Archives sets digital deadline

By Paul Hemsley

National Archives of Australia (NAA) Director-General, David Ficker, has inked-in 2015 as the final deadline for every government agency to deliver all electronically generated information in digital formats to the government’s official record keeper.

The imposition of the deadline means that agencies will no longer be able to rely on printing out official documents to hand them over, a move that is expected to greatly improve the speed and efficiency with which information can be classified, found and – in due course – retrieved.

The NAA has required agencies to make the digital leap forward since it launched its Digital Transition Policy in July 2011.

Agencies were found to have spent $220 million in 2009 on the paper records they already held, a volume and cost certain to increase if paper records are not phased out.

After the 2015 deadline, the NAA will no longer accept new paper records, although old paper records will be kept and preserved.

The target date follows Mr Ficker’s stern warning last month that digital archives are vulnerable of becoming inaccessible unless storage technology for them is properly upgraded.

Mr Ficker said paper-based business practices and storage are no longer feasible, practical or cost-effective because of the “explosion” in the volume and complexity of information.

“The digital deadline we have set will be no surprise to the 200 government departments and agencies that will be required to meet it,” Mr Ficker said.

As the clock ticks until deadline, the NAA will use its Digital Edge training program to prepare agencies with skills and digital information management to meet the coming changes to their document storage habits.

Mr Ficker said that when the NAA surveyed agencies two years ago, they estimated they would create an additional 115 “shelf kilometres” of paper records annually, using around 1.7 million reams of A4 paper.

Commercial forestry operator Australian Bluegum Plantations estimates that a hectare (ha) of plantation timber yields around 23,400 reams of A4 paper, a figure that translates to archives saving approximately 73 ha of trees a year.

Minister for the Arts, Simon Crean said saving paper and storage space will lead to cost savings, better decision making, improved governance and accountability, more effective storage and retrieval.

“While some people still feel the need to print information to paper ‘for the record’, the reality is that we live in a global, digital environment where very few documents need to be stored on paper,” Mr Crean said.

“It is vital for government agencies to meet community expectations and embrace the shift towards a digital system.”

with Julian Bajkowski.

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