When it comes to dealing with the recent federally legislated data-archiving mandates, all IT managers seem to have the same knee-jerk reaction of throwing more software at the problem.
"You see a lot of people offering a lot of solutions but they're saying it basically must be a digital solution," said Andy Lawrence, channel manager of micrographic and hybrid products in the Document Imaging Division at Kodak.
Lawrence wants to tell you there's another solution—an industry-accepted, tested, and reliable solution that has been around for years—namely, microfilm. And he wants you to get to know one of his customers, an optical systems manager for a large New York county, who stores millions of important, sensitive documents via a hybrid solution that includes software and microfilm.
Document retention is no longer optional
Kodak document management and document retention systems have seen increased use over the past few years as new regulatory legislation, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, require businesses to archive various documents, including e-mail. One Kodak solution is to create a "reference archive," which is a structured, indexed repository of electronic records that can be readily searched and retrieved. This allows companies to ensure that critical documents are preserved, despite the inevitable employee error, throughout the entire business process—from initial e-mails to purchase orders and invoices.
An important part of that reference archive is using microfilm to store certain records, particularly those that must be made readily available on demand. Microfilm is old hat to Kodak, which has been in the archiving business since 1928, when the banking industry began to use film archiving. Kodak has seen a dramatic increase in business since new legislation requiring data archiving began to hit the books.
That's no surprise, Lawrence said. Many of the new laws include stiff criminal and civil penalties. Sarbanes-Oxley, in particular, has many an IT manager feeling wary because it makes a number of business practices criminal that were not crimes prior to the Sarbanes-Oxley law—and the Enron scandal that spawned it.
"Sarbanes-Oxley basically points a finger at businesses and says, 'Be accountable for your actions,'" Lawrence said.
Even the appearance of noncompliance can land company executives more than just possible fines and jail time. It also could mean closing a company's doors. "One negative news article gets out there and your stock price can tank," Lawrence said. One of the best ways to promote the appearance of compliance is to secure business records and demonstrate good corporate policies on document retention.
One important thing that a lot of IT managers are learning is the difference between an archive and a system backup. "Backups are designed to restore your system in the event of a disaster," Lawrence said. That means backups don't make very good archives. They are not easily searched, are costly to create and maintain, and there's no guarantee a given document will be preserved in a backup. A normal system backup will not bring a company in compliance with the new legislation.
A hybrid solution for a real-world document storage problem
The benefits of Kodak's microfilm products were readily apparent to Peter Schlussler, director of optical systems for the Clerk's Office of Suffolk County, NY, which includes a portion of Long Island. He needed a document storage, retention, and search system not just because of new legislation but because many documents retained by clerks offices in the United States must be available on demand.
People come to the Suffolk County Clerk of Court's office each weekday to do records searches. Schlussler wants records to be readily available for people who come in to do title searches, but he also wants to develop a revenue stream for folks who want to do their searches via the Suffolk County Clerk's Web siteand the county's online Land Records.
To provide all this, Schlussler had to examine all of the possibilities. One option was to use a solution based entirely on software, which would take care of his online visitors but had major drawbacks. "We can't be sure that the software will be around 10 years from now or 100 years from now," he said.
This is a very real concern to IT professionals like Schlussler, who have to archive data for very long periods. "We've got records that go back to the King," Schlussler explained, referring to Suffolk County's colonial period. Those records need to be maintained from that long ago and likely will need to be readily available that long into the future.
Microfilm historically does not suffer the same obsolescence as software. "Microfilm can be used with a flashlight," he said. Microfilm also lasts about half a millennium, a far cry from the few decades you might get from software storage or the five years or so you might get from an optical disk. However, microfilm would not be easily accessible to online records searchers.
"We needed to find a hybrid solution," he said. "We needed something that would take digital images and convert them to microfilm."
For Suffolk County, Kodak's Digital Science Document Archive Writer was "the best fit," Schlussler said.
More than eight million records have been converted to microfilm since last year, when Kodak's archive writer was introduced into the Suffolk County Clerk's office. Visitors to the clerk's office can view the microfilm while Web visitors can view digital records. After about a year, Schlussler said he has noticed some other benefits of microfilm compared to software data storage. Microfilm record searches tend to be quicker and data retrieval is also faster, he said.
Schlussler said he also has found that microfilm is stable, delivers on its promised high life span, and that there are industry standards that make continued data search and recovery more certain. For instance, Schlussler doesn't have to use a certain brand of microfilm reader because all industry manufacturers stick to established guidelines. That simply doesn't happen with software data storage systems.
Microfilm data storage is also cheaper than software storage, something Suffolk County residents could well notice in their mortgage payments. Schlussler pointed out that title insurance can cost about $900, in large part because of how difficult it can be to search paper records. "My goal is to bring that cost down to something like $100," he said. One way to do that is to make title searches quicker and easier. Kodak's archive writer accomplishes this and more.
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