Costs, risk management and business planning

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Not the way I would have chosen to start the day but it ended up being a useful morning discussing how to identify the organisational costs of running a digital archive and how to justify those cost and identify the benefits. We also discussed risk management, the implications of lifecycle management and how to cost elements of an OAIS compliant archive.

We did an interesting exercise comparing the costs of running an e-prints archive at Cornell University and The National Archive’s digital archive. Not surprisingly, the two archive’s costs are radically different because their remit and services provided are radically different. It costs TNA £18.76 to ingest/acquire a single file into their archive. A huge sum compared to Cornell’s £0.56-£2.84. This is not only because TNA’s remit is so much wider and therefore the ingest/acquisition process is much more complex, but because TNA operate in an environment where they catalogue the material themselves whereas Cornell have no catalogers but require the Professor submitting her document to provide and verify all the information/metadata. Also, TNA have huge preservation costs because they are dealing with a legacy digital material which are 20-30 years old, when no preparation was made for long-term preservation of these materials. Cornell on the other hand, are archiving simple, modern digital materials and their preservation activities are relatively easy and predicatable.

This raised a familiar and interesting question for me because we will be developing a facillity in ADAM for staff to upload images to a team catalogue and provide metadata for the image. In an ideal world, the member of staff would provide full and accurate metadata which would require no validation and could be entered directly into ADAM and immediately available on the Intranet. Of course, this is almost certainly impossible for AI. It works for Cornell because the Professor has a vested and very personal interest to ensure that her article is made widely available and correctly cited through the submission of complete and accurate metadata. Even then, an example was given where an academic catalogued their article with a single keyword representing their sole academic interest, disregarding the other subject areas which the article related to. I asked people if they had any advice on how we could have AI staff more involved in the cataloguing process but no miracle answers were forthcoming. Basically, while staff are essential providers of information about the digital object, supplying information only they might know, it’s an unacceptable organisational risk to then make those images directly available for other staff to reuse before AVR have checked and verified the metadata and, as is always the case, enriched it with further information. And of course, staff might justifiably argue that they could be making better use of their time than extensively cataloguing images and checking copyright and license agreements. There will be ways that we can ensure that the information provided to us is formed in a way that is easy to validate and enrich though and that’s the approach we’ll be taking with ADAM.

At one point while trying to breakdown the cost elements of a digital archive I realised that we were a room full of archivists trying to do the job that IT professionals have been doing for years. The element costs involved in digital archiving such as hardware, software, licenses, support, development, fixtures and fittings, etc. are costs that we share with ITP. Where IRP need to demonstrate costs is by detailing the work processes and therefore the staff time involved and the business reasons why archival preservation might require three or four times the storage requirements, a different approach to risk management, changes in data management, etc. But, with the exception of staff time, a digital archive uses readily available IT solutions in a specific way. I tried to make this point that we (archivists) are not the people best placed to cost IT systems but rather need to work with IT professionals and draw on their existing experience in planning, purchasing and maintaining systems. I think that to an IT department, a digital archive is just another application of IT hardware, software and processes. Do you agree?

This wasn’t the first time I’ve found that archivists tend to look at a digital archive infrastructure as something new and perculiar to them and completely alien to IT professionals. Sure, there might be different requirements that some IT staff might not be familiar with but it’s the archivist’s role to explain and justify these in business terms and in return, let the IT staff deliver the infrastructure requirements to meet the business case. It’s just data that needs to be treated a bit differently, that’s all.

Despite this frustration, this class had real practical value for me and was a morning well spent.

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