Will Our Records Requirements Ever Abandon Paper?

Article excerpt

As Selser Schaefer Architects renovated its former 18,500-square- foot Tulsa Ice Co. into a new headquarters, the Tulsa firm devoted one East Building section for storing paper archives.

Explaining why drew a broad smile from founding partner Robert Schaefer.

"As an office we have never, for 20 years, produced hand-drawn construction documents," he said. "They've always been computer- drawn."

But industry regulations require the firm to maintain paper records, so Selser Schaefer, like other Oklahoma architectural and engineering companies, prints out its computer drawings, even though they're stored digitally, and secures the paper in a little-used, ever-growing library.

Most industries face the same records storage conundrum. Last month BOK Financial paid $1.66 million to buy a 77,000-square-foot warehouse, its primary purpose records storage. The Tulsa County District Court maintains a north Tulsa warehouse for preserving cases more than a year old.

Considering how long it takes regulations and laws to catch up with information technology, many executives doubt this digital Catch-22 will change anytime soon, no matter how secure and cheap electronic storage options become.

"In our lifetime, I don't think we will," said Bryan Wempen, technology director for the Oklahoma State Council for Human Resource Management.

Regulator issues force a large measure, he said, with some industries getting even worse. Wempen pointed to health care, where hospitals and clinics face not only federal IT upgrade mandates, but also increased records demands under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Wempen also pinned the slow changeover on continued technology questions over electronic signatures, encryption, software platforms and other concerns.

"If we keep them as digital files, then they have to be opened," said Schaefer. "And you know that software is continually upgraded. There comes a time when the original software that drew those drawings won't open them anymore. The new software won't open those drawings, so we keep hard copy. Otherwise we'd be in a situation where we'd be taking those files and updating the drawings."

Some archivists question the sustainability of digital files, no matter how they're protected. …