Records Management Essentials

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3.5. Establish plans for reformatting, data migration, and records storage

Now that you understand the way that your agency is maintaining its records, document current reformatting practices and any future plans that are being considered for reformatting the records. Existing formats as well as plans to reformat, and the designation of a record copy for each record, can be reported to your records analyst at the State Archives. Scanning projects, desires to shred the paper format of records still subject to a retention schedule, and efforts to have a paper-free office should be discussed with your records analyst before records are destroyed.

For electronic records that need to be usable for longer than a decade, agencies should make a plan to migrate the data. Regular data migration can help your agencies avoid media failure and format obsolescence, as well as gaining benefit from new technologies. Migrating data requires transforming or converting the data from one technology to another, while preserving the essential characteristics of the data. In order to successfully accomplish this, a migration plan must be established that determines what will be migrated, where the record content and metadata are, what people and tools will be used to migrate the data, and how risks to the data will be managed during the process. As you attempt data migration, document the techniques you try, what happens as a result, the challenges that arise, and any failures that occur. After migrating data, verify that content and metadata are accurate, then establish a timeline and process for future migrations.

When records are no longer actively referenced within an agency (used less than once a month), they can be stored off-site in order to free up expensive office space. Any facility used to store government records needs to have secure, stable storage conditions. This means that the building should be built according to fire safety requirements, located away from flood plain areas, secure from water leaks and pest infestations, equipped with an anti-intrusion alarm system, and have environmental controls.1 One such facility is the State Records Center, a warehouse in Clearfield operated by the State Archives. For agencies that are located long distances from the State Records Center, however, it may be more convenient to find nearby storage space that meets the fore-mentioned standards.

We live and work in an electronic environment where many agencies complete or manage the vast majority of their transactions online. As with paper records, electronic records become inactive when they are used less than once a month, and agencies can drastically decrease costs as they move inactive records to less expensive storage space, such as off their network server. The State Records Center does not store electronic records and the State Archives only stores electronic records that have a permanent retention. Some records officers and chief administrative officers wonder how they can afford to store the vast amount of data that their agency is producing. There are several viable options for data storage, both offline and online, that can save agencies money.

There is an Offline Archive Media Trade Study prepared for the U.S. Geological Survey that compares offline digital archive storage technologies (which does not include cloud storage) and supplies helpful guidance. For each option, the report contains information about the background, technical assessment, and test results. The report provides recommendations based on design, capacity, cost per TB, cost of the drive, compatibility, transfer rate, and vendor analyses.

An online option for storage is cloud computing, which relies on sharing computer resources by using off-site servers that are operated by third-party providers for data storage. If government agencies choose to use cloud storage, records managers should ensure that contractual language with the third-party vendors includes risk management issues relating to records management and access.2 Some key points to include are:

ARMA International, a professional organization for information governance specialists (such as records managers), has produced a Guideline for Outsourcing Records Storage to the Cloud which can assist agencies that are considering using cloud storage.

It is a good idea to keep abreast of developing storage technology solutions. For example, M-Discs™ were developed recently as a convenient long-term data storage option. An M-disc is a type of optical disc that lasts for over 1,000 years because, instead of burning data into an organic dye layer, M-Disc drives etch the data into a rock-like layer. M-Discs follow ISO 10995 standards and are fairly convenient to use. You must use a special M-Disc drive to ‘burn’ or write files to the M-Disc, but you can use any disc drive to read files on an M-Disc. They are an inexpensive  option for off-server storage of record copies with short retention periods, access and backup copies, or even preservation copies (if you continue to maintain a disc drive that can access the records). The catch, of course, is that you must have a disc drive to read the discs, and they are already becoming obsolete—most new computers no longer come with a disc drive built in. Another example of developing technology is the recording and retrieval of five dimensional (5D) digital data by femtosecond laser writing. This process was developed by scientists at the University of Southampton. The data is recorded via self-assembled nanostructures created in fused quartz about the size of a quarter, which can hold up to 360 Terabytes of data and withstand temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Celsius! This invention is not on the market yet, but it is good to be aware of what is being done to find data storage solutions.3

Establish plans for reformatting, data migration, and records storage. Determine what records need to be sent off-site or off-server, how long they need to be in the office or on the network server before being sent off-site, how you will continue to apply retention schedules to records stored off-site and off-server, and where they will be stored. Then document your decisions.

 

136 U.S.C. § 1234 (2011). Accessed September 16, 2015, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2011-title36-vol3/xml/CFR-2011-title36-vol3-part1234-subpartB.xml.

2Nelson, Terry B. Managing Electronic Records. Local Government Records Management Technical Publication Series. Rancho Cucamonga, CA: International Institute of Municipal Clerks, 2012. 

3 University of Southampton, "Eternal 5D Data Storage Could Record the History of Humankind," news release, February 18, 2016, accessed May 26, 2017, http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2016/02/5d-data-storage-update.page.