Document Management: Preservation for Digital Longevity

In the digital age of document management, information is primarily stored in digital formats, and ensuring the longevity and preservation of digital records is becoming a critical concern for many businesses. The rapid advancement of technology and the ever-evolving nature of digital formats pose challenges in maintaining accessibility and integrity over extended periods of time.

Digital media, such as photos, videos, and audio files, typically do not degrade over time in the same way that analog media like film or vinyl records do. However, digital media can experience degradation or loss of quality due to various factors, and hard drives and other storage systems can experience physical or logical failures.

Digital files can become corrupted due to hardware or software failures, power outages, or transmission errors. Over time, repeated compression or encoding can result in the accumulation of artifacts, such as blurring, pixelation, or loss of fine details, affecting the overall quality of the media. As new technologies emerge, older formats may become obsolete or unsupported by modern software and hardware. If digital media files are saved in outdated or proprietary formats, they may become difficult to access or require conversion to newer formats, potentially leading to quality loss during the conversion process.

What is the Lifespan for Digital Media?

The lifespan of digital media can vary depending on several factors, including the document data management techniques, storage medium, environmental conditions, technology advancements, and proper preservation practices.

Storage format examples:

  • Magnetic media (hard drives, magnetic tapes) is typically estimated to be around 5 to 20 years. However, this can vary depending on factors such as usage, storage conditions (temperature, humidity), and the quality of the media.
  • Optical media (e.g., CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs) is often claimed to be around 10 to 50 years, subject to storage conditions, handling, and exposure to light and heat.
  • Flash memory (e.g., USB drives, SSDs, memory cards) is considered to have a longer lifespan compared to magnetic or optical media. But repeated writes and erasures can degrade flash memory cells over time, leading to potential data loss.
  • Cloud storage and online platforms can provide relatively long-term preservation of digital media. These platforms typically have redundant storage infrastructure, regular data backups, and data migration practices to ensure data durability and availability.

How to Preserve Digital Files

To effectively implement document management and preserve digital files, it is essential to know the characteristics of digital formats, such as PDF, DOCX, JPEG, MP3, and many others. Each format has its own specifications, advantages, and potential vulnerabilities. Understanding the intricacies of digital formats enables preservation efforts to be tailored accordingly.

Digital document retention and disposal are closely related to document preservation, as they form part of an overall strategy to manage and preserve digital documents effectively. Document retention policies inform preservation planning by identifying documents that require long-term preservation. Understanding which documents need to be preserved allows organizations to allocate resources and implement preservation strategies specific to those documents. Retention policies help prioritize efforts and resources towards the preservation of documents with lasting value.

Here we’ll look at examples of preservation strategies for two of the most common digital formats, PDF and DOCX (Microsoft Word).

PDF (Portable Document Format)

PDF is a widely used format for preserving and sharing documents with complex layouts, including text, images, and interactive elements. It supports various features such as encryption, compression, hyperlinks, annotations, and digital signatures. PDF files can be created from various applications and are platform independent.

Compatibility issues can arise with older PDF versions, leading to rendering problems or limited functionality. If the PDF format becomes obsolete or unsupported in the future, there may be challenges in accessing and rendering the documents.

To digitally preserve PDF documents, the following strategies can be employed:

1. Use the Archival PDF Format

Save PDF files by using the PDF/A format, specifically designed for long-term archiving and preservation. PDF/A is a subset of the PDF (Portable Document Format) standard. It is specifically tailored for the archiving and preservation of electronic documents, ensuring that they can be accessed and rendered accurately over long periods of time. PDF/A eliminates certain features of regular PDFs that can be problematic for long-term preservation, such as external dependencies, encryption, and dynamic content.

2. Rely on DMS Features

Leverage the features of a document management system that provides a centralized location for storing digital media. This ensures all the files are easily accessible and not scattered across various devices or storage media. Centralized storage reduces the risk of data loss or misplacement.

3. Do Regular Checks

Conduct periodic quality checks and audits to verify the integrity and readability of the PDF files and take corrective actions when necessary. It’s important to consider the disposal of documents according to Singapore law, so you do not end up trying to maintain outdated or unnecessary records.

Microsoft Word Document (DOCX)

Microsoft Word is a popular word processing software that allows users to create, edit, and format documents. The DOCX format is the default file format used by Microsoft Word since Microsoft Office 2007. It supports various features such as text formatting, tables, images, hyperlinks, and embedded objects.

Compatibility issues may arise when opening DOCX files in older versions of Microsoft Word or other word processing software. DOCX files can be susceptible to data corruption or loss due to file transfer errors, software malfunctions, or storage media failures. The reliance on proprietary software (Microsoft Word) for accessing and editing DOCX files may present challenges if the software becomes obsolete or unsupported in the future.

To digitally preserve DOCX files, the following strategies can be employed:

1. Convert to Other Formats

Convert DOCX files to widely supported and open formats like PDF or plain text (TXT) for long-term preservation and accessibility, especially for documents that do not require extensive formatting or editing capabilities. Adopting open and widely supported formats increases the likelihood of long-term accessibility. Formats like PDF/A (archival version of PDF), plain text (TXT), and XML (Extensible Markup Language) are examples of widely recognized, stable formats that can enhance the longevity of digital documents.

2. Create Files for Open Source

Utilize open standards and formats for long-term preservation, such as ODT (Open Document Text), which is supported by multiple office suites. Open standards and formats are designed to be open and accessible, promoting long-term compatibility and reducing the risk of format obsolescence. ODT, as an open standard, ensures that the files can be opened and used in the future, even as software applications evolve.

2. Monitor File Integrity

Regularly monitor the integrity of DOCX files through checksum verification or error-checking mechanisms to detect and address any data corruption issues.

Preserving thousands of digital Microsoft Word documents can indeed be a daunting task. However, there are strategies and tools that can help streamline the preservation process. Start by prioritizing the documents based on their importance, relevance, or value. Not all documents may require the same level of preservation efforts. Identify critical documents or those with long-term significance for focused preservation efforts.

Effective Document Management for Longevity

Preserving digital documents over extended periods of time to guarantee their accessibility and integrity is a complex task. KRIS Document Management System (DMS) is a time-saving solution that facilitates preservation planning and workflows. It allows organizations to define preservation strategies, assign responsibilities, and set retention policies for digital files. These features ensure that files are managed and preserved in alignment with preservation objectives and best practices. The system acts as a central hub for storage, version control, metadata management, access control, audit logging, and backup, supporting the long-term preservation objectives of digital files.






Find out how a Document Management System can simplify your everyday office processes.