The Challange of Web Site Records Preservation: Managing Electronic Records in Fast-Paced, Technology-Driven Web Environments Has Frustrated Information Management Professionals for More Than a Decade

Article excerpt

The "free and open" Internet has transformed personal techniques for gathering and storing information and, as a result, has changed workplace expectations about document availability. Using Internet browser software from a personal computer, one can quickly access enormous volumes of documents placed around the world on Internet Web servers.

In data- and document-intensive office environments, it is appealing to place information on intranet-accessible Web servers rather than to use paper-based distribution methods. Printed newsletters, bound policy/procedure manuals, and cork-backed bulletin boards nailed to lunchroom walls have been largely replaced with flexible and easily updated digital Web sites. These electronic newsrooms offer organizational agendas, changes in official policies, modifications to administrative procedures, immediate safety alerts, and links to local resources that may be of interest to employees.

The 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week, 365-days-a-year (24x7x365) company "uptime" concept has given rise to expectations that there is to be no interruption in information accessibility. Corporate multinationals, software help desks, and a variety of crisis centers must operate without allowing time zones, personnel work shifts, or professional staff availability to reduce access to information or services. Internet- or intranet-accessible Web sites have positively revolutionized the way modern organizations create, store, and share information. However, the forward-thinking business planners and technologists that championed a stampede toward the increasing use of Web-based documents have largely forgotten two critical aspects of basic records management: information accessibility and viability over time.

For mankind to benefit from accumulated organizational and cultural experiences, recorded information must be properly preserved. Writings on clay tablets and paper-based media have withstood centuries of use and abuse only to remain readable and decipherable after thousands of years. In stark contrast, it is ironic that the very business planning sentiments that insist on the 24x7x365 organizational availability equation may be ensuring that information will not be available in as little as five or more years--4x7x365x5. It is this last number in the information availability equation that will determine if the enormous investment in information technology and resources will be lost to posterity. Will there be a "virtual archives" that stores for future generations the digital records being created by our governments, cultural institutions, and workplaces? What viral monsters lurk ready to gobble up unprotected data where there is no long-term information disaster protection plan? Will Web site resident records that require long-term retention be adequately protected and preserved to ensure meeting legal, statutory, and regulatory business requirements? Most importantly, are any action plans or procedures in place to ensure these issues will be addressed so that data, documents, and records stored on Web sites will not simply evaporate or become unusable over time?

Preservation of officially designated documents (records) that are posted on Web browser-accessible computers requires considerable advanced planning. Due to both the technical complexities of the Web server environment and the informal undocumented work streams that often are used to populate these computer systems with documents, most Web servers have little or no application of records management techniques and principles to their repositories of potentially valuable records. In addition, there is no single easy technology or management solution that can be installed or practiced that will immediately result in the protection and preservation of electronic records.

To be successful, the management of records and information requires the application of professional concepts and practices with sufficient management support to be influential and organizationally effective. …