Skip to main content

Preserving data for centuries

When our Data Protection Officer, Susan Graham, offered to review the draft set of Data Architecture Principles, I was expecting her to comment on legal requirements to minimise access to personal data, or similar concerns.  I wasn't expecting a recommendation to preserve data for centuries, but one of her suggestions addresses exactly that.  In her words,
The University has an excellent collection of historic records, from the time of the University's foundation onwards.  This archive is a valuable resource for research, public relations and corporate memory.  Information previously recorded in written records is now being recorded in information systems.  For example, the archive contains a register of every matriculated student from 1627 to 1980.  It would be regrettable if the transition to digital meant that the modern equivalent of these records was not preserved for posterity.
So I have modified our principle that projects should understand the data life cycle from creation through update to deletion, so that it now allows the possibility of permanent preservation as an alternative to deletion.

By coincidence, this message was reinforced by a session I attended last week about the Digital Strong Room project, given our Digital Preservation Curator, Kirsty Lee.   This project aims to preserve records for up to a hundred years.  This is no mean task, as we don't know what data formats the future will bring, nor which systems people will use to read them.  (By the way, the history of data preservation is fascinating - if you get the chance, it's well worth reading about).

As Kirsty explains, digital preservation is not about storing a document on a disk and forgetting about it.  Digital preservation requires the active management of digital material to ensure ongoing access to the information it holds.  We are using Archivematica, a collection of open-source tools that handle aspects of preservation from ingest to access.  The project will first instantiate this for preserving records of the University Court, and will then extend this to other documents. 

This project doesn't impact the enterprise architecture directly, but the need to consider long-term preservation needs to be built into our project methodology, and people need to be aware of this possibility.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Presentation: Putting IT all together

This is a presentation I gave to an audience of University staff: 

In this seminar, I invite you to consider what the University’s online services would be like, if we worked together to design them from the perspective of the student or member of staff who will use them, instead of designing them around the organisational units that provide them. I’ll start with how the services might appear to that student or member of staff, then work back from there to show what this implies for how we work, how we manage our data, and how we integrate our IT systems. It might even lead to changes in our organisational structure.

Our online services make a vital and valued contribution to the work of our students and staff. I argue that with better integration, more consistent user interfaces, and shared data, this contribution could be significantly enhanced.

This practice is called “Enterprise Architecture”. I’ll describe how it consults multiple organisational units and defines a framework …

Service Excellence, Digital Transformation and Enterprise Architecture

Our University Secretary has sponsored a major review of the University’s administrative processes, coining the banner “Service Excellence”.  The aim is to look at the services we provide to staff and students with a fresh eye, making them more effective, more efficient, and focussed on the user rather than administrative convenience.

Our CIO is sponsoring a similar programme called “Digital Transformation”. This will replace old paper-based processes, starting with the question of what would processes look like if we designed them afresh for the modern connected world.  The aim is to make processes that are more focussed on the user and hence more effective and efficient.

Both of these ambitious programmes will need an effective enterprise architecture, if they are to succeed.  Digital Transformation is intrinsically about using opportunities provided by new technology to improve services and, as such, it requires effective technology services to make data available when needed, to pro…

Not so simple...

A common approach to explaining the benefits of Enterprise Architecture is to draw two diagrams: one that shows a complicated mess of interconnections, and one that shows a nicely layered set of blocks. Something like this one, which came from some consultants:


I've never felt entirely happy with this approach.  Yes, we do want to remove as much of the needless complexity and ad-hoc design that litters the existing architecture.  Yes, we do want to simplify the architecture and make it more consistent and intelligible.  But the simplicity of the block diagram shown here is unobtainable in the vast majority of real enterprises.  We have a mixture of in-house development and different third-party systems, some hosted in-house, some on cloud infrastructure and some accessed as software-as-a-service.  For all the talk of standards, vendors use different authentication systems, different integration systems, and different user interfaces.

So the simple block diagram is, basically, a l…