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To cloud or not to cloud

March 9, 2017

On 2nd March 2017 a dedicated group of Cardigan Continuum Southers met in Winchester to discuss Luciana Duranti’s article “Records and Archives in the Commercial Cloud.” Over dinner and drinks in a traditional pub we discussed cloud computing, went off on many tangents, and shared how we are responding to challenges in our own organisations.

We found more than enough to talk about but concentrated mainly on the practical information at the beginning of the article, before it gets very abstract and theoretical!

The group agreed with Duranti’s idea that cloud services have changed behaviour. So many people now use Gmail, for example, without thinking that using the cloud has become second nature, at least for personal information.

We spent a long time discussing the idea that it’s impossible to maintain a complete central recordkeeping system, even before information becomes stored in “several different clouds”. Some users find EDRMS so difficult to use, especially where multiple clicks are needed to save or access a document, that they take the familiar option of saving to shared or personal drives. At least in local government, there is less concern about the digital black hole because many services still keep hybrid records.

The idea of a generational difference in following policies also caught our attention – we agreed older generations are better at it but we weren’t sure why! Potentially anyone who has worked in a structured environment (paper-based or not) appreciates the value of good filing to find something again. Whereas younger people are more likely to have relied on search tools and see less value in saving information in a particular place?! These thoughts tied in with our experiences that there needs to be a corporate obligation to using any recordkeeping system, but also that the chosen system needs to be so easy to use that the benefits are obvious.

We diverted our chat to records retention and how relying on individuals to make decisions doesn’t work because people are notoriously bad at getting rid of stuff!  Apparently, this is more of a problem with digital information – are people more cautious because they create more digital files? Because they don’t give up custody by sending a physical file to a records centre? Are they overwhelmed?

In dealing with the issues raised we agreed that IT, records management and archivists all need to interact. This can be a challenge because of different perspectives but mainly because our IT departments prompt different levels of trust! We debated whose responsibility it is to keep safe records about mineral sites and listed buildings that are “in continuous becoming”. Do archives have an obligation to preserve these files or does it interfere with the lifecycle to keep a ‘live’ file?

Overall the group didn’t share all of Duranti’s concerns – in reality we just don’t have time to worry about it all!  And we weren’t sure that archive users worry about metadata and chain of custody either, yet… and what can archivists do if metadata has been lost long before? A couple of times we questioned whether paper can also be accessioned without a full history or with a history that has been faked.

Finally, we wondered how to get suppliers interested in unsexy recordkeeping requirements. Procurement rules seem to discourage long contracts yet suppliers claim their systems can manage records for up to 50 years. The Data Protection Act has caused new data centres to be built in the UK, can legislation or other new government regulations create a similar reaction?

Looking back, the article probably raised more questions than it answered but the discussion and sharing ideas was very useful for us all. Looking forward to the next one!

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