Common problems and their causes
Will you still be able to get your information in a few years time?
Take a look at the PC or laptop on your desk. The chances are that it doesn’t have a 3.5″ disk drive in it. When you consider that as recently as 1997 five billion ‘floppy disks’ were produced worldwide, it becomes clear that the rate of technological change means that some of our information may soon become unreadable and unusable – if it isn’t already.
Of course this isn’t a trend unique to the floppy disk. The 8″ and the 5.25″ have both suffered the same fate and before them so too the computer punch tape. It is a pretty safe bet that the CD Rom and USB memory sticks used so extensively today are likely to suffer the same fate in the not too distant future.
There are many other problems associated with the longevity of electronic information including whether the software applications of today can still understand files saved in earlier versions and whether variations in temperature and humidity have also rendered the contents of magnetic storage media useless.
Why this issue is important
A great deal of the information we create needs to be kept for many years, potentially even decades. Without intervention this content could be lost damaging the interests of the institution and its stakeholders.
Under the seventh principle of the Data Protection Act the institution is obliged to ensure:
..appropriate technical and organisational measures are taken against… accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data
This would include for example staff employment records which may need to be kept for many decades for pension purposes.
There are numerous other examples ranging from invaluable research data to building plans created and stored as computer aided design (CAD) files where failure to appreciate the long term management requirements of digital data could materially damage the institution's assets.