Increasing Retention Periods require Open Archiving Standards

Posted on March 6, 2014

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Due to the constantly increasing legal retention periods for electronic data, more and more government organizations and enterprises have to deal with old electronic archives from which the original manufacturer can be anything from being acquired to the absence of technical support for an older version of the archive. Once the technical lifecycle of this product is over, or if the archive can no longer manage today’s volumes, an upgrade or migration to a new version or new product is necessary. At that moment, these organizations either have a complete vendor lock-up or they run into high data migration costs. As a result, they now understand the business value of open formats for long-term archiving.

Since almost all of the leading vendors of electronic archiving solutions use a proprietary internal format, there is a clear need for open and sustainable long-term archiving solutions. 

Recently, I participated in a Webinar Jason Baron (formerly director of litigation support for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). An archived version can be found here:

http://www.zylab.com/webinar-requirements-for-long-term-preservation.aspx

A more detailed write up on the technical challenges and a white paper can be found here:

https://zylab.wordpress.com/2014/01/07/how-to-avoid-vendor-lockup-in-email-archiving-and-enterprise-information-archiving/

Over the last years, I have seen high-profile organizations adopting electronic archive solutions based on, for-instance, open XML standards (among them White House, UN, NARA, European Commission, etc.). These organizations all share the requirement that their records have very long retention periods (25-, 50-, 100 years, or even indefinitely). Converting data from one proprietary format to another in case of a product updates is off-course not acceptable to them. Let alone not being able to access their data without technical assistance from the original manufacturer.

Given the increasing legal retention periods for electronic data under many other new (international) regulations, I expect many commercial organizations to follow this trend soon.

Proprietary internal file and database formats are bad practices from the last millennium, primarily used by software vendors to create client lockup. After several decades of experience with archiving electronic data, everybody should stay far away from product build on these principles in order to avoid long-term surprises and high conversion and data access costs. Don’t leave an electronic nightmare for the next generation!

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