,000 letter sized pages to a standard 215′ roll of film at a cost of around $120.00. Properly stored microfilm has a Life Expectancy (LE) of over 500 years. And for long-term storage, a single roll costs around a dollar a year. By cost comparison, factoring in hardware, software and human intervention, digital technology comes nowhere near this. Try film, it works.

Kevin Williams

Principal – SRIIA Technologies, Inc.

SRIIA Technologies Archiving Services

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