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Modernise or migrate – Archiving data held in legacy applications

Legacy systems are increasingly becoming an issue for both IT and IM specialists alike, with one survey of US Federal departments indicating  that 92% of agencies believe that their legacy applications must be modernised[1]. A survey of Australian and New Zealand agencies conducted by IDM showed that some legacy systems that could be decommissioned are kept turned on as their complex, bespoke nature makes migration expensive or simply too daunting to undertake[2]. Often these systems have evolved over time creating multi-layered applications which makes migration even more complex. They are frequently core business systems where lengthy offline periods may cost the agency greatly in both productivity and reputation.

Doing nothing is not an option, as the problems will intensify. Legacy systems carry risks, including:

  • Security breaches
  • Performance issues
  • Increased downtime/service disruptions
  • Increased errors or unexpected behaviours
  • Increased costs
  • Inaccessibility

There are a number of ways to preserve valuable data:

  • Maintain –lighten the data so that unused or low value fields, logs and duplication are removed, leaving only the valuable data behind.
  • Modernise – improve the infrastructure and any redundant or ambiguous code while keeping the structure of the database intact.

These approaches may initially provide greater productivity, security and stability; however the application can only be sustained for so long. The long term solution is to migrate the data into an archiving system which will allow the information to be meaningfully interrogated, but will allow the originating application to be decommissioned.

Systematic data archiving needs planning, but brings long term benefits. It ensures that data is accessible. We attended a recent IDM presentation to learn about EMC’s data archiving solution. EMC stated that return on investment can be achieved in six months’ time, on average. While the technology is emerging to resolve legacy data issues, the IM issues remain to be considered:

  • How long does the data need to be retained?
  • What security will need to be placed on the data?
  • Who manages access?
  • What relationships between data fields need to be maintained to make the data meaningful?
  • How will the data be audited to ensure that it’s integrity cannot be questioned in case of subpoenas, discovery, FoI or GIPA

Thanks to the sponsors for the lunch and learn session.

Contact us at Recordkeeping Innovation for advice on managing legacy systems, to assess retention requirements and develop a migration plan to ensure information is protected for as long as it’s needed. IM is the key to making sound data preservation decisions.

“Windows1.0” by Screenshot taken and uploaded by Remember the dot (talk · contribs). Via Wikipedia –

[1] From MeriTalk – “Future Ready Applications: The Modern Legacy”

[2] From IDM – “IDM Information Archiving Survey”

Spotlight – In Australian cinema’s January 2016

Last night I was lucky enough to go to a pre-release screening of Spotlight courtesy of the St James Ethics Centre. A Hollywood movie with top actors (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci et al), this movie is the story of the 2001 investigative journalism probe from Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. The investigation led to the uncovering of the pattern of sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. It’s about the system, rather than the individuals. And one of the many observations is that it takes outsiders to crack a system.


It’s a corker of a movie. If you want the ‘All The President’s Men’ of this decade, this film is it. But, a light ride it is not. I’ve been working in and around the records and archives issues relating to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse for a while now, so the film had particular relevance to what I was thinking about. In fact, I’ve been more exposed to the tales of victims and survivors than many, and I found this quite gruelling.

From recordkeeping perspective, as always, the plot is driven by the uncovering of documents and proof of events. So it’s a cracking recordkeeping story. A sub theme is recordkeeping as a component of life that is always there, but not vitally critical until something goes wrong. Once something goes wrong, or is suspicious, then records take a major boost in importance. This film underscores this point. Many of the records and documents discussed involved the legal system, where process and the American system of what is public and what is suppressed is featured.

There are lots of great shots of archives – institutional and personal – as stories are uncovered and pieced together with forensic care. Set in 2001, the movie shows lots of paper based recordkeeping – shots of card-exes, microfilm, rows of archives boxes, trolleys with files, stacked paper and files everywhere – heaps of good archival stuff.

But this film did me in – I found it very hard to watch, so lots of squirming in my seat, which seems only fitting. The stories of all victims and survivors of child sexual abuse are compelling and need to be heard. This film highlights the problems of getting their voices heard. This film does a cracking job of revealing this, the damage done, the way people lean on other people to shore up the status quo, and the ability to look back and say ‘why didn’t we know and do something earlier’.

Recommended viewing from any number of perspectives.

The movie trailer is here: