Archive is a Verb

Archive is a Verb

By its very nature an archive is active.  It is a living, breathing entity within an organization.  It grows, it evolves and is (or should be) a source of knowledge for future generations.  Archive is also not simply one technology or product.  It is a process comprised of human and computing systems working together to effectively manage an information lifecycle.  Traditional archivists themselves define their role similarly and have been using the term information lifecycle management well before it became a buzz word in the technology industry (I borrowed from them back in 1998).

Back in those days archive was perceived as a static storage location that was rarely, if ever accessed, and only then in cases of emergency, e.g. litigation and compliance audit.  Archive was (sometimes still is) confused with backup or hierarchical storage management (HSM), but it is so much more and includes these technical components. Creating the understanding of the importance of the digital archive as a key element of a comprehensive approach to information management was a challenge then and it’s still not broadly understood this way.  However, it appears the winds of change are blowing as more corporate activity and initiatives are being focused on enterprise information management and governance.  It takes a top-down approach to understand the type of information being produced within an organization and make a determination as to the importance and value of that information to develop an effective management process.

Industries that view their digital information (data) as assets fully recognize the archive’s value as an active part of their business.  Companies in health care, pharmaceutical, media & entertainment, and oil & gas understand that information created today can provide future benefits.  Research conducted during drug discovery ten years ago can have significant impact on current drug development today.  Video captured in the past can be re-purposed for new productions being developed at a broadcast company.  In these instances the archive is a critical component to business success or at least level of success. Are traditional organizations outside these industries much different?  Is the intellectual property and knowledge contained in unstructured data (files) any less of a business asset?  No, not really.

An effective information program will directly lead to a quality archive and vice versa as they are inextricably linked together.  Both require a top-down approach to define the information landscape starting at the point of creation and how each piece of information shall be tagged (metadata) to describe its business value as well as legal and regulatory policies for managing its life cycle.  Metadata is the key to the kingdom for information management and archiving in the digital world.  It enables automation and intelligence to be applied to an individual information asset or collection of assets.  It simplifies the process of finding and retrieving information regardless of how long they’ve been stored.

The point is that archive is an active process, which requires a number of technologies seamlessly working together.  Storage vendors introduced the concept of archive to the digital world, but were more focused on one of the roles of an archive or archivist:

  • Preserve information and evidence in a protective environment and in a format or media that will remain useable over time.

The above is more of the noun definition of archive.  The following role defined by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) makes the archive actionable and highly relevant to current initiatives such as Big Data/analytics and cloud.

  • Provide descriptive tools such as registers, indices and databases to allow others to locate and identify information and evidence in archival holdings.

The descriptive tools include index and search, classification and metadata extraction which enable consumers or users to search for, find and access historic information.  Understanding the role of the archive and its function within the information ecosystem will help in establishing requirements for an information governance program. The archive provides the infrastructure to retain and preserve organizational records, business assets and intellectual property that can benefit future performance. Suffice to say that archive is more complex than just storing digital “stuff” for a long time and the better organizations get at managing information as a holistic process, from cradle to grave, the more effective they will be.

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