National Archives of the Netherlands (Ministry of Education, Culture and Science)

Digital information management: organisational issues

Every government organisation required to comply with archival legislation must ensure that their digital information is stored and managed properly, so that – after a certain amount of time – it can be accessed for transfer to the State Archives Service.

In practice, just storing the digital records is an insufficient approach to their management. Reliable storage can be adversely affected by a number of factors, for example:

  • Inconsistent practices for managing software updates;
  • Regular replacement of hard drives and computers;
  • The relative ease with which computer files can be damaged or destroyed.

In most organisations, employees have many different ways of making digital records. These can range from text files and email messages to spreadsheets and databases. However, their management has often been withdrawn from central document management and is increasingly the responsibility of the originating departments. Existing procedures and rules for paper records do not easily transfer to digital records, and they therefore become difficult to locate and access.

Under the terms of archival legislation, all government organisations must make provisions for digital longevity as part of their business management processes. This means that they must:

  • Turn their attention to the problem;
  • Make budget available;
  • Formulate and embed policy, regulations, and procedures;
  • Procure and implement the required technical equipment;
  • Train and instruct employees on their responsibilities.

Individual employees must acknowledge the need for policy, rules and procedures, and be prepared to observe them. Furthermore, it is important that government organisations consider the future when selecting software applications from the market. In other words, software applications should, wherever possible, offer support for long term preservation of text, images, video, audio and combinations of these, from the very point of creation onwards.