With the arrival of Global Information Governance Day, it is a good time for corporations to take a hard look at the governance of their long-term digital records – or regret it in years to come.

With technology refreshing at increasingly faster rates, digital records that need to be retained for more than 10 years -- or are already older than 10 years -- are at risk of not being findable, readable or useable when required. This can have dire consequences -- from substantial fines, to reputational loss, to an inability to reuse knowledge for competitive advantage.

This is one reason why digital preservation has been pushing its way to the top of the agenda for the C-suite over the past 12 months. A growing number of large corporations are heeding Google Vice President Vint Cerf’s warning of an impending Digital Dark Age and taking action to safeguard their digital assets. However, the issue still needs elevating further up the C-suite agenda.

Digital preservation is often viewed as the stalwart of safeguarding historical and heritage materials. It actually plays a much more critical role in the governance of business records than many appreciate. It comes down to this: If organizations aren’t digitally safeguarding their records to ensure they can be retrieved and presented to governing bodies or for legal defence, then they risk hefty financial fines, if not prison sentences.

Drastic as it may sound, information governance is a vital aspect in any business, but one that often goes overlooked. Neglect of the proper protocols can have serious consequences not just for businesses, but for the C-Suite individuals responsible for protecting records, too.

Too often in the IT industry, providers (and their customers) focus on innovative creations and easier sharing of information at the expense of protection or consideration of how this data might need to be accessed in years to come.

It is a serious business problem; the Digital Dark Age does not just mean the loss of your wedding photos from Facebook, but losing share value due to being unable to defend a patent or prove prior ownership of intellectual and business property once those files become unreadable. Likewise – and perhaps even more seriously – failure to produce day-to-day documents, such as a full health and safety record can result in large fines.

The problem is far more prevalent than many realize. Storage media like floppy discs, smart drives and even CD-ROMs are now only a memory for many of us, and even file formats like Lotus 1-2-3; WordStar and early versions of Microsoft Excel and Word are already obsolete and unreadable.

Current formats at risk include interactive content like spreadsheets, CAD drawings, web pages, video, and content tied into other systems like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Though these files may seem unimpeachable now, the recent closure of the once monolithic Friends Reunited should serve as a reminder of how transient these services and the information they contain can be.

Fortunately, the disaster of a Digital Dark Age is entirely avoidable. Increasingly, forward-looking companies are paying more attention to their legal records, knowledge management and stakeholder engagement, and we’re seeing the emergence of Corporate Risk Officers and Information Governance Officers as business leaders seek to future-proof their digital information assets for the long term.

It is possible to reliably recycle file formats into something still readable and useable, or maintain a portfolio of tools with the ability to read old formats – both of which should be fundamental elements of a wider reaching information governance strategy.

Without it, we risk losing corporate and cultural history forever. It is vital to act now to safeguard a record of the 21st century for future generations, as well as ensure long-term corporate records can be produced in a readable and useable form when required into the future.

(About the author:  Jon Tilbury is CEO at Preservica)

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