posted 28 Aug 2007 in Volume 11 Issue 1
What would happen to your organisation’s records – whether on paper or electronic – should your office or home become flooded?
By Doug Miles
The recent flooding in the Severn and Avon valleys in England was traumatic for many people, including close friends and neighbours. Luckily, my own house between Tewkesbury and Gloucester stayed dry, but not by many feet. AIIM’s UK office is alongside the canal wharf in Worcester, but Victorian engineers knew how to cope with massive quantities of extra feed water, and the level only rose by a few inches.
I have always been re-assured that our outsourced IT support has a dedicated disaster-recovery room. All we’d need is the last back-up tape and we could be back up and running in hours. However, this room is located in Tewkesbury and, although the facility was safe, access to it would have required a boat...
During those wet days we saw many examples of the damage that water can do to documents. At home, I moved some of our important household paperwork upstairs, just-in-case. This included the deeds to the house, which have an interesting records status as these are now scanned and recorded on the UK land registry – can we now throw them out? The PC's external hard drive was, of course, a priority – our whole life is on there. But there were still many photographs, books, CDs and letters worth preserving.
It was, however, the emergency work to protect and recover the infrastructure that really set me thinking about resilient document and information management. The flooded water treatment plant at Tewkesbury and the threats to the electricity switching stations provided real drama and affected more than just those beside rivers and water courses.
I have no inside knowledge of what really happened, but I can imagine that huge quantities of emergency-procedure documentation, engineering and plant drawings, service and refurbishment manuals, and available-resource lists needed to be accessed during the crisis. How plausible would it have been if paper copies of these documents were stored in basements in the flood zones?
I’m sure that in this day and age, much of it will be stored electronically. But it would have been a major test to see just how accessible all those documents, stored in different systems, would have been to the emergency-management centres. Army officers, police, rescue services, engineers and planning staff were drafted in to help. But I’m sure there were questions about how they could be provided with rapid access to both live information and stored records.
Some of the public information and advice was available on existing national and local government websites, and a network of cross-links rapidly appeared on other, popular local websites to connect people to the relevant advice quickly and easily. So, where am I leading with all this? If your organisation isn’t a utility or an emergency service, just how resilient and re-configurable does your information network need to be? How much is safe to leave on paper and how much should be scanned and digitized?
Also, of course, all organisations should conduct information audits as well as disaster-recovery reviews to understand just what information they hold and the circumstances access might be needed, by whom and from where.
Disasters happen. Prepared organisations will have carefully designed content-management systems with security, understandable taxonomies, search and the ability to reconfigure internal and external access on a project-related basis. That is why it is important to understand, for example, that back-ups are not archives, e-mails are no longer transient and simple file-shares are always vulnerable. Yet there are many records departments that are still wedded to the concept that a filed paper copy is the only record that can be relied upon.
Doug Miles is the managing director of AIIM Europe, the enterprise content management association (ECM). It offers education, training and marketing resources to ECM users and suppliers. For more information, please see www.aiim.org.uk. Contact Doug at email@example.com.