Looking after your data

The digital age has enabled government to operate more accountably, transparently and interactively than ever before. It’s opened up new ways of communicating and sharing information, and of improving public services. We create and use a huge amount of digital information, using a wide variety of formats, hardware and software.
Alongside these opportunities, this explosion of data has also given government a major challenge – how to keep huge volumes of digital information usable over time and during change. By usable, we mean making sure that you can always find, open, work with, trust and understand the digital information you have. If information isn’t usable, then it’s a liability, not an asset.
Vulnerable information
Using your digital information depends on the technology you need to access it, and the policies and processes you have in place to manage it. These dependencies make usability sensitive to change; particularly at risk during changes in an organisation’s management processes or technology.
Technology changes are happening all around us, all the time. Think of the cloud, IT spending cutbacks, the push to use open standards, or move towards shared services. Organisation changes such as closing arm’s length bodies, have huge impacts on information as ownership changes, usability requirements are modified and IT systems merge and close.
You don’t just need to be aware of future changes. Changes you have made in the past could have already caused you loss of usability, but the impact of those changes might be lying dormant, unnoticed by the business until it needs to use its information again.
Government needs to manage its information carefully over time and through changes to maintain the usability it needs. This is called managing digital continuity.
Loss of digital continuity
Loss of digital continuity may manifest as a technology failure, but it’s much more likely to be caused by problems in an organisation’s information management, governance, change management and technology management, rather than by the technology itself. A critical risk for IT teams to manage is the disconnect between technology lifecycle and information lifecycle. You’re likely to need to use some information for longer than the lifecycle of the technology that supports it – and you will need to be aware of this, and take appropriate action.
Loss of continuity happens because:
• information ownership becomes unclear
 because information is not appropriately
 incorporated into information governance
    and management structures
• information usability requirements
 are changed or poorly understood
 and communicated to all the disciplines
 involved in supporting them
• information is not migrated to new
 technologies effectively with loss of
 critical content, metadata, context,
 audit data meaning that you can’t use the
 information appropriately upon migration
• information is trapped in ageing, legacy
 IT systems with restricted access, limited
 functionality and increased support costs
• information becomes locked in a format that
 can’t be opened or used by the technology
 that’s available to you, or that technology does not provide you with the
 functionality you need
• information is no longer understood by the
 organisation as it loses staff who manage
 the information, understand its context, or
 have expertise in the supporting technology
• information is not trusted if crucial
 audit data, logs, versions and contextual
 information are not maintained.
Managing digital continuity, brings considerable benefits. It means your organisation can work more efficiently and effectively, legally and accountably, providing a transparent, accountable record of government, protecting against reputational damage and even financial liabilities. It can help you to get rid of information you don’t need, get rid of IT you don’t need, prevent slow attrition from inefficient use of information, and ensure your information is fit for re-use.
New digital continuity service
Keeping digital information usable is complex, but achievable, and it needn’t be expensive. The National Archives has developed a new service for government that will help keep digital information usable. The Digital Continuity Service is flexible, and can be tailored by each organisation to meet specific issues and risks to digital continuity. It includes guidance; risk assessment; file profiling tool DROID; and a framework of technical tools and services.
The National Archives’ range of guidance helps organisations to understand what digital continuity means, and how to manage it. It has also produced specific guidance to help IT professionals to manage digital continuity.
For example, Mapping the Technical Dependencies of Information Assets2 will help you understand how your technical environment supports your information assets and business needs and to understand the risks to your digital continuity.
A new ITIL White Paper3, co-authored with members of The National Archives’ Digital Continuity Team, explains how to manage digital continuity in relation to business activities. In particular it looks at how to take action to make sure that your organisation’s technical environment adequately supports the digital information that relies on it. This is the first time that ITIL® (best practice for IT service managers)  has really addressed critical information management issues as part of its manual for managing IT services.
Another part of the service includes a risk assessment process that will help you to understand your organisation’s specific risks and issues, including IT issues. The National Archives’ has developed a free self-assessment tool that links to support provided in the digital continuity guidance and framework of solutions and services.

Free file profiling tool
Profiling file formats helps an organisation to manage its information more effectively. DROID (Digital Record Object IDentification) is a software tool that you can use to profile a wide range of file formats. For example, it will tell you what versions you have, their age and size, and when they were last changed. It can also provide data to help you find duplicates.
DROID identifies over 200 different formats, including most document, audio, video and image files in common use. It scans individual files and directories, or entire repositories holding millions of files. It recognises files using signature information provided by the digital preservation researchers at The National Archives. This information is updated regularly, so DROID can recognise an increasing number of different file formats.
DROID can be installed with minimal impact on your systems. It is written in Java and is platform independent. It is open source, and can be downloaded and run without any restriction, completely free of charge. It is available from: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/droid
The Digital Continuity Framework
A procurement framework is a catalogue of suppliers, pre-approved to offer specified tools and services with pre-negotiated process and conditions. Using a framework means that public sector organisations can contract their services knowing that EU tender obligations have been fulfilled. This saves time and money. There are 24 suppliers on the Digital Continuity Framework, and eight of these are small-to-medium enterprises. This actively supports the government’s policy of making it easier for small-to-medium enterprises to enter the government ICT market.
On the the Digital Continuity Framework you will find:
Information management services – These services help organisations to audit the information they hold, to better organise file plans, understand information risks, and develop retention schedules.
Data storage consultancy – Storing vast quantities of digital information can make the right information harder to find. Data storage consultancy can help reduce the amount of information stored, as well as ensuring that what is saved meets identified business needs
Data conversion and migration services – These services help to ensure essential information does not remain in systems and formats that are obsolete. The services cover documents, audio and diagrams, emails, collaboration systems and electronic document and records management systems.
eDiscovery solutions – Information is often lost when it becomes divorced from the context in which it was created, or it is missing the crucial metadata which describes the contents of the file. eDiscovery solutions can help to identify information, ensure it remains accessible and provide appropriate audit trails.
Data quality solutions – Information can become unusable if the quality of the data has deteriorated over time or records have not been updated. Data quality solutions provide a range of options for improving the quality of your data.
Digital archiving solutions – Digital archiving solutions can be used to make sure that information that has a business value, but isn’t used every day, can be archived effectively.
For more information
Web: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/digitalcontinuity

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