A mounting dilemma for the insurance industry is the long-term preservation of digital information, whether source documents (i.e., paper-based applications and claims that have been scanned) or e-mail correspondence.
The growth of electronic communications based on pictorial content, commonly referred to as infoimaging, adds another layer of digital documents. Unlike the general consumer world, where seven years is often considered a “lifetime,” underwriters are well aware that their records must be accessible, unaltered, and able to be comprehended 50 to 100 years from now.
Some companies are hoping to address the digital preservation dilemma in one of two ways: either maintaining older software and hardware systems, or migrating their data to new formats every few years. Unfortunately, both solutions have serious shortcomings.
Digital systems provide an excellent means to quickly create and widely communicate information, but digital file formats and media are not optimal for long-term, multi-general preservation. For instance, todays CDs, DVDs, and optical jukeboxes are valid for file back-ups and short-term storage, but they may become obsoleteeven forgottenin a very short time as new storage media types and specifications are developed. Likewise, file formats experience the same dilemma, since todays “standard” for any application will certainly shift or disappear within a decade.
Simply stated, data is only as permanent as the hardware and software that give it life. As recent technological evolution has shown, there is little assurance that todays information will retain any more value than a 1989 VisiCalc file stored on an eight-inch floppy disk. And thats just the first strike against attempting to preserve information in digital formats.
A second challenge to digital-only storage is to migrate data to the latest media and software versions on a two-to-three-year cycle. Imagine having to open and resave thousands of documents created in Microsoft Word every few years when new, non-backward-compatible versions are released. Or picture, in 20 years, trying to find a device that reads one of todays DVDs. (Try finding easy access to an eight-track tape deck, the top format for new music releases just two decades ago.)
Not only does this require a significant monetary investment for each conversion, but also constant human attention and personnel training. Consider that digital migration requires your staff to have: knowledge of the old formats as well the new (for every document type); the ability to analyze and recommend the best new formats; the time to implement and test migration pilot programs, and the capacity to develop and continually refine migration processes.
Moreover, during each conversion, the file is susceptible to corruption. Formatting can shift, and in many cases, data drops out bit-by-bit over time. This can result from machine, software or human error, leading to strange renderings of your documents from which the original information cant be recovered.
One promising solution is the use of an integrated archival approach. This involves using digital and analog systems together to gain the benefits of both. Digital allows information to be kept accessible and sharable. Analog provides insurers with the ability to keep digital documents and files available for decades upon decades, transcending technological advances without concern for alteration or loss of readability.