Long-Term Information Management is a Serious, Global Problem

Two of the most common questions thought leaders in the field of information governance (IG) hear are: “Who else is working on IG?” and “Why is IG so important?”

The new 2016 Information Governance Initiative (IGI) Benchmark Report, “The Governance of Long-Term Digital Information,” answers both of those questions at length. The report was the subject of a webinar that took place Wednesday, June 8, where representatives from IGI and the law firm Drinker, Biddle and Reath, discussed some of the most sobering findings of the report—which is based on a survey with 400 IG professionals. The investigators identified IG professionals as individuals who spend the bulk of their work day on records and information management.

Barclay Blair, founder and executive director of IGI, said he hopes the report helps sound the alarm that far too many organizations, across a wide swath of industries, are currently storing “at risk” information over the long term. Ninety-eight of the 196 respondents said they keep or need to keep certain digital records and information in excess of 10 years. A majority responded that they are required to keep some of that information permanently, for statutory, regulatory, and legal obligations.

What’s most alarming about these numbers, according to the report’s authors, is that 97 percent of survey participants reported they are “aware that technology (hardware) and software obsolescence could mean that long-term digital records and information are at risk of not being readable or usable in the future.”

Blair said that he’s encouraged by the numbers of individuals working to fix this, but “in general, across the sphere of information governance, we see a real lack of control—almost a total lack of control of unstructured information in this environment.”

“This problem is extreme when you look at a category of information being stored in these environments which are not fit for purpose. We’re trying to sound the alarm here around this reality,” Blair said.

In the health information realm, examples of this include electronic health record (EHR) data, billing, claims, and demographic data that’s being stored in unsecure servers and shared drives. It also includes paper records stored off-site or other unsecure locations, waiting to become digitized.

Who Else Is Struggling

IG in healthcare is a relatively new concept, but is a key strategic initiative for AHIMA. According to the results of IGI’s report, which was published in conjunction with Preservica, most organizations are also in the “baby steps” stage of information governance activities. In many places, IG is first relegated to committees, which tend to be slow in acting.

The IGI report profiles IG initiatives currently underway at the Associated Press, HSBC, and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Each of these organizations has a business reason to look at IG, as well as a responsibility to preserve and reflect major world events. This is the case with the Associated Press, which since 1985 has digitally filed 80 million news stories and accompanying photographs.

Webinar presenter Jason R. Baron, Esq., of Drinker, Biddle and Reath, served as the first director of litigation for the National Archives from 2000 to 2013. The National Archives has oversight over how long and by what means federal agencies keep their records and documentation. He remembers that one proposed schedule that an agency submitted held out that certain ‘temporary’ records should be retained for a period of 10,000 years. Of course, it should be noted that all records accessioned into the National Archives itself are to be held permanently.

One of the keys to attaining IG, according to the webinar presenters, is committing to storing information in more secure environments.

“This is a solvable, simple problem and there are organizations doing this,” said Mike Quinn, commercial director at Preservica. “The first thing we need to think about with preserving content is getting off volatile storage, unsecured service, or removable media. Make sure it’s kept on safe intelligent storage. The storage needs to reflect the lifecycle of information—put it in the cloud or a dark archive. Lots of governments are looking for cloud-based policies.”

Blair said that the sense of an unfolding emergency in information management is leading to a needed triage response.

“It’s a global problem. Historians have sounded the alarm for a long time. In a corporate scenario, there’s more lasting consequences—our ability to tell our story,” through valuable information, Blair said.

Click here to download the IGI/Preservica benchmark report.

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