Commentary - Tossing money down a well with the hope that it may make wishes come true is easy enough but the reality is you’re just throwing hard-earned value away with no hope of getting it back. Unfortunately many archival strategies are yielding much the same result. Blindly throwing corporate IP into a black box may mean that content cannot be found efficiently or at all. Factoring in the years that can go by, even if found the content may not be accessible. Ever tried to open an old graphics file?
IT executives are well aware of regulations for corporate data retention, such as those mandated by Sarbanes-Oxley Act (5 years to forever) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), requiring organizations to keep records for up to 30 years. These requirements have resulted in a much more disciplined approach to managing enterprise content and addressing the challenges associated with over-retention and long term archiving. It is relatively easy to find an enterprise solution for content and records management, but simply moving digital content into your RM system may not be much better than burying it in a digital landfill.
There is already an internationally recognized, non-proprietary standard for a suitable archive format – PDF/A. ISO 19005 establishes PDF/A as a far superior method for long term storage of your digital content than keeping it in its original format. In addition, because it is non-proprietary you are not beholden to any specific vendor to either create or access the format now or in the future.
Previously digital archiving practice was to convert content to a static image format such as TIFF (Tagged Image File Format), but this creates problems due to large file sizes and the inability to search the content. The PDF/A format preserves both the visual appearance as well as the underlying, searchable content.
The PDF/A standard is catching on more quickly in Europe but is starting to pick up steam in North America. Several government agencies, including the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA) and the National Library of Congress have adopted the PDF/A format to preserve information of historical importance.
The PDF/A standard has been under the mandate of the ISO (International Standards Organization) since 2005. Consequently, there are several products to choose from when selecting a solution to create and read PDF/A files. The PDF/A Competence Center (www.pdfa.org) provides the expertise to evolve this standard for the changing needs of business archiving, and is an excellent resource for information about PDF/A and products that support it.
Once we accept that PDF/A is the way to preserve our content, how can an organization do this in a cost-effective way while maintaining compliance? It’s not difficult to create a PDF/A rendition of a Microsoft Word file, there are myriad of available products to do so. The problem is how to automate the generation of compliant PDF/A files from the many file types (e.g. Microsoft Office, CAD DWG, etc.) and enterprise business systems (e.g. ECM, PLM, SharePoint) in use. Ideally, the transformation of content to PDF/A, when it reaches the Preserve state in its lifecycle, is part of an automated process that ensures compliance and reduces costs associated with manual intervention.
Organizations around the world are waking up to the realities and opportunities associated with proper content archival as part of their overall content management strategy. Not only does it preserve and make accessible an organizations hard-won IP but it helps to ensure compliance with both internal and external content regulations.
Hopefully more global organizations learn about the archival options available and can quickly re-route their coins away from the wishing well and into the bank where they can be leveraged.
As a founding partner and Director of Product Management at Adlib, Scott Mackey has spent his entire career in content management, covering various elements of the industry including capture, archival, storage, document and records management and Enterprise Content Transformation. Scott is a featured speaker at many industry and trade events such as the Association for Information and Image Management (AIIM), the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society (RAPS) and the Drug Information Association (DIA).